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Painting Flesh

By Anthony Karl Erdelji


Nothing generates more opinions or controversy in the world of miniature painting than painting flesh. This is due to the fact that no two paint manufacturers make the exact same color of flesh, but also because we humans come is such a wide variety of colors. Even the skin tones of peoples from the same region can vary due to exposure to sunlight or lack there of, not to mention the people around the world can vary in skin tone from dark brown to a pale light pink. Also let's not forget that in a fantasy world we also have creatures in all colors of the rainbow! All of these factors generate a very wide palette of colors to choose from and it can seem a bit daunting, however once our colors are established, painting skin is no more difficult that any other area on a model.

Skin Color

The first step is to establish the base skin color. It is a matter of personal opinion, but also in influenced by the model being painted. Your typical warrior would spend much of his time on the battlefield under the blistering sun so would have a rather nice suntan, while a fair maiden princess-type would spend most of her time indoors so would be rather pale. I am always testing out new skin colors and mixing up my own, but at the moment for your typical Caucasian warrior, I've been using I-Kore's Tanned Flesh. Its a good tan flesh color with just a touch of pink.

Here we have six flesh colors that call all be used for Caucasian flesh, but as you can obviously see each color is quite different from the others. 

Of course this color would not work for every ethnic background found in the world, but it makes a good base to start from. The base color can be tinted as necessary to properly represent other racial skin tone. For example, if you were painting American Indians, add a touch of Red or Red Brown into the Tanned Flesh. People from the Middle East, try adding some Hair Brown to darken the base. By adding some tint to your base flesh color, the possibilities are endless.

Highlighting & Shading

Now that the base color has been established we will need our highlight and shade colors. The colors depend on what color you used for the base color, but Chestnut Ink works well for most Caucasian flesh tones. Most prefer to use a Flesh Ink wash, but I prefer my flesh a bit more brown. 

For the highlight color I've chosen Coat d'arms Flesh.  If Flesh is not available, you can mix up you own highlight color by mixing a bit of your base color in a large amount of white. You want a color that is just a bit darker than ivory. In the past I would of used white, but as I have discovered using white to highlight too many colors and you end up with all of your colors looking bleached out. Using Flesh instead of white enriches the base color instead of washing it out.

We now have our base color, highlight, and shade colors picked out. All that is left is the intermediate highlight and shade colors. These colors are create by mixing different amounts of base color with the chosen highlight or shade color. Sound simple? It is.

Let's start with the shading. As you may remember from my Highlighting And Shading article we only need two shades color for most projects. We already know that the final shade color with be Chestnut Ink, so to mix up the first shade just mix 1 part of your final shade color (Chestnut Ink) to 1 part of your base color (Tanned Flesh). All done.

Highlighting follows the same principle, except with a few additional steps. For a typical miniature I'll use four highlighting steps, but I will sometimes use three or five depend on the importance of the model. Again we know that the final highlight color with be Flesh, so the other three highlights are created from mixing Flesh and Tanned Flesh together. The first highlight is 1 part Flesh to 3 parts Tanned Flesh, second highlight 2 parts Flesh to 2 parts Tanned Flesh, third 3 parts Flesh to 1 part Tanned Flesh, and the final highlight is straight Flesh.

Will all of out color chosen as laid out we have a smooth gradation between the darkest shade and the lightest highlight.

Final Highlight 3rd Highlight 2nd Highlight 1st Highlight Base Color 1st Shade Final Shade
Flesh 3 Flesh

1 Tanned Flesh

2 Flesh

2 Tanned Flesh

1 Flesh

3 Tanned Flesh

Tanned Flesh 1 Tanned Flesh

1 Chestnut Ink

Chestnut Ink

Of course if we were using less or more highlight steps, the paint ratio would have to be adjusted to reach the final highlight, Flesh, by the final highlight. For example, when using three, the first highlight would be 1 part Flesh to 2 parts Tanned Flesh. The second 2 part Flesh to 1 part Tanned Flesh. Finally, straight Flesh is used for the third highlight.

Edging & Outlining

I've separate this section from the rest because with is really improves the appearance of the model it is considered optional. Outlining helps to visually separate different areas of the model from each other. For example in the case of painting flesh, outlining helps to point out where the flesh meets a sleeve, or bracelet, sword, and any other like item. This outline is created by painting in a thin line of dark color along these areas. Outlining is also called black lining since many people use black paint or ink to do this, however using black results in a very stark and unrealistic border. Instead we want to use a color the same tone as our final shade color. In the case of flesh, this would be Brown Ink.

Inks work well for outlining. Simply load a fine brush with ink and touch it along the border between the flesh and whatever. The ink will flow directly where it needs to go.

Edging is the exact opposite of outlining. It helps to intensify the contrast of the colors. Edging should be done very carefully. It is not another highlighting step. As the name implies, edging should only be used on the edges of the area being painted. If you can picture a box in your head, edging should only be applied to the edges where each side meets another side. In the case of painting flesh edging works well on the tops of the knuckles and occasionally the tips of the cheekbones or tip of the nose. These are not "edges", but it helps to bring a bit of life to a figure. Human flesh tends to have a light sheen to it and a bit of extra contrast by edging helps to replicate this sheen.

In this and most cases, the edging color is the created by mixing White with the final highlight color, in this case Flesh. Don't over do it!!! Less is more when edging.

This Rackham dwarf has been outlined with Brown Ink where the flesh meets the beard, leg wrap, hammer, and where the hand touches the leg. Edging has been done with Flesh and White on the knuckles, knee, tip of the nose, and since the model has such extremely prominent facial features, the brow, and the top of the cheekbones.

Bringing It All Together

Taking all that we have learned let's try painting an ogre. I want this ogre a bit darker than my normal flesh color, so I added some hairy Brown to my Tanned Flesh. The shade and highlight colors will remain Chestnut Ink and Flesh.

Normally I would begin with the base flesh color, but recent I've been experimenting with starting with the first shade color, in this case the Tanned Flesh/ Hairy Brown mix and Chestnut Ink. I find applying highlights easier than blocking in shades. Secondly, if you chose an overall wash for the next step, starting with a dark base color means its less likely for your ink wash to dark the base color to the point where you must repaint the previous coat.

 

Next comes the second and final shade, Chestnut Ink. This is either brushed on in the proper areas, or if you are in a rush it can be thinned and applied over the entire model. Outlining with Brown Ink should also be done at this stage.

 

Now come the base color of Tanned Flesh and Hairy Brown thinned to the proper consistency. Remember this is the base color, not a highlight and should cover a majority of the model.

 

A bit of Flesh is added to the base color for the first highlighting stage. Remember to study the figure carefully so all of your highlights are properly placed.

 

A bit more Flesh is added for the second highlight. For some reason that I cannot remember I did the outlining at this stage instead of earlier. You can now see the Brown Ink in all its outlining glory.

 

We're almost using straight Flesh for this highlight. 

 

Finally pure Flesh is used for the final highlights. If you wish to go one step further the flesh can be "edged" with a mix of Flesh and White. Finish off the rest of the figure and your done!

Additional Paint Recipes

Here are some additional flesh colors you can create using the methods above, but substituting different paints for your base, highlight and shade colors. All paints are Coat d'arms unless stated otherwise.

Flesh Putrid Green Flesh
I-Kore Tanned Flesh Goblin Green Reaper Caucasian
Chestnut Ink Dark Earth Chestnut Ink

 

White
Testors Skin Tone Tint Base Light + Shadow
Testors Skin Tone Tint Base Dark