Friday, 21 September 2012

I Wish I Could Paint Portraits but Mixing Skin Colors Seems Complicated

Is portrait painting a realm you dare not venture because it seems difficult? My book Why do My Skin Tones Look Lifeless? Plus 25 Solutions to Other Portrait Painting Peeves might be the answer for the beginner in portraiture. Now available in large edition.

Tips on Improving Portrait Painting in Oil Colors

When it comes to learning portraiture in art, I have noticed the same issues crop up with fellow students and pupils in my class. Often the developing artist may shirk away from painting portraits as it is deemed less forgiving than landscape art or still life. A less than satisfactory first attempt may deter the artist for good. Noses look skewed, skin tones look washed out or muddy, eyes look like marbles or facial hair looks stuck-on.

An Art Book on Painting Faces

Seeing such commonplace afflictions in portraiture inspired me to write a troubleshooting guide offering help and advice for artists wishing to learn portraiture. As can be seen from my art book, portrait painting is not what it appears. Really, only 5% of it is line and 95% is color shapes. This is why I feel portrait painting should not be about each feature in isolation, but about how each relate with one another.
See Youtube clip to see a slideshow of images within this invaluable book.

How to Paint Great Portraits in Oils

As can be seen from this book on portrait painting, the portraitist does not need an array of art pigments, sables, huge canvases or mahl sticks to produce good portraiture. The basis for my skin colors comprises a mere seven oil colors. I will banish pigments with ‘flesh’ on the label, preferring to mix my skin colors from scratch. The book begins with a preparatory section on portrait painting such as selecting the most suitable art surfaces, the underdrawing, the resource material and the underglaze. Such considerations will increase the artist’s chances of success.

More images in my book Why do My Skin Tones Look Lifeless? (Rachel Shirley)
The latter part of my book offers solutions for painting the facial features such as eyes, noses, mouths and hair. Learn also the vital pigments needed for mixing the skin colors of subjects from different ethnic groups, ages and sexes. Eye color from blue to brown, and hair color from blond and ginger to black are also explored. See screenshot of the interior of this large edition book to get an idea of how it looks.

Ideal Art Pigments for Skin Colours

Essential Tips on Portraiture Book
Rachel Shirley
Darkening the colour of skin to express shadows are possible without the portrait appearing grubby; wrinkles and other facial textures can be expressed without them looking like lines painted on. Explore the tonality of skin as well as its color. As can be seen, treating the skin colors as the true focal point of the portrait rather than the features forms the basis for great portraits.

Tips on Painting the Model

Also learn how to produce the ideal images to work from, including portrait photography, as a portrait is only as good as its resource material. Learn also how to make the most of the life model if opting to paint form life. Effective use of light will help create a portrait that appears more 3D rather than flat. Looking for colours within shadows in the form of reflected light is the key. Art techniques for portraiture from impasto to glazing to scumbling are also explained.

Art Kindle Book on Portrait Painting

This invaluable art book on portrait painting is available on Kindle as well as paperback. Large edition measures 10x8in and 83 pages long, bursting with colour images.

The proportion of the pocket-sized edition is 8.5x5.5in and is 142 pages long – a size that easily fits into a bag. Also available on Kindle.

Some of the images within this book can also be found in my other guidebook on portraiture, Portrait Painting in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides from Old Masters. Each project is laid out with prescriptive instructions and accompanying step by step images, ideal for any artist wishing to paint portraits from old masters such as Botticelli, Delacroix or Vermeer.

Incidentally, Why does My Skin Tones Look Lifeless? has been included in a book amalgam entitled: the Ultimate Oil Painting Solution for Landscape Art, Portraiture and Still Life. This book is 3-in-one, a tome some 233 pages long, covering all 3 areas of oil painting. Also available on Kindle.

Briefly, I have a BA hons degree from Kingston, London and a PCET teaching qualification from Warwick.

Related Links and Matter to Portrait Painting


rahul said...

It seems from the portraits that you are in excellent in that .

body paint

Unknown said...

A good place to muse on oil painting in Western art history online, I find, is at this site at There is a huge
archive of digital images of artwork now housed in art museums around the world.

The company makes canvas prints and hand-painted, oil painting reproductions to order, from your selection of images
from this big archives.

It's some resource for art lovers and historians. There are many images of works by famous artists of the past that I have
never seen.

From their home page at, you can browse by the hundreds of artists there, movements in art, art media,
historical timeline and even by subject matter. There is much biographical information about the artists.

I am always fascinated by the way the 19th century English landscape painter, William Turner, used layers of luminous
oil paint to recreate his blazing landscapes. Clicking http://
, I find his paintings indexed in a floating 3D gallery at the site.