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I started off seeing skin tones in figure painting in a closed off way, not really pushing to find the dimension and depth right in front of me. I almost felt I was still pulling a Crayon out of the box to color a figure’s form from head to toe like I did in childhood. But there are artists who have shown me the rainbow effect of human skin, most notably Lucian Freud.
Figure Painting with Realistic Flesh Tones
Freud’s figure paintings reveal how realistic flesh tones can be created across a painter’s palate, using a range of colors. When observed on an abstract level, his figure painting works become almost kaleidoscopic in their colors. The greens, blues, reds, and yellows are as prevalent as the more neutral shades one might initially expect to use when painting flesh.
Studying Freud’s figure paintings made me realize that going skin deep is a good thing–if the emphasis is on deep. Because Freud painted as if he was building skin itself, capturing the undertones of color of veins and blood vessels that gleam subtly on the surface to the marks and varied texture of skin that can change from body part to body part or with age. Now, when I prepare for a human painting study, I try to see as Freud has taught me to see–that the surface or skin isn’t finite, but full of possibilities and complexities.
How to Paint the Light and Color of Skin
To become artists who shares Freud’s sensitivity to the color, light, and shadow inherent in every inch of our skin, we need to start seeing in this same language– that of light and color. Painting Realistic Skin Tones is a resource that reveals how one of the most fundamental aspects of figure painting is an exploration of all the luminous and energetic color and light of the flesh. It certainly made me open my eyes a little wider, and appreciate yet another level of subtlety in the human form. What a gift! Enjoy!
And what discoveries have you come across when painting portraits or figures’ flesh tones? Leave a comment and let us know.