The Artist's Road  World Map

Using Color Strings to Create Flesh Tones in Portrait Paintings by Terry Strickland

Send a summary of this page to someone via email.
The science of color mixing can be very important for the student to grasp early. We were taught color theory in art school, but the actual skill of mixing colors and values was left to chance and experimentation. Working that way can be frustrating and time consuming, but need not be so. Over the years we've researched traditional methods of color mixing as taught by the old masters and the Academies in Paris and the great portrait painters such as Zorn, Sargent and Sorolla looking for a reliable, logical system which would serve our art. This research led us to “color strings”, which are simply premixed layouts of the major color masses in our subject, from warm to cool, and dark to light.

   This has several compelling benefits which we find useful. First, by identifying and mixing the major mass-tones at the very first, we avoid the mistake of continuously remixing slightly different colors throughout the course of the work. This ensures that the color scheme of the work remains harmonious and clean. Also, by premixing, we are able to speed up the painting process and work uninterrupted by the need to mix new paint. In addition, by having our cools, warms, highlights and accents already on the palette, value and temperature comparisons can be made and selected quickly and accurately, thus saving much overpainting and scraping out on the canvas itself.

   We found this demonstration of the use of a color string in portrait painting on Terry Strickland’s website and asked her permission to republish it here.
For more on this topic, see Color Mixing Secrets for the Plain Air Painter.

Using Color Strings to Create Flesh Tones in Portrait Painting
by Terry Strickland


Initial Sketch of Eye by Terry Strickland
  
   This is what I have developed over the years. It works for me.


    I am constantly trying new things but for now this is my go-to starting place. I develop 4 basic flesh tones. Having a method helps me and seems to help my students.

Palette Layout by Terry Strickland

This is my standard palette.
 

Rembrandt Oil Colors

Rembrandt brand oil colors, left to right


1. yellow ochre, scarlet red, permanent madder deep
2. yellow ochre, scarlet, chromium oxide green, cobalt/ultramarine
3. yellow ochre, scarlet, chromium oxide green, transparent orange oxide
4. yellow ochre, scarlet, cobalt/ultramarine blue, permanent madder deep

Four Flesh Tones Mixed

They become what I think of as a pink flesh, a golden flesh, a green flesh and a putty flesh.

Dark Tone

   Separately, I mix up a warm dark for modifying the flesh color in the shadows. It is burnt umber,  a bit of transparent oxide orange and permanent madder deep. I like this combination since it is very transparent. I can always cool it down later by adding some blue or green (something transparent or semi transparent like the thalos or viridian)

Palette Layout

   I then place a bit of the dark mixture above each color pile leaving some room between it and the base colors I just mixed. 

Mixing Shadow Colors
I then mix a little of my base colors with the dark to get a light shadow.

 
Mixing Color Strings with Lights and Darks

   Next I add white to the base colors to get two lighter tones.  So I end up with 4 strings of 5 values each. 
   It is important that I only mix from the base color up adding the dark mixture to get my shadow colors AND
    Work from the base color down adding white.
    This keeps white from polluting my shadows and allows them to stay transparent.
    If I'm using a dark mix and decide it is too dark I add more of the base color NOT white. This prevents the shadows from getting chalky.

Working with Color Strings

   I  begin with the darkest, deepest area, the crease in the eyelid.
 
   If I'm painting a light mix and want it darker I add more of the base color not the dark brown mixture.
   When I'm painting an area with a certain value, I move sideways on the palette. For example, if the area on the painting I'm moving to is the same value but greener I'll just slide over and grab a little bit of the green flesh tone that's the same value. If it's the same value but pinker I'll slide over and grab a bit of the pink flesh from the same value line.

Squint to See Shadow Shapes

Squint to see shadow shapes.

Establish a Light Area
  
Paint on a bit of the lightest area
, (not the highlight, that's last).  In this case the area above the eyebrow, a cool light flesh color.
   This gives you a range of color from the darkest to the lightest.  Everything will now be judged in relation to these two color/value points of reference. 

Paint in Planes
  
I paint in planes, adding facets of color where I see them, trying to match value and pushing the color.
   By that I mean that I make it as colorful as I see it and then some. I can always dull it down by adding a neutral or an opposite color later on but it's hard to get back to pure color when it gets too muddy at the start.

Cool and Warm Tones
  
I have aded a bit of cad red to pump up the color under the brow and under the lower lid.

    The white of the eye is basically a cooler flesh tone. I added cobalt/ultramarine to achieve that.

Softening Edges
  
Closing in now,  I smudge the planes of color together a little bit, softening edges.
   If I planned to work on the painting for a second pass I'd make sure there were no big ledges of paint left by brush strokes.
   Big ledges left behind are problematic if you decide to move a line later.

The Finish
   Actually I couldn't resist working on it a bit more. I refined the shape of the iris, toned down the reds under the brow, and worked on the eyebrow a bit. There is a lot more I could do but it's just a study so I'm calling it done.

Article and images copyright Terry Strickland
and reprinted here with permission
.

To see more of Strickland's work, visit her website: Terry Strickland Art
   Terry Strickland graduated with a degree in Graphic Design from the University of Central Florida. She pursued a career in graphics for several years before devoting herself full-time to her fine art work in 2005. Since then she has become well known for her portraits and still life work. 

   She writes:  "I'm intrigued by the idea of a work of art looking like an old master's painting but with a contemporary edge, as an artist I want to be a filter for the time I live in. I'm frequently inspired by fairy tales, superheroes, or works of literature, and reexamine them in a contemporary way. Mythical characters may become a device to explore our responses to modern day situations, for example Superman becomes a symbol for the mighty dreams each of us hold close to our chests."

 







Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
Become an Artist's Road Member Today!
The Artist's Road LogoClick here to become a Member of The Artist's Road and enjoy access to all the in-depth articles, videos and tutorials. Guaranteed!
Not ready to become a Member yet? Subscribe to our free email postcard "Perspectives". Enter your email address below.
Search the Site
The Artist's Road Store
book cover painting nocturnes the artist's road
Just Released!
Our new eBook, A Primer on Painting Nocturnes.
Get inspired and then get out there! Filled with examples of night paintings, technical tips, night palette colors and a step-by-step demonstration.


Quarter Past Purple -
It's Time to
Paint!
Get lots of "complements"
with this fun and useful timepiece.
Check out the Leonardo DaVinci backward-moving watch, or the Salvador Dali rotating mustaches watch.

Also in our Store: check out our tips and guides for the artist/traveler, and some of the tools and other products that we use in our own art and travels.  We only offer things for sale in our Store that we enthusiastically believe in.
The Artist's Road School
About Us
Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 35 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
About Ann
     About John
 Hulsey Trusty Studios

We are also regular contributors to the Plein Air blog at Artist Daily.

The Artist's Road Round Logo