My tutorial posts have been few and far between lately, but I’m going to make it up to you today by explaining something you’ve all been asking for… You’re about to become pros at mixing the perfect skin colors.

Mixing skin tones with watercolor can be difficult at first, but trust me, it’s easy breezy!

First, it’s important to remember that color is your friend. If you really look at someone’s skin, you can see that there’s more to their skin tone than just a solid skin color (i.e. peach). Instead, there’s color behind the skin tone, giving someone that olive, red, tan or any other undertone. Look at someone’s skin and you will see blues, greens, reds, etc. that blend together with their base color. Under eyes tend to have a bit more blues, and greens, and cheeks have more reds in them. Everyone’s different. No one has a solid color face, and watercolor can represent that beautifully.

I almost always start with the three colors on the above left, for any skin tone. It’s a great peachy base that you can adjust to the color of skin you want to achieve. They are cadmium red, cadmium yellow, and either cerulean blue or manganese blue (either blue will work just fine). I use Winsor & Newton watercolors. I tend to mix the red and yellow first, and add a touch of blue afterwards. The blue helps neutralize the red and yellow.

The trick to mixing skin color is to use lots of water. You don’t want any of the color to be too concentrated. Instead, it should be very small amounts of color with lots of water… that way you get a nice light pigment that you can layer. Layering is your friend when it comes to skin tones. Layering different shades of a skin color gives the face more depth… like I did here. You can see the result I got by mixing those colors together on the right side above, each slightly different. Add a little more red to get a rosy peach, or a little more yellow to appear more sun kissed. You can experiment adding other colors too, like purples, greens, or indigos.

To get a darker skin tone, you can simply mix the same three colors with a brown (I used burnt amber above). Remember to mix small amounts of color. You can always add more color slowly to bring the color to a deeper brown. Even if you apply a color that seems to be too light at first, just keep layering and you’ll gradually get what you want with a nice depth to it. Again, use lots of water… and add more red, yellow, or blue to get varying tones. Use a little more red near the cheeks to give a rose colored glow. Adding more blue is great for showing shadows, such as under the nose and around the eyes. Make sure you play around with adding more or less of each base color to achieve different shades like I did above.

You can also add a little yellow ochre (bottom left color) to give a tan glow to the skin color. You can add this color to any skin tone.

Keep adding more layers, or more browns and blues to achieve darker skin tones, or more yellow ochre to get an exotic tan shade. It’s amazing that you you can create any skin color with just a few colors, isn’t it?

I hope this helps! Let me know what you think in the comments, and would love to see you guys put these tips to paper (send pics!). Happy skin toning!

See more tutorials here.

  1. Hi Katie!
    (I’ve seen you sent me an e-mail… I’ll let you know more soon…) 🙂
    About this tutorial: funny how it doesn’t matter how long people are doing paintings; to obtain a realistic skin tone always is one of the big questions, right? You should do one explaining how to obtain more exotic skin tones!

  2. Hey Katie..
    I jus adore your work. It would be more helpful if you could post videos on the basic use of watercolors in illustrations.
    Keep up the great work =)

  3. This helps me quite a bit 🙂 Thank you for this tutorial, and also, for inspiring me to create again! I love your aesthetic, you honestly have the best taste.


  4. Hi Katie!
    I have to say i truly love your paintings.
    I am a fan of your work.
    Cheers from Buenos Aires, Argentina!

  5. Hi Katie!
    I just found your blog and as someone who just started playing around with watercolors I have to say that your paintings are amazing and this tutorial was really helpful!


  6. great tutorial, I’m excited to try it! I’ve never started will all three primary colors, I’m sure that will make all the difference.

    but by burnt amber, do you mean umber..?

  7. Hi Katie,
    this is a very nice tutorial – i’m new to painting with watercolors and this helped a lot! Thank you.

  8. thank you for this tutorial. I googled this subject and here you are.
    I will give this a try this evening.

    now off to look at the rest of your site. The painting above is gorgeous!

  9. I wish to bookmark this specific posting, “TUTORIAL 7// SKIN TONES | Paper Fashion” on my personal internet site.
    Will you care in the event Ido it? Thanks a lot ,Robt

  10. Have you ever thought about adding a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is important and all. However think of if you added
    some great visuals or videos to give your posts more, “pop”!
    Your content is excellent but with images and videos, this site could certainly be one of the very best in
    its niche. Superb blog!

  11. Nice post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed!
    Extremely useful information specially the last part 🙂 I care for such information a lot.

    I was looking for this particular info for a long time.
    Thank you and good luck.

  12. I am desperately trying to follow your instructions, however, when I have let a layer dry and then try to add another layer the first layer simply dissolves and leaves a real mess. It may be that my water colour paints are not a really expensive type. It seems impossible to have a graduated skin tone i.e. when the light is coming from one side, when I try and blend the colours it is not working for me.

  13. I have been struggling with flesh tones!!! I have only been painting for a couple of months now. I’ve been painting dogs and horses for my family members. Not so difficult. But my daughter doesn’t have any animals. She has two of the most beautiful babies, a girl and boy, I have ever seen. No, I’m not biased! People comment about how beautiful they are are all the time. I have just about pulled all my hair out because I haven’t been able to get the flesh tones right. Your article has been a tremendous help! Thank you so much for taking the time and explaining it. Thank you VERY much!

  14. Hi Katie,

    Your work is lovely, and I know I can learn much from your techniques. This tutorial doesn’t show any of the illustrations you refer to in the text. Suggestions for access?

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