Painting skin, particularly faces can be a challenge for beginner painters. Or even those, like me, who have been painting for years but never ‘got’ how to paint flesh. To learn, I challenged myself to create a tutorial on how to paint light skin.
Much of this came out of creating a painting tutorial for each of the Mansions of Madness models. I’ve already done the tutorial for the dark skin models, so now it’s only fair to do the same for the light shades of skin.
Below you will see I took five bare heads and tried slightly different techniques on each. From fast and dirty dry brush to only using washes to trying to do something more ‘advanced.’
Below are the paints I used for all five faces.ost of the colors came from Vallejo’s Skin Colors Set that I would highly recommend picking up.
- Game Color Heavy Skintone
- Model Color Sunny Skintone
- Model Color Basic Skintone
- Games Workshop Reikland Fleshshade
- Game Color Flesh Wash
- Game Color Red Wash
- Model Color Brown Rose
- Model Color Dark Flesh
- Model Color Bone White
- Game Color Blue Wash
- Game Color Warlord Purple
- Model Color Mahogany Brown
The first two methods are what I would consider quick or easy methods to paint light skin. But don’t discount them because, as you will see, you can get some decent looking faces from these techniques.
1. Painting Light Skin with Dry Brush Method
The good ol’ dry brush method to painting skin.
The idea with dry brushing is you load up a stiff brush and wipe most of the paint off with a paper towel. You can the knock the bristles about on the model, and it leaves paint on the raised edges.
It’s quick and easy and works ok for painting skin, but does leave it looking a bit dusty (which we will address in method #3 below).
The first step is to paint the base color onto the model. As the dry brush only builds up layers, it’s important to have the base color be darker than where you want to go.
Here I painted all the light skin with Heavy Skintone which is a dark, reddish brown. I then used two sets of drybrush to build up the highlights: Sunny Skintone and Basic Skintone. Using the dry brush I could quickly grab all the raised edges of his face and lighten it up.
The other downside of dry brushing is that it makes a mess. So I went back over the other details and cleaned them up, painted the eyes, and added some dark brown wash to his open mouth.
From start to finish in only a few minutes. It’s quick and dirty but makes for fast painting.
2. Painting Light Skin with Wash Only
The next guy I painted his face with only washes. This is another quick way to paint models in the sense that . I go on so quickly and seep into the recesses.
It has two challenges: the washes take a long time to dry, so you need breaks between each session. And you have to be extra careful when painting the details around where you are washing.
Flesh Wash, Reikland Fleshshade, red wash
After painting his glasses, bandanna, and hair, I slathered him in Flesh Wash. I was a bit disappointed with this wash as it was extra thin and it took two coats to get what you see in the first picture.
So instead, I went back to Games Workshop’s Reikland Fleshshade, which provides a warm brown shade. To add more interest to him, I added a red wash on his bottom lip and in some of the recesses. This adds more color to his face as I can image this guy working hard to make that frown.
3. Painting a White Face with Dry Brush and Wash
As I mentioned in the dry brush method, it can leave the model looking a bit dusty. To fix that as well as bring some of the shadows back, I added a final wash step to face #3.
I also went for larger contrast through the steps by starting with Brown Rose as a darker base. Dark Flesh and then Bone White were dry brushed on. I went all the way to white so the wash could leave highlights.
Reikland Flesh Shade, Blue Wash, Warlord Purple
So I cleaned up the bandanna, painted his eyes, then used Reikland to tone him back down. This provides for a nice face with little work, perfect for the pile of Guardsmen facing you from the gray tide.
I wanted to play around with him a bit more and add bruising or pox marks. So the Blue Wash was broken out and added beneath his eyes, lower lip, and side of his face. In hindsight, I could have added a bit of skin tone over the large blue splot and made for some convincing bruises.
Instead, I accentuated it with Warlord Purple. By adding it to the lower lip, it made it look puffy and bloody, while the dots on his face ended up more like track marks. But that is part of the idea of doing these practice faces, try something new, take notes, and do it differently next time.
More Detailed Methods
On the next two faces, I went with the more ‘sophisticated’ way of using layers and glazes. Rather than using a dry brush to smash paint onto the highlights, I used smaller brushes to apply the paint to where I wanted to.
It does take longer, much longer if you want to get fancy, but you can add more depth of details where that may not exist on the actual sculpt.
4. Painting Light Skin with Layers
First up was Harvey Tall Hat. One of the important things about painting light skin is keeping it warm. Using too light of colors or adding grays can make it too cool and dead looking (unless of course, that is what you are going for!).
To that end, the basecoat of Heavy Skintone is a warm, dark base. It provides a nice foundation for the recesses. Sunny Skintone was then layered onto the upper and flat areas. The idea is to leave some of the former colors in the recesses and paint thin layers over them.
By using thin layers, it may take a couple of coats, but if you bring the second coat in bit further, it creates a smooth edge between the colors. This was done with the Basic Skintone to add more highlights.
To bring the layers back together, I added a wash with Reikland. It was a thinner wash than I used on the models above as I didn’t need to darken it much. I also went and painted back in all the details as I had now finished the messy parts.
To try something different on this guy, I decided to add a beard. I must admit, the first attempt (on the left) turned out a bit awful. Well maybe not terrible, but rough. I started with Mahagony Brown as a thinned down layer. Sticking to the lower face, chin, and upper lip I spread what now looks like mud over his face.
To fix this situation, I added a second layer of Charred Brown. I went with a dark color because it provided more contrast than the mahogany. Making it look like it should be there rather than odd shading.
5. Painting a White Face with More Layers
On the last guy, I added more layers, a wash, and more layers. This is where it is starting to get past my personal painting level, but it’s important to try new things and grow right?
I apologize in advanced on the sheen in the first few pictures. The Brown Rose and red dried rather glossy. Next time I would have hit it with some matte clear to make it easier to photograph and paint.
The steps are the same as #4 above, I just started with darker tones for the first layers. So Brown Rose, Dark Flesh, and then Sunny Skintone were layered on the raised areas.
You can see that I left the darker colors on the bottom side of his cheekbones, lip, and eye sockets. This is something that is much harder to do with the dry brush and wash methods as the plastic doesn’t stick out as much on some of these areas.
Reikland Flesh Shade, Dark Flesh
His whole face was then washed with Reikland. After the first wash had dried, I added selective areas with a second layer, including around his lips, ears, and eyes. It looks like a bit of a mess around his mouth, but I fix that with a new layer of Dark Flesh.
The added layer picks back out some of the smaller details and provides interest. Such as his upper lip, I didn’t paint it as a straight line. Rather, I highlighted a couple of spots to make it seem his lips are a bit scared. The highlight also pulled out his lower eyelid and eye socket.
To create more interest in this guy, I added some bruising around his eye patch. It started with a blue wash built up a few layers. This was followed by a mix of Red shade and Warlord Purple to deepen it. Unlike guy #3 above, I kept it to small lines.
I then added a second wash of Reikland Shade, but kept it to the areas I wanted more shading. So around the mouth lines, under his cheekbone, and eye sockets.
To finish this guy up, I went back with the Dark Flesh and thinned it down with Airbrush Medium (fantastic stuff). I added this back into the highlight areas that had too much wash or bruising added. Just like the first cleanup layer, it was the top of the cheekbones, lower eyelid, upper lip, and chin bones.
Painting Light Skin Wrapup
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on painting light skin, and that you checked out the dark skin version as well. Painting faces can be tough, but with some practice (like I did above), you can make rather convincing faces even with a dry brush.
Some basic takeaways for your own faces:
- Start with just a dry brush and add a couple of layers
- Try adding a flesh wash
- When you are ready, use layers to add more interest to the face
- And add some color with washes like red and blue