So-Called Flesh Colors
Is there at least one formula for flesh colors? This eBook starts off with what I really wanted to know the most when I was in high school. To me, this (and the following "flesh color/flesh tone" chapters) is the most important section in this eBook, especially if you are already rather adept at drawing people. So, whatever you may feel about relying on formulas for non-math related matters, I am sure those readers (who have no idea about the concept of flesh colors but always wanted to know) may consider the information given in these chapters, priceless. By the way, cooking recipes are also non-math related formulas.
Many artists of whatever major medium (oils, watercolor or pastels) have developed their favorite mixture of hues to result in flesh colors. To an aspiring artist unfamiliar with color mixing, the selected color sets seem to conflict, however, in reality, that is not the case.
For in actuality (even if the artists themselves do not know this) all flesh colors boil down to a simple formula:
Flesh Colors = two warms + a cool + gray
That's it. I, independently, came up with this formula, myself. You would think all the art books would mention this, however, I have tons of them where I cannot find this information anywhere. This is why I surmised, above, that maybe many artists don’t know this, maybe they just use the same colors that their teachers taught them to use with no understanding as to why those colors work.
An Important Tip: If, when painting a small area in a portrait, you cannot determine what some mysterious color is, merely squint your eyes and observe that spot on your model, and substitute the equivalent value of gray for it on your painting. You can even optionally mix any color at random with that correct gray. This is why it is a good thing to have at least ten shades of gray handy at all times. Realize, that this is art, and not an exact science, for the painting will still look perfectly fine, even if the wrong colors are used. This also explains why black & white photographs still look good even though they are not in color, by definition; and, it also explains why color TV still looks good even if the colors are not adjusted correctly. Go to a store that sells televisions and note that when television sets are side-by-side and have the same TV station selected, that each TV set has different colors, yet, still looks good when viewed in isolation. Like I said, “art, not science,” ladies and gentlemen.
The good thing about painting in pastel is that one does not have to worry too much about adding gray in the flesh color formula, because either black or white is inherent in ALL of the various shades except the pure hue, itself. And, because either black or white is already mixed into the pastel sticks, then gray can be omitted in the formula. That being the case, then the formula (using pastel sticks) is simplified to become:
Flesh Colors = two warms + a cool
Now that you know this open secret, though, just go to your color wheel and choose any two warm colors at random and mix them together and see what you get. You get a pretty good depiction of somebody’s skin tone, don't you?
Since it is so simple to do, then no doubt, practically all artists basically begin by thinking about the overall “bright” colors when contemplating warm and cool colors. That is, it is easier to think that warm colors are just yellow, orange and red, and that cool colors are just blue and green. That's easy enough to remember. Only then do they probably begin to think about the grayed down versions of these in which to add to the appropriate warm and cool categories. Some grayed down colors are yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt umber, turquoise, indigo and the like. These five “bright” colors (yellow, orange, red, blue & green) plus black and white are really all you need --- that is, if you are in a pinch or only have access to a limited palette. For example, some art classes limit beginning art students to using only the primary colors of yellow, red and blue plus black and white, in order to hammer color theory into their brains.
As an exercise in using only the five overall “bright” colors that I suggest, let’s pick any two warm colors from them and mix them to see what results.
I'll start you off by picking what I stumbled upon long ago by accident while drawing and painting cartoon characters. By experimentation, I came up with what I call "Comic Book White Skin Tone Flesh." Get out your favorite comic book, or retrieve the "funnies section" of the Sunday newspaper, and see if I am not right.
Comic Book White Skin Tone Flesh = yellow + orange
Yes, your favorite super hero is mostly a scaredy-cat, I mean mostly yellow.
For the more serious art of "the old masters" (the great artists of centuries past), my observations have determined that what is generally used for white flesh is not the simple overall bright colors of yellow + orange, but rather a great deal of a grayed down yellow + a little bit of red. And, what is yellow + red? That's right, it is orange again. This is interesting because, as a Black person, myself, I note that in painting anybody of any race, I plaster the same color, orange, all over them. And, with that amazing discovery, I have single-handedly solved the race question. We are not black skins or white skins or red skins (as in Native American) or brown skins (as in Hispanic/Latino). No! We are all various shades of orange --- orange skins. Be sure to add the historical videotape of me to your collection showcasing me modestly and graciously accepting my well-deserved Nobel Prize “live” on international TV.
Slapping myself back to reality, I’ll continue ...
That being said, white people (no matter what complexion) are either mostly pink or mostly orange, while remaining both. And, what is pink? Pink is red plus any light color, including white. Black people, on the other hand (no matter what complexion), are every color of the rainbow, from jet black to lily white, with a greater concentration of orange than the other races.
Well after I created the text for this eBook in 2002, I bought a portrait art book, written a year earlier, to add to my collection. In it, it is asserted that it is white skin that has the greatest range. Even though the author of the book paints well, I still have to wonder what planet did she come from? Just in my family alone, my Mother’s near dozen brothers and sisters range in complexion from bass black to treble white. White people, on the other hand, are so limited in range that, basically, I only use pink + light brown, or pink + burnt sienna, to paint them, whether the model is pink or orange. Not only that, but I can even get away with painting white people by using ONLY any one warm color plus white. Maybe I just misunderstood her passing statement. Since it is a nice book otherwise, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and presuppose she is referring to the overall flesh tone on the face.
For example, in people of color, the flesh tone range on the face is basically uniform throughout (with reds & purples thrown in here and there), whereas with white skin, the face can clearly and obviously be divided into three distinct color sections --- the top, or forehead band, the middle or eye/cheek/nose/ear band and the bottom, or mouth/chin band. I explained this in detail earlier in chapter one, when I described my “equal thirds reference” human head proportions.
Some of her painting insights are surprisingly similar to some of my own, and that fact delights me in that it says that I am on the right track. That is, I managed to figure much of this out without any formal art training.
No, I am not leaving you in the dark, for I am referring to Painting Beautiful Skin Tones With Color & Light by Ms. Chris Saper.
Here is another book on "painting beauiful skin tones" that starts where Ms. Saper's book leaves off. Is is called, Harley Brown's Eternal Truths for Every Artist.
Both of these books can be purchased from my pastel portrait secrets
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So, if anyone asks you, “What is melanin?” --- just quote to that person what I will say in my Nobel Prize acceptance speech; tell that person Landis said that “melanin is the color orange.”
Painting in The Zone
This has nothing to do with anything, but, when painting, you can experience both relaxing and intense concentration feelings at the same time. When that happens, you are in “the zone,” that is, you can easily go blank. So much so, that the next thing you know, the painting is complete. Being in “the zone” is not spooky, as in Twilight Zone, or any sort of negative self-hypnosis, or other demonic possession type of unchristian experience, or even some prescription drug side effect, for it is a wondrous time (and brain power) saver. It may rarely happen to you, but if you think hard enough, you may remember a time or two when you may have experienced something similar --- while driving, for example. You cranked your car and started off --- then suddenly you were there, you were where you were going. I bring this up, because, just earlier this morning (August 5, 2002) that happened to me again while driving. However, this time, things went embarrassingly wrong, for instead of “suddenly being there,” I was “suddenly somewhere else.” It was not too embarrassing because I was alone in the car.
You are probably thinking I am in the early throes of “old timers,” I mean Alzheimer’s disease. If you do, then also put yourself in the same class or category, for painting in “the zone” is nothing more than pleasingly painting while pleasurely daydreaming. Gotcha.
Fast forward, New Year's Day, 2005, and I am slowly re-writing each page of this website. So slow, in fact that I am editing my site a few minutes every two or three months or so, that it is now about New Year's Day, 2006, and I am still editing. My fault, because I have been caught up in "the affairs of this life," as the scriptures admonish us not to do when we are doing the will of God. While working on this site is not exactly doing the Lord's work, my non-action does demonstrate how easy it is to get side-tracked.
Make Things Easy On Yourself
Think about this --- if I can show you what colors to use for the two extremes of human flesh, Black and White, then the in-between shades or complexions for the other races, should be easier to determine on your own. I will do that in the ...
following chapter: So-Called Skin Tones