How to Paint Skin Tones With Acrylics

Updated July 19, 2017

For the beautiful variety of skin tones in life, there are acrylic paint colours to mix. This medium is very forgiving and when applied opaquely, it can be layered and textured to create shading, shadows and highlights. These recipes are the jumping off place for devising a broad palette of colouration - from pale, mid-toned, to dark.

Choose one of the following combination of colours for individualised skin tones. For pale skin: A. Burnt sienna, raw umber, white; B. Burnt sienna, cadmium red, white; C. Burnt sienna, alizarin crimson, white; D. Burnt sienna, cadmium yellow, white; E. Burnt sienna, lemon yellow, white; F. Burnt sienna, ultra marine, white.
For brown skin: A. Cadmium yellow, burnt umber; B. Yellow ochre, raw umber, cadmium red. A visual colour chart for these combinations are referenced below. (see REF 2))

Apply dabs of paint from one combination above to the outer edge of the palette. Using a damp brush, take three or more brush-fulls of one colour and apply it to the centre of the palette. This is the base colour and all colours will be mixed into it.

Add brush-fulls of the second colour into the first. Blend them together with the brush. Between colours, roll the brush against the edge of the blended colour to allow the paint to stay on the palette. Keep the brush fairly clean. Either roll it on the palette or dip it in water, then wipe it on the rag.

Mix the third colour in and blend. Adjust the colour by adding bits of each colour until a satisfactory tone is achieved. Add white to this mix to lighten it. Acrylics can be blended on watercolour paper or canvas before they dry. If the paint has dried, it can be layered with another. The skin tones of males are mainly depicted as a little darker than women. Children have lighter skin tones and both children and infants have characteristic red cheeks. Ears, noses and cheeks are reddened because of the blood flow to those areas. Paint older skin tones with less red, as blood supply lessons as we age. (see REF 1)

Things You'll Need

  • Brushes
  • Pallet
  • Glass of water
  • Rag
  • Acrylic paints
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About the Author

LN Shapely is a published columnist, musician and broadcast commentator. Her work has appeared in regional and national magazines, newspapers and on the Web. She holds a degree in architectural and interior design from Stephens College in Columbia, Mo.