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Lesson 5 - Human Skin
Added on: Sat Mar 09 2002
Page: 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 


In this lesson I will show you how to create a palette of (human)skin colors and how to later use it in a painting. I'm creating colors for a white person, though there is no particular reason for this except that these are the colors I'm most familiar with. This technique works well for creating other skin tones as well, just the Hue will be different.

We are going to start with the creation of the (skin-color)palette, but let's first have look at the reference image I'm going to use for the painting. It's impossible to create a palette that works well in any lightning situation so the lightning needs to be figured out first. The color, the location, the strength/intensity of the light and the environment that surrounds the the light all make a vital change to our skin color.

On a sunny day with a blue sky your skin will have yellow (warm) highlights and blue (cold) shadows. And in the winter you skin will have cool and pale colors... You probably get the idea. But these are changes made by the light. Of course there are pigmental changes too, but these varies from person to person and not so much with the lightning/ environment.

The reference image. (photographer unknown) and finished painting

I found this photo somewhere on the web years ago and I've kept it since, thinking that I might use it some time.
Now, I think it perfect for this lesson :-) Her body is nicely illuminated from left while the right side is completely in shadow. This gives us a nice opportunity to study the skin in maximum light and shadow. The photo is desaturated by the photographer so we have to guess on the colors...

Step 1: Palette

We'll start with creating the palette for her skin. To create a palette I simply open a new image approximately 500*500 pixels and paint in small dots of the colors I intend to use. This can be pretty difficult really. One flat color alone doesn't look good, and it can be hard to visualize the color in light and dark.
If you are inexperienced with painting skin I recommend you to open a photograph with That should not be too hard to find really.

Try to find images with both highlights and shadow and preferably with a 'neutral' lightning (evenly lit indoor or overcast outdoor). Use the color picker tool and move the cursor from light to dark skin areas and see how the color changes. Notice how the marker in the Hue-ring moves and how the marker in the Value and Saturation-triangle changes.
If the image is compressed the markers will probably move very uneven because of the noise created by the compression. I've found that skin colors mostly move from light to shadow like this:

HSV changes from light to dark (an explanation on HSV is in lesson #1)

* The hue moves from 'yellow' to 'red' as the color moves to shadow
* The saturation changes in a nonlinear way as the value goes from light to dark

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