A Crash Course In Painting Skintones

Skintones! Man, I can remember the times when I thought skintones would be impossible to achieve. I mean all that I had painted up until that time were dinosaur models and a few creature kits. Don't have to worry about peachy skintones on a slimy alien! Luckily, I had some experience with an airbrush which I believe to be an essential tool for good skin tones on a one sixth scale kit. The reason for this is that the bigger the kit, the more area you have to cover with paint. This leaves more room for brush marks from a paintbrush and I detest brush marks! An airbrush can get you those gradual color changes and give your figure some depth.

I use a Testors modelmaster airbrush which is a pretty good airbrush when the tips are in good shape. I have noticed that after you use a tip, the spray may start to appear spattered due to imperfections in the tip (or a year's worth of paint accumulation that you just can't clean up). Some people suggest that you let the tips soak in water or cleaning solution when not in use. I usually do this when the tip is so bad that paint will not flow through it. I need to send some of mine back for repair or replacement because of their unlimited warranty. After you get proficient with the airbrush and can lay fine lines and get good color gradations, you should have no problem with skintones.

The only challenge left is getting the color correct. I learned to paint skintones from David Fisher. His technique was simple and it produced great results. I use the same formula to paint skin now but every kit is different in some way. Different paint ratios will yield different results. Plus, I don't want every kit to look the same! Each one has its own personality.

Now for the colors. I imagine that the brand of paint does not matter but I use Liquitex. This is because I know they have the colors I need and I know where to get them. They come in tubes or small bottles of concentrated colors which are thinner. I think you get more bang for your buck with the tube type paint although the thinner, concentrated colors are easier to mix and thin down. The three primary colors for skin are: Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, and White. Other colors can enhance this mixture. I usually use any type of blue or green to make dead skin. Red Oxide is used for blush shades and Burnt Umber is used for shadows.

For normal, Caucasian skin, I mix up equal amounts of burnt sienna, raw sienna, and white. I will usually cut down on the burnt sienna because too much will make the skin red looking. I mix these three colors up and thin them down with Polly-S thinner. A trick I use to make sure the paint is thin enough for airbrushing is to tilt the paint jar and then let the paint run back down. If I can't immediately see through the paint as it runs back down, it is probably too thick. Paint too thin is almost always better than paint too thick although you will probably have to put down 100 coats to get any coverage on the model.

A little bit about primers. I use gray figure primer under all skintones. Call me crazy, but the gray warms the skin up and dulls it down a tad. This is because the paint is transparent to some extent. Skintones on a white background tend to be too gaudy for me. Anime' kits can be an exception.

When I spray the first coat of skintone on a primed figure, the paint will bead up. Therefore, do not be too heavy-handed with your first coat, because it will bead up and drip. You do not want drips! In order to speed up the drying time, I always use a hairdryer. This will dry the paint, but will not cure it, so the paint is dry but it isn't. Confusing? Just be careful how you handle the kit while you are painting it because you can rub the paint off. Try to hold the figure by a boot or something that you know will not be skin-colored. After you get the fig fully covered with this first coat, it should appear unusually dark. This is normal because you are working from dark to light. I lighten up my paint mixture with a little white and a little raw sienna and spray the kit again.

The next step is to spray in the shadows. I get a small bottle and thin Burnt Umber. I then take some of my skin formula and mix some of that in with it. This will make the brown color not as harsh and it will tie into the skin color better. I then crank the airpressure down on my compressor and get a fine line spray out of my airbrush. I use a big, artists sketchbook to test my airbrush colors on. This way, you can see exactly what color the paint will look like when sprayed because the paper is white. You can also practice a few airbrush strokes before actual painting. I never let the first paint sprayed through the airbrush hit the figure. After testing a few lines on a piece of paper, I 'draw' in all the shadows. Shadows will not be a big part of the overall skin color, but play a vital role in creating realism. Try to find all the creases and folds where you think shadows should be and lightly airbrush in the shadows. Don't worry if the shadows look too harsh because they will be covered with many layers of paint yet to come. For a female figure that is pretty much nude, I shadow under the breasts, lay in a vertical line down the abdomen, shadow under the ribcage, under the arms, down both sides of each knee, the back fold of the legs where the leg bends at the knee, underneath each buttock, down the spine, and sometimes a touch in each eye socket. Occasionally I will shadow where skin meets clothing to give it greater depth.

After the shadows are complete, go back to your original skin formula and 'mist' over the entire figure. By 'mist' I mean hold the airbrush back away from the kit and lightly spray it with paint so that just the mist hits it. This will tone down the shadows and tie them into the rest of the skin areas. I have noticed that after you do this, if you want to add shadows again, the shadows look really brown, so you may have to mist the kit again. You don't want your shadows to overpower the kit.

Ok, now for the highlights! David had a phrase that went something like, 'pretend your airbrush is a light source' which makes perfect sense. If you sprayed highlights on the kit in every possible direction, you would loose the realism you are trying to create. Where shadows fell into the creases and crevices, highlights will be on all the raised areas. Lighten your skintone mixture once again with more white and a touch a raw sienna. Now, using the same techniques you did in shadowing, lightly spray all the raised areas of the kit. For instance, tops of arms, breasts, cheekbones, bridge of nose, etc... You really can't spray the tops of legs so to speak, so spray the centers of the calves, and thighs and work your way to the outer, and inner edges letting the color fade into the darker skintone you already have down. Then spray straight down the front of the shinbone.

Right about now I will pour some skin color in a separate jar and add some red oxide to it. I use this shade for the cheeks, nipples, any raised area that needs a splash of color. Sometimes to get a pinkish skin tone, I will mist this color on the figure.

The trick in getting the skintone to look right is knowing when to stop painting. Just about every kit I have done, the skin looks too light. Most of the time it isn't light enough. Skin changes in appearance when other colors are added - like hair, clothing, etc... Sometimes the skin will look pasty or reddish. This may be because you had too much burnt sienna in your original mixture, or you added too much white in the lightening process. Skin can be warmed up at the very end by misting on your second darkest skintone mixture. You must be careful not to mist too much or you will obliterate all the play between the highlights and shadows and end up with a flat looking kit. For unusual skin tones, mix in other colors. Adding blue tends to turn the skin a gray color. This can be seen in the picture of the two Pumpkinhead II's . The one on the right was painted with the standard skin formula. The one on the left was painted with the skintone mixed with a touch of blue. A pretty dramatic difference. Any kind of burgundy color makes wonderful bruises. Look at Chatterer's skin. Burgandy bruises were feathered in here and there on his head. Sometimes, I will apply washes of darker colors to the face to really bring out the detail. If I am too heavy handed in the wash process, I just mist on some skin color to lighten the shadows. I painted Locutus of Borg with the gray skin tone mixture but I applied washes of blue to give him that deathly blue pallor. The Unnamable was painted in similar fasion with dark gray washes.

Finally, I seal the kit with Testors flat. This clearcoat adds a slight sheen to the skin and really makes it look real.

So there you have it, quick and dirty skintones! Any questions can be directed to: me

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