How to make skin color with watercolors? Learn how to mix the tones and give a real touch to your creations

Interested in learning how to make skin color with watercolors? are you planning to make a portrait of a person on canvas? In this note, you will find the necessary techniques to achieve it.

You should keep in mind that, to achieve the skin color you want, there is no magic formula, but there are several methods, which you will learn soon.

Making skin color paintings has never been as easy as it is now, you only need to have with you the elements to use and above all, patience and motivation.

Identify the local color of the skin of the model

A good starting point to learn how to do skin color with watercolors is to ask yourself what is the local skin color of the subject you want to paint. what is the local color?

According to the Definitions portal, local color refers to the specific color of something; that color that is known to be characteristic of the painted object, regardless of the variations that may be caused by lighting or atmospheric conditions in reality.

For example, fields are “green”; the sun is yellow; an orange is… well… “orange”. well… “orange” You get the idea, don’t you? Most of the time, local skin color could be described as a shade of orange, which has a warm color temperature. But skin color is influenced by many other factors and, in particular, lighting.

So when learning how to do skin color with watercolors, the local color will change depending on whether the subject is in the light or in the shade. And the color of the shaded parts is not always a dark version of the local color. In fact, in natural lighting, the shadows will have a cool color appearance compared to the areas that are in the light.

Therefore, to create realistic skin tones, you can start by identifying the local color, and then create variations of this color to match the light and dark tones of the subject. To do this, we suggest you know the differences between warm and cool colors.

Use an artist’s viewfinder

Of course, the color wheel is great for helping you mix colors when learning how to do skin color with watercolors, but there’s another good tip that can help you judge the values of the subject. The right values, or the lightness and darkness of the shapes you paint, will make a big difference in the success of your painting.

An artist’s viewfinder is a great device to help you assess the correct values when you want to know how to do flesh color with watercolors more accurately. A viewfinder simply isolates a small part of the subject so you can better judge the value of any part. This works whether you are working from real life or from a reference photo.


You can easily make viewfinders with a piece of old watercolor paper with a hole in it. Also on Amazon you can buy a composition viewfinder like the one in the photo, which includes a handy grayscale value chart.


Create a color wheel or chromatic circle

what methods can you use to learn how to do skin color with watercolors? A very useful tool for estimating the colors to mix is by using a watercolor color wheel or a chromatic circle with watercolors (this works for any subject you are going to paint).

If you have never painted one of these, it can be a very useful exercise to get to know your paints. It’s fairly easy to find the starting point for blending skin tones using this technique.

If you take a look at the color wheel, you can start to see that most skin colors are going to fall somewhere in the range of orange tones. As you know, warm tones are the result of a mixture of red and yellow.


So this is the fundamental starting point to know how to make skin color with gouache without white. You can start your color mixing by combining different yellows and reds, or even browns (which are essentially very dark reds). Use a test sheet to see the results on paper.

Some parts of your painting may include some nice bright colors, but others will have very light pinks, yellows, browns and oranges. In watercolor painting you have a few useful methods to achieve this variation.

To find out how to create skin color with watercolors by lightening the tone of a color, do the following:

Since watercolor is a transparent medium, to get lighter shades just add water to the color mixture. A puddle of diluted paint has a light tone because the white paper shows through to provide the white part of the color.

To lower the tone of a color or increase its value, you can do one of these two options:

To create strong, bright colors, we do the opposite and make a thick mixture of paint.
To tone down any color in watercolor, just add a little of its complementary color.

Look again at the color wheel. A complementary color is any color that is on the opposite side of the color wheel. In our particular case, the complement to orange is a cool blue to make the color skin.


This means that once you have selected a base watercolor color for the skin, you just use different concentrations of that color. Then, when you move on to the shaded parts or shadow of the subject, you’ll need to darken the tones further, and the best way to do this is to add a complementary color.

The color wheel is a useful tool to know how the skin color comes out to help you in this mixing process and, of course, it would also come in handy to know a bit of color theory.

When painting a portrait, for example, you will want to add depth to your paintings with a full range of interesting values and colors. If so, mix flesh tones in this three-step process:

Start by mixing a local color.
Vary the proportions to achieve a basic skin tone.
Dilute the mix to get a range of all possible values from that mix.
To darken the tones further, add a small amount of complementary blue.

Learn how to make skin color with watercolors

how to make skin color with warm colors?

To learn how to make skin color with watercolors, there is more than one way to achieve the same tone. And it will largely depend on the palette of colors that you have at your disposal. You can use a whole range of analogous colors (colors that are close to each other on the color wheel) to mix your “orange” skin color. So just choose warm or cool yellows, reds and browns to achieve typical color combinations. These tend to produce good flesh tones.

Remember, watercolor appears slightly darker when applied to paper. As it dries, it lightens quite a bit. If you mix the perfect skin tone for a project, make a note of the colors you used to mix it, so you won’t forget the next time you sit down to paint.

When it comes to watercolor, both white and black paint should be used sparingly when you are learning how to do skin color with watercolors. Often, white watercolor paint has a bit more pigment, which can affect the translucency of the tones and make them appear flat.

Likewise, black paint can make skin tones appear slightly too dark. To darken skin tones, it is much better to use brown paint.

how to make skin color with brown and white?

If you’re looking for a short answer, it’s this: mixing brown and white. In theory, this is the perfect combination for skin color paints. Although with these two shades you will easily achieve a skin color paint, getting to the exact color you want is a bit more complex.

But remember something essential: not all flesh-colored paints emulate the exact complexion of people. If what you really want is accuracy and attention to detail, you need to understand certain things. There are lighter and darker flesh colors, which will not match the brown and white at first glance. Additional complements need to be added.

with what pigmentation is the skin color made?

As previously stated, there is no exact formula. Each artist uses trial and error to choose his style, but here we will give you the basic knowledge on how to do flesh color in watercolor.

Here you will be able to understand how to make skin color with primary colors, in view of the fact that you will resort to some basic shades such as for example: yellow and blue.

Source: Unsplash

You may find in forums or internet videos that some people recommend cadmium pigmentations to learn how to do flesh color. In fact, it is very popular in watercolors. Everything will be to your liking.

Now it’s time to put together the primary shades, to which you will have to add the sienna color. If you want to avoid a very pronounced flesh color, you could substitute the red for the cadmium orange.

The blue we mentioned could be complemented with the dimensions of the ultramarine style, so you can darken the skin-colored paints to your liking. In short: sienna, yellow, red or orange and blue. Don’t miss this on your list to learn how to make skin color with watercolors.

how to make skin color with yellow and blue?

Remember first of all that you are painting based on a technique of colors diluted in water. So it is vital to have liquid within reach if you really want to know how to make flesh color with watercolors. It is important to wet the brush before dipping it into the flesh color combination you are about to make. This way you will be able to dilute the stronger shades.

Having clarified this, it is worth mentioning the possibility of making a swatch on your own. why? It will allow you to measure the shades in your search of how to make the skin color with watercolors. To do this, it will be necessary to have a tape and make several grids, from which you are going to compare each skin color mixture you are preparing.

You can start by testing the result of the sienna with the yellow; later, the yellow with the red, or the blue with the sienna. In short, you’ll have all kinds of possibilities for how to make flesh color.

Source: Unsplash

how to darken the skin color?

It’s essential to turn to sienna with yellow, obviously diluted in water with your brush. From your swatch book you will have already seen the difference with the rest, as it is by far the lightest possibility.

This is perfect for portraits or compositions of people with whiter complexion than the rest, that way you will already learn the technique to know how to do the flesh color with watercolors.

Here comes the importance of red or orange, mixed with ultramarine blue. In case you were surprised by this last tonality, it actually helps to darken the paint in a more appropriate way.

Once you have dipped the brush, make the dark flesh color combination and, with a lot of patience, go to the swatch book. You will notice the difference at a glance.

You already have a fairly advanced idea of how to do skin color with watercolors, now it’s time to analyze the best existing designs based on this style.

With this knowledge, you will have at your disposal a great variety of possibilities and not only to draw people, but also numerous landscapes that will need skin-colored paints.

Importance of skin color

You don’t need to be an expert to understand the importance of knowing how to do skin color with watercolors. This technique will allow you to correctly capture the complexion of the person you want to draw. The easy thing to do would be to simply go to a specialized store and ask for flesh-colored paints.

But you’re not here because it’s easy. You’re looking for how to do flesh color with watercolors because it’s a challenge (that you’re about to take on).

Once you master this skin color technique, nothing can stop you from becoming an expert at portraiture with this format of paints, which never go out of style.

Source: Unsplash

Likewise, this knowledge will help you to capture all kinds of ideas on your canvas. Not only drawing people, but also landscapes, animals and whatever comes to your mind.

Of course, you have to be patient because watercolor, unlike other paints, takes its own process and much more when you try to learn how to make flesh color with primary colors.

Keep in mind that according to a Harvard Business Review article, people remember what you say in your painting, so it is essential to learn all the techniques to achieve this pigmentation, if you want a top quality portrait. Otherwise, you could give a bad impression to the audience.

Creating realistic shades will be your north to follow, and throughout this note you will understand the techniques, examples and tips needed to answer your concern on how to do skin color.

Celebrity skin color painting examples

Below we will mention five references in how to make skin color with watercolors, who not only specialized in portraying people, but also landscapes and animals.

One of them, in particular, simply needs no introduction. He is widely known by the general culture, and it is certain that you are already suspecting it. He made the color skin, an art in his works.

Vincent Van Gogh

Certainly his final product was based on oil painting, but in reality he has almost 150 watercolor sketches. Vincent Van Gogh sometimes used to mix both styles to produce works of unparalleled quality.

“Scheveningen woman weaving” is by far one of his most recognized works and could be of great help to you, who are in search of knowing how to know skin color with watercolors.

Just by looking at the woman’s complexion, you can bet that he relied heavily on light pigmentations. On the other hand, to illustrate the shadows, he used darker tones in his flesh-colored paintings.

Source (Van Gogh Gallery)

Albrecht Dürer

Albrecht Dürer, his real name in German, was one of the visionaries in watercolor painting during the Renaissance era. The way he implemented skin color in his works still endures today.

His greatest works, such as “Three studies of a linnet”, show birds with colorful plumage. Especially in the center, resembling very much the skin-colored paintings.

why is it important to study it? According to “My Mondern Met”, Dürer was one of the first European painters to use watercolor in his time. He was certainly ahead of his time.

J.M.W. Turner

From an early age J.M.W. Turner demonstrated his ability in this practice, especially in landscape painting, in which he became a specialist. do you want to know how to make skin color with watercolors? Take a look at this example. He learned to implement such pigmentations to illustrate the seasons and the sunset, resulting in a dynamic skin color.

“Great Yarmouth Harbour, Norfolk” from 1840 is one of his best-known illustrations, and you could analyze it very well to stop wondering “how do I do skin color”.

William Blake

Not only was he a prominent artist in the UK, but he is also remembered for being one of the most admired poets of his time. His particular signature for leaving skin color in works, led him to be remembered by major museums.

“Cúmulos y limbos” allows us to visualize the way in which he combined light and dark textures to maximize the musculature of his characters. Attentive to those details on how the flesh color is made.

John James Audubon

A similar case to Albrecht Dürer. He specialized largely in animal illustration, and he certainly didn’t miss any little detail. “California Hare” is a perfect example for this study on how to do skin color with watercolors.

This species has spectacular plumage, especially through its wings. You can see the way he blended the reddish tones, making a transition to the skin color.

Now, it will take a long time for you to match the quality of these artists, however, you can understand now how imperative it is to learn the answer to how skin color is made.

Get the idea out of your head that it will only serve you well for people complexion, as you have just understood that this knowledge will be essential for landscapes and animal portraits.

Tips from the experts on how to do skin color

Now, it would be perfect to be able to have the opportunity to consult the newly appointed painters, their tips on how to do skin color with watercolors. It would be the dream of many.

That’s why we recommend you to listen to the advice that the experts in the field have to tell you. They not only specialize in making skin color paintings, but also in all the secrets of this technique.

Specialize in portraits

“Illustration is storytelling in a graphic way. From the moment we start working, we can’t help but make a little bit of ourselves part of that story.”

As you will see, your emotions and feelings when capturing the flesh color in your drawings could have a great impact on the final result of the work.

Portraits are by far one of the most complex of all sketches and when you start the flesh color combination, it is only the beginning of a long process.

Once you have completed it, you can be proud of what you have created. why a photograph? If you have achieved a first class flesh color composition.

Explore your creativity

Now that you have the tools for botanicals and portraits, it’s time to elevate your creativity even further in how to do flesh color with one of the most specialized courses around.

The best tool to achieve expressiveness in your illustrations is watercolor. The unique versatility of this technique allows you to capture the vibe of any character”.

Source (Unsplash)

Improve your landscaping

“All the inspiration I need is found in nature and thanks to the unlimited possibilities of colors and freedom of form, watercolor is the best tool to capture what we see.”

This kind of knowledge will be a perfect complement to your career as an artist. You will not only specialize in skin color, but also in landscapes. Great, isn’t it? You will be able to learn other types of techniques, not only for skin color, but in a much broader style such as botany.

That way, you already have three top-notch resources to learn how to do skin color with watercolors, in addition to all the techniques that the mentioned specialists have for you. The last one could be an optional complement. That way you will be a dynamic expert.

Don’t forget the essence of always having water at hand, a liquid necessary to dilute the skin color paints, and thus avoid making it too dark for your taste. In any case, always remember to go for more concentrated shades such as cadmium red or orange, one of the most used nowadays.

There is nothing complex about knowing how to do flesh color with watercolors, you just need a lot of patience and the desire to improve. Have fun, remember that this is a very popular profession to release the stress of the work routine, so take it easy. The first painting does not always go as expected.

Then comes the rest of the sketches with better technique. Achieving the flesh-colored paintings will be an important step in your career. Don’t miss this opportunity.

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