An Easy Method for Mixing Skin Tones with Acrylic Paint

Whether you’re a new painter or a seasoned professional, painting skin tones in acrylic can be a daunting task. It can be tricky to achieve tones that are lifelike and dimensional rather than dull and flat. Keep reading to learn an easy method for mixing acrylic paint for skin tones. Varying Shades of skin tone on acrylic paint palettes By using the simple method detailed in this tutorial, you’ll learn how to mix skin tones using different ratios of the primary colors. This easy method requires a little work to refine, but it is a fantastic and accessible method for artists of any level. With a little practice, you’ll be creating skin tones like a pro.

Getting Started with Skin Tones

Determining Skin Color

The colors you select depend a great deal on the skin tone of the person you are painting. While on one level it is easy to determine if the skin is dark, medium or light, you’ll also need to consider the undertones of the skin. For instance, you might not think of many skin tones as containing the color blue, but many do, to some degree. By really looking at the tone you’re trying to attain, you can make informed decisions about creating a skin tone in acrylic paint.

Creating a Family of Tones

Family of Skin Tones on Acrylic Paint Palette It’s good to create a “family” of tones around your chosen skin tone so that you can add accents. As you can see here, the same skin tone is mixed with a little bit of blue, yellow and red in each spot of color. Save these accent colors for attaining details on the skin.

Tips for Mixing Acrylic Paint

  • Acrylic paint looks a little bit darker dry than when it is wet. So make the paint color slightly lighter than you’d like the final outcome to be.
  • It can be tough to mix a specific color using acrylic paint, so if you are looking for the perfect tone for a large piece or an ongoing series, make notes of the colors that went into the mixture. Better yet, mix up a large batch of the tone in question so that you will have plenty on hand.
  • While white paint is helpful to attain skin tones, use black paint very sparingly. Black paint can react with the yellow in skin tones to create a greenish, muddy look. If you need to make a skin tone darker, use a small amount of each primary color in equal quantity rather than adding black paint to the mix.

How to Paint Skin Tones in Acrylic

Step 1:

Create a palette with the primary colors: yellow, blue, red. White and black are optional. Have a photograph or reference image handy for the tone you are trying to attain. Dots of Primary Color and White Acrylic Paint Note: Remember to be very sparing with black paint.

Step 2:

Mix together equal parts of each primary color. Mixing Primary Colors of Acrylic Paint Brown Acrylic Paint Created With Primary Colors Just about every skin tone contains a little yellow, blue and red, but in different ratios. Once you’ve done this a few times, you might start with more of one color or another. But to start, go ahead and mix equal parts of each color with a palette knife. Your outcome will likely be somewhat dark. This is a good thing, because in general, it’s easier to make skin tones lighter with acrylic than darker.

Step 3:

Now, it’s time to refine your color. As noted above, if you’ve mixed equal parts of each color, the blue in particular has probably made the color mix quite dark. Initial adjustments will be clear: if you need to make the skin lighter, add white and/or yellow. If you need to make it more reddish, add more red. Refine Skin Tone Paints With Primary Colors Once you make these obvious tweaks, you’ll have the opportunity to refine, adding a little bit of this color, a little bit of that, until you’ve attained the exact tone you’re looking for. All of the below skin tones were attained by making refinements to the initial primary color mix.

Advanced for Painting Flesh Tones

Once you’ve mastered this method of creating skin tones, you can set yourself up like a professional painter.

Mix Shadows and Highlights

Once you’ve gotten the exact right skin tone, create a “family” of tones around your chosen tone. This is a time when you can use black paint to your advantage. Mix a gradient of variations on your final skin tone with black or white paint so that you have paint in various related tones ready to create shadows or highlights in your work.

Blush Tones

Shades of Brown Mixed with Red Paint If you want to create a blush tone for your skin, don’t simply use pink or red paint on top of your skin tone. Create a custom tone by creating a mixture of your skin tone plus red for a color that will look natural as a “blush” tone.

Painting Skin Tones in Tinted Light

Take the above concept a step further and create a mixture of the skin tone with each of the primary colors. While some of them might look funny on the palette, the fact is that skin you are painting may reflect the colors of the painting’s scene. Acrylic Skin Tones Mixed with Primary Colors For instance, if a character is standing near blue drapes, a sliver of blue may appear on the highlights or shadows on the skin. By creating these variations, you’ll be able to capture these details, which will make your final painting more lifelike.
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42 Responses to “An Easy Method for Mixing Skin Tones with Acrylic Paint”
  1. Linda S Suitor
    Linda S Suitor

    Really appreciate you sharing this information. So helpful and easy to understand. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Frank Penny
    Frank Penny

    Thank you for the tips on skin tone, it’s amazin’ how going back to basics works so well. I’m sure that taking the time to create skin tone charts will work for me.

    Reply
  3. JOANNA bayles
    JOANNA bayles

    This is a very useful article. It is not easy to mix skin tones and this lays it out clearly.
    It also makes people learn how to mix colors, which sadly many do not, they just buy a tube of a color and that is it. No technique.

    Reply
  4. Sunil N L
    Sunil N L

    I would like to learn how to easily mix any skin tone and I’m unable to join craftsy to learn more as I’m not able to join because none of my cards get approved. All my transaction get declined.

    Reply
  5. Preeti shaw
    Preeti shaw

    I need help to make indian skin tone color by using acrylic color… Please help oit

    Reply
  6. Wendy Mockett
    Wendy Mockett

    I’m trying to get the skin tone for a native Canadian/American? Anyone help?

    Reply
    • Robert
      Robert

      Trying to establish the same, without making a serious error, I don’t want to needlessly destroy the drum.

      Reply
  7. Bill Ryan
    Bill Ryan

    Thanks for the tips .I am new to painting. Fantastic art medium, have wanted to paint for yrs.Am painting 2 pieces with female faces. So I’m looking forward to being able to being able to create flesh tones .I also need blush tone so 🤞🤞🤞 I can do it. Thanks again Bill.

    Reply
  8. Nan
    Nan

    Wonderful! I can’t wait to try this method. Thank you for sharing this his technique. Can you tell I’m somewhat of an amateur 🥴🥴

    Reply
    • Darryl Romeo
      Darryl Romeo

      Thanks for the advice, I was getting so frustrated trying to get skin tones. I am going to try your advice as soon as I am through with this.

      Reply
  9. Chris Hughes
    Chris Hughes

    I am desperately trying to paint a portrait of an asian friend who appears to have wonderful burnt sienna based skin tones. and reflects light in a golden way. Can I achieve this using these colours?

    Reply
    • Elle
      Elle

      You’d get gray only when mixing exact complements of one another. Try starting with equal amounts of pure yellow, pure blue and pure red. Like cad red, phthalocyanine blue or cobalt blue and cad yellow pale. You might need less of the cadmiums or the pthalo blue as they tend to be very strongly pigmented and highly staining or opaque

      Reply
  10. Janet Schoentrup
    Janet Schoentrup

    It is good to know that I can make skin tones by using colors that I already have. I am looking forward to trying this technique.

    Reply
  11. Janet Schoentrup
    Janet Schoentrup

    It is good to know that I can make skin tones by using colors that I already have. I am to try this technique.

    Reply
  12. Jim Cavallini
    Jim Cavallini

    These instructions are very helpful. I am new to painting but enjoyed it since I attended a paint and sip class two years ago and now I want to learn more as time passes I want to test myself and try more and more difficult subjects such as people and animals.

    Reply
  13. Lisa Carter
    Lisa Carter

    I’d like to know which red, blue and yellow you are using. That would help me lots with the painting I am starting at the moment. I currently use cadmium reds, phthalo blue (green tone) and cadmium yellow (medium). Thanks in advance for any help.

    Reply
    • Anne
      Anne

      Hi, I notice no one seems to be replying to this or anything here. Just in case anyone ever has this question, too; the blue used here doesn’t tint out like a pthalo. Looks more like cobalt, or possibly ultramarine.

      Reply
    • Robert
      Robert

      I read this in the comments:
      You’d get gray only when mixing exact complements of one another. Try starting with equal amounts of pure yellow, pure blue and pure red. Like cad red, phthalocyanine blue or cobalt blue and cad yellow pale. You might need less of the cadmiums or the pthalo blue as they tend to be very strongly pigmented and highly staining or opaque

      Reply