PDA

View Full Version : Achieving flesh tones with pastels?


omgthatsfun
06-21-2013, 12:06 PM
Hellooooo wetcanvas! I've been lurking the forums for some time and its exciting to finally join and post :)

I have a bit of a newbie problem. I usually use watercolors but decided that I really wanted to try out pastels and bought a 24 pc set from Faber Castell yesterday. There was also a little set of pastels for portraits but I decided against buying them. Do you guys think its best to also have a set for portraits? Because I'm having a real hard time figuring out skin tones, especially medium-dark flesh. A lot of the tutorials I've found are mostly for portraits of white people. What I'm looking for is how to get a nice medium flesh tone out of my pastels. I'm really really struggling with it. I'm also self taught so there may be something obvious that I just haven't thought of yet so please give me any advice!

If it would help, I can post photos of what pastel colors I have/ my attempted sketch/ what color I'm going for.

allydoodle
06-21-2013, 12:17 PM
Hellooooo wetcanvas! I've been lurking the forums for some time and its exciting to finally join and post :)

I have a bit of a newbie problem. I usually use watercolors but decided that I really wanted to try out pastels and bought a 24 pc set from Faber Castell yesterday. There was also a little set of pastels for portraits but I decided against buying them. Do you guys think its best to also have a set for portraits? Because I'm having a real hard time figuring out skin tones, especially medium-dark flesh. A lot of the tutorials I've found are mostly for portraits of white people. What I'm looking for is how to get a nice medium flesh tone out of my pastels. I'm really really struggling with it. I'm also self taught so there may be something obvious that I just haven't thought of yet so please give me any advice!

If it would help, I can post photos of what pastel colors I have/ my attempted sketch/ what color I'm going for.


Firstly, Welcome to the Pastel Forum!

Posting photos will defintely help to show what you are looking to achieve. As for how to mix skin tones in pastel, there is no easy answer. Layering, warm versus cool, and using what amounts to some really unexpected colors is the simplest, yet most complicated answer. Having a set of skin tones in your arsenal will definitely help, but using them to exclusion will give you a somewhat bland effect (IMHO). It's the use of unexpected colors that make a pastel portrait sing.

You might want to invest in some books specifically geared to painting portraits in pastel. Here are two that I recommend:

Painting Expressive Pastel Portraits by Paul Leveille

The Art of Pastel Portraiture by Madlyn-Ann C. Woolwich

I have both these books, and in each of them you will see examples of what colors are used to achieve the skintones for specific paintings. It should be helpful to you as you paint.

Hope this helps!

DAK723
06-21-2013, 02:30 PM
I usually use watercolors but decided that I really wanted to try out pastels and bought a 24 pc set from Faber Castell yesterday. There was also a little set of pastels for portraits but I decided against buying them. Do you guys think its best to also have a set for portraits?

For skin tones, a portrait set is definitely a good idea. A general set of 24 pastels - even a general set of 48 or 96 pastels - will probably not have the subtle colors you need for skin tones. Mixing and blending is often done, but even then it is much easier if you have more subtle colors to begin with. You don't need a huge portrait set, in my opinion, even 12 to 24 colors will do. Some will come with a few cooler colors (greens, blues, violets) in the set, if not, you should be able to enhance your portrait set with your other pastels.

Don

omgthatsfun
06-21-2013, 03:46 PM
Ally and Don - thanks for your replies. I agree with both of you that "unusual" colors help to keep skin from looking dull. I used lots of blues and greens in my watercolors. I'll be saving up a little to see if I can get myself a portrait set.

In case anyone else checking this thread out might also want to lend some advice, I'm attaching a few photos of the skin tone I'm struggling with (always comes out too red or yellow and rather dull) and the set of pastels I have.

Again thanks for the help :)

robertsloan2
06-21-2013, 04:23 PM
You have the essential hues I'd use in portraits - that cold dark earth, reddish earth and yellow ochre plus an ivory highlight color. I've done portraits with limited palettes before. The thing is, I can do that now with your set - after I spent years in New Orleans as a street artist drawing tourists for $25 a sketch sometimes 16-20 portraits in one day.

The first day I started, a 30 color set not much more expansive than what you have drove me nuts not having colors I needed. When I supplemented it with a 30 color Portrait set, I had enough earth tones that it was easier matching individual skin tones. As I got more practice, I found I could render people easier with fewer sticks.

Generally if it's coming out too red or too yellow, you might need to add a few touches of those cooler colors to alter the shadows and make them harmonize. Keep one thing in mind - you're not just getting the color of the skin right. You're getting the color of the skin and the color of the light.

If you have your subject available to pose in person, or want to try a self portrait for this, see what happens to faces when one of the lights in a two-light setup is a colored light. I noticed it first in these posters of jazz greats that were up all over the place in New Orleans. You'd have the guy's shadow side come up all blue-green and his skin would still read true, all it looked like was yeah, he's got stage lighting and the blue light is on his right side.

One thing you can do before buying extra pastels is look at mixing and optical mixing - because you already have my most-used skin tone colors in the box. Do a chart of mixtures including white into those browns, that light gray into those browns, the different yellows, even that olive green. See how many different hues you can blend with the neutrals you have - and by mixing complements.

Last, there is the ultimate portraits cheat. The color of your paper is one of the colors in your palette for doing any portrait! i used to use Canson Mi-Tientes and had several colors I used as a base, ranging from Tobacco to Moonstone, that tended to create good skin tones. Using a mid-value background color that's vaguely warm or truly neutral can help you build up to it using the paper color as a mid-value itself. Blending can be done a lot of ways, you will get very soft blending with fingers or a stump or blending tool, that changes the intensity of the color though. It won't look as lively as stick blending, going over one color with another.

The mind fills in what it expects to see.

Say, it's not reddish enough, but you put a green background. That will push it toward red and lo, there you are, it looks better.

The color of the subject's clothes will reflect up onto the underside of his chin and any part of his face, there's that subtle light coming up into the shadows. The skin color of the first photo shows something like this. Notice the highlights on the right side of the face from that window, where the light washes out. That is almost a light gray with blue-gray shading! Not what you'd expect in a skin tone. Then on the left side where it's more subdued, there's shading in blue-gray over the skin tone. That's reflected skylight - sky blue coming in strong through the window along with sunlight. The warm parts of the face are framed in these two light sources.

He reads true as a medium-dark complexion person even though these patches on his face would, if predominant, make him look like a zombie or a blue stone statue.

Lightly blend your colors. Go over them more than once. The first sketch get all the values in with that red-brown, the "Sanguine" color that's close to the most common Conte crayon color. Shade down from there with deep brown in the deepest darks and ivory in the highlights, bring in other colors but touch them lightly and then go over them again with modifying colors.

Or get the portrait set and do it the easy way first before spending years studying color and light. I could probably do one now just using the brights colors if I had to, but you've got the base earths in your set.

There's also the Pastel forums "Soft Pastel Learning Center" which has loads of lessons in it including a great ESP (Exploring Soft Pastels) series by DAK starting with http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=532971 lesson 1 - read the threads, or skim through those to find the sections he talks about skin tones and building skin tones. I've found the ESP lessons so helpful with every aspect of painting and participated in some of the classes while they were going on, though not that series as at the time I wasn't as interested in doing people. (Long story, mostly grief from having gotten too sick to keep on with my street artist career.)

robertsloan2
06-21-2013, 04:29 PM
For that first one if working from the photo I might use a light blue paper. This will cool your reds and earth yellows considerably and make a nice contrast. The paper color becomes part of the mix with everything you put over it. Mark off the picture area on the sheet and keep wide margins for testing sticks and blends and combinations. They all go under the mat anyway.

I'd lightly scumble the red-brown over the entire face area except the cold highlights and blend that smooth, then start working over that to make the skin warmer and keep the highlights from being that stark. Use the dark brown for deep dark accents. Go around the actual eyes because you don't have that warm color in the whites, more of a blue-gray from being shadowed. Lighten with ivory rather than the yellow-earth color. Use just a touch of the bright pink or violet into lip color and then back with the earth red over it, lighten with white.

Shadow dark brown with a touch of violet. If it's too red a touch of earth yellow might help but even more, a bit of that olive green. That mutes red back toward mid-brown. Don't overdo it but it can be very useful in portraits and the principle of using green in shadows on portraits goes all the way back to medieval painting - it was in my 12th century painting manual (along with how to prepare pigments and grind them), to underpaint all the shadows in green and use pink in the highlights. The resulting paintings didn't look freaky.

Those are some thoughts, hope they help.

allydoodle
06-21-2013, 07:14 PM
I would recomend the 25pc skin tone set by Girault. You will need to supplement it with those "unusual" colors, but it's a great set to work from, a great starting point.

DAK723
06-21-2013, 08:47 PM
A couple comments:

The first is purely my opinion and many may disagree, but I never try to match realistic skin tones. If I had to describe my method, I guess I would say I use "idealized" skin tones. They just have to look realistic within the framework of the colors in the painting.

As far as photos go, I wouldn't necessarily try to match them either, even if matching is your intention! Cameras are incredible inventions, but they have their limitations and completely accurate color is one of them. The first time you photograph one of your paintings, you find out - the colors don't match exactly! Some can be very close, others not so much. And as Robert has pointed out so well, the color of skin (and everything else) is variable. The color of the light, and the color of everything that reflects onto the figure (and skin is very reflective) will alter the "skin tones."

While I may not try to match skin tones, taking color samples on the computer using any photo editing program can be very useful. Here are your photos with a couple swatches attached:

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/21-Jun-2013/82335-edsp-swatch.jpg
http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/21-Jun-2013/82335-ss-swatch.jpg

In the first photo, the colors in the shadow are very dark browns. If you have a photo editing program that shows where colors fall on the color wheel (like mine) you will see that the color falls under the hue of orange. Both these browns are essentially very dark orange.

In the second photo, the swatch is also an orange - a dulled, very light orange.

In a very generalized sense, skin tones are orange! So if your's seem to red or yellow, try to get them back towards orange!

In your first photo, the limitations of photos is apparent - the highlights are too light and the area in shadow (pretty much the entire face) is too dark. Personally, I find this type of reference to be the hardest - where almost the entire face is in shadow. One thing you might want to do, is make some exposure adjustments on the computer, like this:

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/21-Jun-2013/82335-edsp-swatch-rev.jpg

Just my opinion, but trying to do a portrait where the colors were as dark as in the first version would be very difficult! No wonder you were having trouble!

Like Chris, I would recommend Girault portrait colors, if looking for a set. The pastels are thinner, making them easier to handle for subjects like portraits!

Again, much of what I have written is just my opinion, so feel free to ignore!

Don

omgthatsfun
06-21-2013, 09:57 PM
Wow! I really want to thank all three of you for all of the advice!!

The photos I added were just actors I picked for this thread because their skin is similar to a lot of my family members and friends. But now that I've read the detailed techniques and ideas suggested, I will practice with these photos to get started. All your tips are really helpful. When I did portraits in watercolor, I already had "flesh" toned colors and didn't have to figure much out. I would just lay down the matching colors from my pan. I will practice lots with the pastel set I have now and get the Girault set later. I think it'll do me good to know how to use what I've got first so if I ever find myself without flesh tones I won't be stuck like I am now. The Girault set looks lovely and I'm excited for when I get them.

Again, thanks so much to each of you for your help. I feel a lot more confident now that know I can get some good portraits done. Just gotta keep learning and practicing! :)

(PS Chris - sorry about calling you Ally LOL)

robertsloan2
06-21-2013, 11:21 PM
One thing that can help if you're practicing from these photos, is to do a range of skin tone mixes in swatches with the ones you've got. Don did the swatches from the photo. Quick undetailed studies playing with layering can help you get good results.

That and try sketching from life. Get friends and relatives posing for you in various lights, indoor and outdoor. It takes practice to start sighting skin tones and the more life drawing you do in different lighting conditions the easier it is to make up for a photo's problems.

sketchZ1ol
06-22-2013, 03:05 PM
hello
Chris' mention of the girault's is good , imho .

Daniel Greene selected/composed some portrait sets for Unison .
> they were the best i've seen ( and couldn't afford at the time ) .
- i found colour charts of them at a few distributors sites ,
but lost the links when my old computer bit the dust , and no back-up . :crying:

look him up anyway ;
he is a living legend of portraits ( and with pastel ) .
scary good !
if you find his book ' Pastel ' online or offline , grab it !

Ed