Mixing a Range of Lifelike Skin Tones in Acrylic

Mixing a Range of Lifelike Skin Tones in Acrylic

Whether you’re a new painter or a seasoned professional, painting skin tones in acrylic can be a daunting task. It’s tricky to attain tones that are lifelike and dimensional rather than dull and flat. Here, you’ll learn about mixing paint skin tones and tips for how to incorporate the full spectrum — from light to dark — into your realistic painting.

The Easiest Method for Mixing Skin Tones with Acrylic Paint

This simple method uses different ratios of the primary colors to give you a range of shades. This easy approach requires a little work to refine, but it’s a fantastic and accessible method for artists of any level. With a little practice, you’ll be creating skin tones like a pro.

Determining Skin Color

The colors you select depend a great deal on the skin tone of the person you are painting. While it’s fairly easy to determine if the skin is dark, medium or light, you’ll also need to consider the undertones of the skin.

For instance, you might not think of many skin tones as containing the color blue, but many do, to some degree. By really looking at the tone you’re going for, you can make informed decisions about creating a skin tone in acrylic paint.

A good reference image is crucial. So to say that there is just one “skin tone” is false — even on one single person, there are many different skin tones at work. A good reference image will allow you to evaluate all of these variations in tone.

Mixing a Base Color for a Portrait

First create a palette with the primary colors: yellow, blue, red. White and black are optional.

Mix together equal parts of each primary color. Just about every skin tone contains a little yellow, blue and red, but in different ratios.

Once you’ve done this a few times, you might start with more of one color or another. But to start, go ahead and mix equal parts of each color with a palette knife. Your outcome will likely be somewhat dark. This is a good thing because in general, it’s easier to make skin tones lighter with acrylic than darker.

Refining the Base Color

If you mixed equal parts of each color, the blue probably made the color mix quite dark. Initial adjustments will be clear: if you need to make the skin lighter, add white and/or yellow. If you need to make it more reddish, continue to add red.

Once you make these obvious tweaks, you’ll have the opportunity to refine, adding a little bit of this color, a little bit of that, until you reach the exact tone you’re looking for. Here’s how to obtain three different tones:

Once You’ve Mixed the Basics, You’ll Need a Few More Variations

The colors that bring a person to life go well beyond the basic skin tones. To create a lifelike portrait, you’ll also want to mix the following types of hues.

Shadows and Highlights

This is a time when you can use black paint to your advantage. Mix a gradient of variations on your final skin tone with black or white paint so that you have paint in variously related tones ready to create shadows or highlights in your work.


If you want to create a blush tone for your skin, don’t use just pink or red paint on top of your skin tone. Create a custom tone by creating a mixture of your skin tone plus red for a color that will look natural as a “blush” tone.

Tinted Light

Create a mixture of the skin tone with each of the primary colors. While some of them might look funny on the palette, the fact is that skin you are painting may reflect the colors within the scene, such as ambient light.