How to mix a flesh colour with watercolours

Updated July 20, 2017

Mixing flesh colours with watercolour paint is a challenge for many artists. The unforgiving nature of watercolours and the difficulty in correcting colours once applied to paper can intimidate an artist when working on a portrait or figure painting. Flesh tones in watercolours should contain a mixture of red, yellow and blue hues adjusted throughout the painting to realistically capture shadows, light and variations in flesh tones. Flesh colour palettes will also vary according to the skin tone and ethnicity of the subject to be painted.

Determine the base skin tone of the subject of your painting. These tones are typically pale, dark, olive or ruddy. Attempt to mix the base tone on your watercolour palette using an appropriate combination of alizarin crimson, raw sienna, yellow ochre and burnt umber watercolour paints. You may not need all four colours.

Test your mixed base skin tone on a scrap piece of watercolour paper. Apply it in both a heavy and light wash with your watercolour brush, wetting the brush with clean water for clarity of colour. Adjust the mixture as necessary and concentrate on the primary, mid-value tone of the skin only.

Wet your watercolour paper with a brush and clean water. Cover the entire area of the paper surface where flesh colour will be applied. Wetting the paper will allow the paint to go on smoothly.

Apply the base flesh colour in a light wash of paint, leaving the paper untouched in areas of highlights or light glare.

Mix highlight flesh colour from yellows and reds. Lightly apply this highlight colour to the areas of skin directly in full light, blending it in to the already applied base flesh tone as suitable.

Mix shadow flesh colour from watercolour hues such as blue, greys and greens. Choose the ones that best match the palette tone of the painting. Use greens for warmer shadows and blues and greys for cooler shadows.

Add additional crimson to areas of flesh which appear more reddish. These areas might include lips, fingers, cheeks and ear lobes.


Clean your watercolour brushes frequently and only use fresh water when picking up paint to apply to your work surface; doing so will keep your colours clean and crisp.


Avoid adding white to your flesh colour as it will turn your colours muddy and dull.

bright areas of the painting, allow the white of your watercolour paper to show through and only thinly apply glazes to tint the surface.

Things You'll Need

  • Watercolour palette
  • Alizarin crimson watercolour paint
  • Raw sienna watercolour paint
  • Yellow ochre watercolour paint
  • Burnt umber watercolour paint
  • Lemon yellow watercolour paint
  • Cadmium yellow watercolour paint
  • Cadmium red watercolour paint
  • Cobalt blue watercolour paint
  • Paynes gray watercolour paint
  • Viridian watercolour paint
  • Paper
  • Brushes
  • Water
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Nicole Pellegrini has been writing science, arts and travel articles since 1997. Her work has been published in the American Chemical Society's journal "Macromolecules." She holds a Bachelor of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, both in chemical engineering.