Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Flesh Tones

There are so many ways to get flesh tones, but I thought perhaps I could share my flesh tone palette with you (who are interested). My two strongest mentors in school were Stephen Douglas and Wade Reynolds (as far as I can tell, Stephen doesn't have a website, and his current work holds much less sway on me than his paintings from the era when I was his student, so I've included a picture from a catalogue of a show that was at the Arnot Art Museum at the end of 1999). These painters have extremely differing approaches to painting the figure and differing palettes as well. But as often happens, I used what I thought was best from each and tried to make it all combine into my own.

Stephen Douglas, The Artist Advances Toward Middle Age, 1998 oil on linen 88" x 33"

Wade Reynolds, Seated Figure, oil on canvas (size unknown)

In one of the previous posts I mentioned the colors I place on my palette, but I didn't say how I mix them. As a reminder, here are the usual colors on my palette in the order placed counter clockwise on my palette (note this time my white is different from the Flemish White previously mentioned, and unless otherwise noted, all colors are manufactured by Old Holland):

Lead White with Mica (purchased from Robert Doak),
Green Earth,
Lead Tin Yellow,
Yellow Ochre,
Raw Sienna,
Burnt Sienna,
Manganese Violet,
Raw Umber,
Burnt Umber,
Cobalt Blue

(occasionally I will add Cad-Red Medium, Olive Green, or Vine Black)

So off to the mixing... I use a palette knife to pre-mix my flesh tone starting with a mid-color-value. That approximately consists of 1 part Raw Sienna, 1 part Yellow Ochre, 1/2 to 1/4 part Burnt Sienna (depending on the ruddiness of the model). Without cleaning my knife I then start making tints of this by adding white to separate pools of this mid mixture. I also then add Green Earth to this mid mixture to aid in neutralizing some areas (bottom left mixture). I then clean off my knife and start my shades. Again, using the mid mixture, I add about 1 part Manganese Violet (for warm shadow masses), then the next puddle is that plus about 1/2 part Raw Umber. The next puddle is that mixture plus a tiny bit of Cobalt Blue and then the last puddle is that mix plus white. This also gives me a cooler neutralizer which doesn't affect value in the mid to light areas (as much as if I were to use the darkest puddle). These pre-mixed puddles act as a starting point. Once I get into the painting, I often add colors to these mixes using my brush. I find having these puddles at the ready speeds up my process greatly. It also gives the painting good color unity. The Lead-Tin Yellow is a really strong beast but is a clean yellow which I can add a tiny amount to my light flesh tones if needed. I use Vermillion in the same way.

And voila... now go to it and see what you can do!


  1. Hey Alia,
    Great posts, I love reading about others process and palette, thank you for sharing. My husband is a musician, and he constantly talks with other musicians about gear, amps, pedal effects, and such. It seems to be part of the creative process for them. Blogs make it easier for visual artists to do the same. Thanks Alia.

    This is a fantastic portrait of your mom, and watching the progress is such a treat. Your son's portrait is amazing as well, I can't wait to see the larger version and what you have planned.

  2. Hello Karen, I was just thinking of you today. I'm wondering how you like your new blog/ website? Thank you for your very kind remarks.

    I think maybe it's easier for musicians to share trade secrets because often it is a much more collaborative effort. But I do agree, blogs open up the opportunity to share techniques and such (which might seem pretentious in other venues). I'm glad you've found some interest in it.

    Happy Painting!

  3. Great that you included the under respected bad ass of contemporary direct painting Stephen Douglas. He is my mentor and hero as a California figurative artist for both his technique and context. I think there are too many celbrity painters in California at the moment who are postulating trite, dogmatic, and useless idosyncratic subjects that have simply by volume and mass (art uneducated) appeal become the flavor of contemporary painting. Mavrick painters with both style, finesse, and heartfelt concept are being shunned, at least in Stephen's case. He is equal to Wade Reynold's, Stephen Asseal, and other "blue chip" Forum represented artists. Thanks for putting him further out there for the 'masses' to learn from.

    daryl-Tokyo, JP

  4. Forgot to comment on your awesome palette, totally agree with the clay and lead based colors.

  5. Yes Rembrandt, Stephen Douglas is a bad ass in many respects ;). But perhaps it's a good thing for him to NOT be at the front of a trend wave. He's been painting the figure for much longer and thru worse art times than the current celebrity mess. I think in his tiny Venice Beach community he gets a bit of recognition, but I know he's wanting more than that.

    I can't help but wonder why he's got NO web presense, when in this day, it's so easy to do, either thru pre-made websites that you plug your images into, or at least a blog (with just images would be fine).

    Do you know anything about who his mentors or teacher's were? It would be nice to know the family tree (so to speak). If you are in touch with him, please give him my best.

  6. Hi Alia,

    Just curious if you experiment with other colors? I recently switched my palette and have been enjoying it. Do you get your lead tin yellow through Old Holland?
    I love that paint.
    How do you prefer Doak's lead white to Old Holland's?
    Where did you get your palette?
    Miss you.

  7. By the way, How is Stephen? I'd love to hang see him again, see what he's been doing lately. He's such a great painter.

  8. hey Kyle, No I'm not in touch with Douglas. I'm definetly out of site, out of mind since moving to NC.

    The Lead Tin Yellow is from Doak. Unfortunately, I have a really bad memory, so by the time I get into a tube of either Doak or Old Holland lead white, I forget what the other's short comings are. I am trying D's for the first time and I like how it moves and builds up. He also managed to sale me into some copal medium which I still have not used. I'm such a creature of habit and know how to use, what I know how to use. Maybe when I have more time in the studio, I'll be more willing to experiment.

    My actual palette... I got this when I was a student at LCAD. I don't remember which art store I got it from in OC, but I've sanded it and re-oiled it maybe just 2 times since then. Not to date myself, but it's at least 12 years old. My favorite palette knife is that old as well.

    Thanks for all the nice comments.

  9. Hello, Alia,

    Stumbled across your blog and website while searching for Stephen on the web. Good to see that you are still painting and doing well.

    I moved to Madrid in 2000 and have been there ever since, and, like you have taken Stephen's technique and changed and extended it with my own researches inot the old masters here. I had to smile when I saw your palette -- I always thought you were one of a handful of students who "mixed brains with [their] paint" at AISC.

    Now I know how to see what you are doing I will keep track.

    Best in paint!

  10. Hello Allen (Martin). Glad you found me. Thank you for you kind remarks. I too will look forward to keeping in touch. Happy Painting!