|Stacee by Scott Burdick, three-hour oil portrait
painting study, 12 x 16, 2001.
I remember when Mr. Nemerow, my very enthusiastic freshman biology teacher, launched into what, looking back, I'd best describe as a full-body fit about how the epidermis is our largest organ,
accounting for the most real estate on our bodies. Even now I shudder a little bit
at that memory, but he did have a point. The skin counts for a lot. It is vital for life, and in art terms its tone, color, texture, and shape can make or break a painting,
especially in portraiture
But painting skin tones can be a challenge, and each artist
usually has his or her own take on how they want to showcase a figure. I always start with what my environment is giving me—being
mindful that skin can appear cooler or warmer depending on the atmosphere and
Sometimes the skin across the face can be dealt with uniformly in order
to not distract from a person's expression or facial features. Other times an
artist can get really close and highlight the papery texture or freckles or
signs of aging that faces take on as they go through life.
||A Carnation for Grandpa (detail)
by Daniel Gerhartz, oil painting, 36 x 24.
When you're painting a person and you want to make sure they
appear "of" or a part of their environment, I've often seen artists
incorporating a gray neutral made up of the colors from the background into the
colors of the face. This can mitigate the boldness of any one color, which
leads to more subtle flesh tones.
Portrait artists and figure
painters who excel at painting skin all seem to have one commonality—they make
the flesh look real and touchable. In Richard Schmid's art instruction DVD, The Captain Portrait, the artist spends
a bulk of the demonstration explaining how he does just that--and more, from capturing a likeness and what alla prima painting really entails. Schmid also covers painting the values and texture of the skin, and how his own expressive feelings about the subject come into play as he works. This resource gives you a lot to think over and even more to work on. Enjoy!