What is the proper color mix to paint portraits of black persons?

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QuansetAD67 wrote
on 22 Aug 2012 5:19 PM

I want to paint a portrait of a Nigerian friend of mine and have to work from a photo. His skin tone is very dark indeed. Oddly, the highlights on his face in the photo appear blue. Can someone please recommend the best color mix to accurately create very dark skin tones? F.Y.I. I am a seasoned artist, but rarely paint portraits, and virtually all of my previous portrait subjects have been caucasian.

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on 23 Aug 2012 4:00 PM

I came across a young, gorgeous looking woman in Calgary who had that very dark, almost black skin, and the highlights on her face in a lighted room were blue, I would loved to have painted her, but our move across Canada put an end to that thought.  If I were to mix colours, I would be tempted to mix Burnt Umber and Dioxazine Purple together for the dark colour.  I would try Raw Umber as a lightening colour.  Perhaps Chromium Oxide Green or a yellow green would work on the receding planes, I might try to dry brush Colbalt Blue as a highlight abutting the dark.  I would definitely use the purple in whatever brown colour I used.  You could try Burnt Sienna and purple.  You could try the yellow ochre, light cadmium red, burnt umber and throw in some purple.  I can't see a white working without greying the dark.  Maybe a buff titanium.

I went and got Chris Saper's book, "Painting Beautiful Skin Tones With Colour and Light", page 125 for black/African American skin tone samples.  Shows his base colour with Cadmium Scarlet and Ultramarine Blue;

for the cool light:   add to the base Alizarin Crimson, Phthalo Green, Ultramarine Blue and Titanium White (below that example as a cool light he has added titanium white).  

The warm shadow:   add to the base Cadmium Scarlet and Ivory Black (under that example he has added Cadmium Lemon and Ivory black).  

Warm light:   to the base add Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Lemon (under that example he has added cadmium scarlet, and cadmium lemon).  

The cool shadow:   to the base add ultramarine blue (under that example he has added phthalo green)

The portraits in Chris Saper's book of black men and women are lighter skinned than the woman I knew in Calgary, and I would expect of your Nigerian friend.  You will have to experiment, I'm thinking.

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QuansetAD67 wrote
on 23 Aug 2012 4:30 PM

Thanks so much for the input, Valerie. It will be extremely helpful, because frankly, I didn't have a clue where to start. I will try some preliminary oil sketches to experiment with these color mixes and see which ones work out best for this portrait. Again, thanks so much! Yes

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barbara pain wrote
on 8 Sep 2012 5:26 PM

I loved all this info for the black skin. very helpful thanks a lot.

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on 19 Jun 2013 9:36 AM

Hello and I hope you are well. I mnopt sure if anyone anwered your question about painting black skin , but here goes my experience. YOu are absolutely right when you mentioned that in the photo some hightlights may appear blue. People with very dark skin have generaaly more color that people wuith lighter ski, but as with anything else you paint, Remember, that even as aseasoned artist, as I am myself and you are we tend to forget sometimes not to look carefully at what we actually see. Dark skin has shades of blues, or purples and evem some bits of green. warm reds in some areas, it truly depends on how well the photo is taken  and the lighting thereof.


Good luck and I hope this helps.


God bless


Rene J. Ramirez

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