Unveiling the Secrets to Achieving Lifelike Skin Tones in Acrylic Portraits
As an experienced artist, I sought to understand what aspiring artists like you are most eager to learn. And the resounding answer was clear – skin tones. That’s why I’ve created a comprehensive 5-week live video class, where I will guide you step-by-step through the process of painting realistic skin tones in acrylic portraits.
While I’m known for my meticulous glazing techniques, I wanted to meet artists where they are, so this series focuses on an opaque technique. The response to the class has been overwhelming, with around eighty students joining during the very first lesson!
To complement the video course (now open for enrollment), I’ve created a printable guide that summarizes the class content. Although it can’t match the depth of a 5-hour video, this tutorial showcases a portrait I painted of my wife, offering valuable insights that will enhance your painting process. Whether you choose to take the course or not, this guide will be a valuable resource to keep beside you as you paint.
While our main focus is on skin tones, it’s essential to start by quickly blocking in the hair color and value to frame the face correctly. By doing this, we can determine the appropriate skin tone colors and ensure accuracy. Painting on top of plain white can often lead to a misconception of the skin tone being too dark, when in reality, it is not. Observing the predominant color in the hair provides valuable guidance. In the following example, I use raw umber dark, applying it with a 3/4”-1” flat brush.
Next, I begin building the foundational skin tone layer using a mixture of titanium white, burnt sienna, and organic red orange. To ensure fluidity, add a small amount of matte medium (10%) to the paint. Apply the mixture quickly, covering the entire area.
To provide you with more comprehensive guidance, I’ve created a convenient 7-page PDF reference guide that encompasses all the steps discussed in this article. Download it now, print it out, and keep it by your easel as a handy reference during your own portrait painting sessions.
Now, let’s move on to the fun part – painting the facial features such as the eyes, nose, and mouth. However, it’s crucial not to go too dark right away. Instead, lightly “suggest” the features using a mixture of the skin tone base from the previous layer and burnt sienna. This approach allows for adjustments if necessary.
Once the facial features have dried, it’s time to add a darker color. Enhance the eyebrows and nose by incorporating a touch more burnt sienna. For the eyes, introduce a hint of raw umber to cool down the color and make adjustments if they differ from brown. When it comes to the lips, I recommend using napthol red and burnt sienna, slightly diluted with the main flesh tone color.
To prevent the face from appearing flat, it’s crucial to introduce shadows. The key lies in selecting the right color and value and placing them strategically to create a three-dimensional effect. In my example, I use a similar color to the previous step, lightening it slightly with the main skin tone color for better control and to avoid darkening the shadows excessively.
To improve the appearance of the eyebrows, I create a mixture of raw umber dark, alizarin crimson, raw sienna, and a touch of burnt sienna. Applying this mixture carefully thickens the eyebrows, ensuring they are not only seen as individual hairs but also as shadows beneath the eye socket. Essentially, we are establishing the foundation tone of the eyebrows before suggesting the individual hairs with a darker color.
Would you like to delve even deeper into the art of painting skin tones? I invite you to download my complete guide on painting skin tones. This resource is free and serves as an invaluable tool to help you master the art of creating lifelike portraits.
Let’s focus on enhancing the eyes. Using raw umber dark, alizarin crimson, and a mixture of the skin tone base, carefully paint the eyelashes, eyeliner, and define the thickness of the eyelids.
Now, it’s time to bring out the three-dimensional structure of the face by adding shading and gradation in specific areas, a technique known as “turning the form.” Select a color slightly darker than the main skin tone to add depth to the chin. Then, deepen the shadows alongside the nose and under the eyes, creating the illusion of the cheeks projecting forward in space.
To ensure the jaw appears three-dimensional, it’s essential to establish shadows on the sides of the teeth. I achieve this by using raw umber, titanium white, and a touch of alizarin crimson. As for highlights, I utilize titanium white and a bit of raw sienna. To achieve precise brush strokes, you can twist the end of a size 10 round brush to a pointed shape or mist the paint with water for better fluidity.
As we near the end of the painting process, it’s time to emphasize highlights. Applying skillful use of highlights will elevate your portrait to the next level. The color selection for the highlights may vary depending on the facial area. For forehead highlights, I mix titanium white and alizarin crimson to suggest the cool color of window light and incandescent lamps.
I hope you find this tutorial valuable as you embark on your journey to paint realistic skin tones in acrylic. By implementing these steps, you can expect significant improvement in your portrait paintings, especially if you are just starting out. If you found this helpful, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected].
Remember to print the skin tones guide, allowing you to create lifelike portraits to showcase with pride. Click the button below to download it now.
Besides this comprehensive guide, I also offer a detailed video course that covers each step in greater detail. The course spans approximately 5 hours, comprising five workshops that you can watch at your convenience. To learn more, visit Courses.realisticacrylic.com. Even if the course isn’t feasible for you, do take advantage of the free printable reference guide on painting skin tones in acrylic. Feel free to email me if you have any questions or need quick tips – I’m always here to assist you.
Wishing you creative breakthroughs on your artistic journey!
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