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Skin Tones in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides from Old Masters: Learn to Paint Figures and Portraits via Oil Painting Demonstrations

Skin Tones in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides from Old Masters: Learn to Paint Figures and Portraits via Oil Painting Demonstrations

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Skin Tones in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides from Old Masters: Learn to Paint Figures and Portraits via Oil Painting Demonstrations

5/5 (2 peringkat)
213 pages
2 hours
Jun 17, 2013


The colour of skin has a reputation of being a difficult colour to capture.

But this oil painting guidebook aims to break down this seemingly difficult subject matter into manageable pieces.

Now with large images for larger ereaders, find 10 step-by-step instructions on completing figure paintings in oil from old masters. Leaving no stone unturned, painting skin tones effectively would seem more achievable.

Each demonstration comprises an overview of a particular oil painting technique to be explored, in depth step-by-step instructions and (on average) 28 images in progress.
The old masters featured are Da Vinci, Titian, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Gauguin, Ingres, Courbet, Rubens and Cezanne.

Techniques explored include sfumato, sgraffito, cangiante, scumbling, impasto, glazing, grisaille effects and more.

As well as these demonstrations a concluding section offers guidance on the art materials required. Preparing for oil painting, a personal view of rendering skin tones, a troubleshooting guide and a glossary are also included.
It must be noted, that this book does not explain the old masters’ method in painting processes such as grinding pigments or the traditional way of underpainting. Contemporary art materials and modified art techniques have been used to make these projects inclusive.
These features make this book an invaluable guide for the beginner as well as the developing artist wishing to explore oil painting.

Book’s statistics: 34,000 words and 320 colour images.
Print book’s dimensions: 8.5x5.5in and 192 pages.

A further 10 projects on painting skin tones from old masters can be found in ‘Portrait Painting in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides from Old Masters.’ Artists featured include: Botticelli, Delacroix, Gauguin, Velazquez, Wright of Derby, Jacques-Louis David, Rossetti and Vermeer.

A mini ebook, ‘Oil Painting the Mona Lisa in Sfumato: a Portrait Painting Challenge in 48 Steps’ outlines one of the demonstrations within this book, due this project’s lengthy process. With extra features.

Jun 17, 2013

Tentang penulis

I have practiced oil painting from the age of six and have since been involved in countless projects and commissions. A graduate from Kingston University, Surrey and with a PCET teaching qualification from Warwick University, I have won competitions, taught life drawing and have written several books and many articles on oil painting and teaching art.

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Skin Tones in Oil - Rachel Shirley

Oil Painting Medic

Skin Tones in Oil

10 Step by Step Guides from Old Masters

Learn to Paint Figures and Portraits via Oil Painting Demonstrations

Text, photographs and illustrations copyright Rachel Shirley 2013. All rights reserved.

The Right of Rachel Shirley to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 Section 77 and 78.Smashwords Edition License Note This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. Text, photographs and illustrations copyright Rachel Shirley 2013

All rights reserved

ISBN: 9781301604074

Visit my Oil Painting Medic blog

To my family

Paintings completed within this book



The Old Masters

Painting Skin Tones: an Overview

Chapter 1: Ingres’s Bather with Grisaille Effects

Chapter 2: Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in Sfumato

Chapter 3: Botticelli’s Birth of Venus in Sgraffito

Chapter 4: Courbet’s the Sleepers with Dry Brushing

Chapter 5: Rubens’s Samson and Delilah Blending Systems

Chapter 6: Gauguin’s Women with Flowers in Scumbles

Chapter 7: Michelangelo’s Delphic Sybil in Cangiante

Chapter 8: Caravaggio’s Sick Bacchus with Chiaroscuro

Chapter 9: Titian’s Bacchus in Smooth Glazes

Chapter 10: Cezanne’s Great Bathers with Impasto

Preparatory Guide for Oil Painting

Guide to Art Materials

Troubleshooting Figure Painting


Other books by the author


Flesh colours occupy a minor portion of the entire colour spectrum yet much has been written about it and remains a fascinating subject matter for art study. However rendering flesh colours either in figures or portraiture can still be perceived to be a tricky area reserved for the most confident artist. A misplaced shadow or the wrong colour mix can ruin the effect. But this need not mean that figure painting should be avoided in the future.

This books aims to make figure painting in oil accessible to the developing artist. My other book, Portrait Painting in Oil: 10 Step by Step Guides from Old Masters similarly explores flesh colours in context of portraiture. Skin colours in the form of figures and portraits are featured within this book.

All source matter has been taken from old masters from Da Vinci and Botticelli to Caravaggio and Rubens. Details can be found on the following pages (areas within the white squares form the compositions).

Within this book, you will find a section on the art materials needed, including preparing the art surfaces for the demonstrations. As this section is similar in content to my other aforementioned book, I have placed this section at the back. A troubleshooting guide, an overview of mixing flesh colours, and a glossary are also included.

The main body of this book explains in depth how each painting was completed. There are 10 projects in all. I have selected each old master figure painting with a particular technique in mind, including the painting modes of the Renaissance period. You will find soft skin tones in sfumato, candlelit features in chiaroscuro, delicate washes in grisaille and a mythological goddess in sgraffito.

Each demonstration comprises the completed painting, the technique to be explored, the art materials needed and (on average) twenty-eight step by step images with corresponding instructions. You will notice I have not copied the old master painting faithfully. Certain background elements have been edited and colours of garments altered, but the key subject matter, the figures themselves remain largely unchanged.

To make these projects inclusive, contemporary art materials and modified art techniques have been used as opposed to traditional methods of the day such as grinding pigments or time-honored under-painting.

Projects vary in difficulty and can therefore be completed in any order. The aim of this book is not the production of a carbon-copy of the old master featured, but to help build confidence in rendering skin tones in art via various techniques. Oils are the ideal medium for painting flesh colours. Oils can be dense and opaque, yet also translucent and delicate making an array of art techniques possible. If something doesn’t work out the painting can always be worked over.

As can be seen in this book, oil painting need not be messy, costly or confusing. All the paintings have been completed with basic art materials and a workable timeframe.

The Old Masters (Details to follow)

Details about the Paintings

1 The Valpincon Bather (1808) Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres The Louvre, Paris

2 The Mona Lisa (1503) Leonardo da Vinci The Louvre, Paris

3 The Birth of Venus (1483) Sandro Botticelli Uffizi Gallery, Florence

4 The Sleepers (1866) Gustave Courbet Petit Palais, Paris

5 Samson and Delilah (1609) Peter Paul Rubens Cincinnati Art Museum

6 Breasts and Red Flowers (1899) Paul Gauguin Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

7 The Sistine Chapel Ceiling detail: The Delphic Sibyl (1511) Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni The Vatican, Rome

8 Sick Bacchus (1593) Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio Borghese Gallery, Rome

9 Bacchus and Ariadne (1520) Tiziano Vecellio The National Gallery, London

10 The Great Bathers (1894) Paul Cezanne The National Gallery, London

Painting Skin Tones: an Overview

Embarking a figure painting may seem a daunting prospect for the beginner anxious about the issue of flesh colours. But with thorough preparation, the creation of a first figure painting can be made possible.

Part of the preparation entails getting the drawing right before laying down the paint. A good underdrawing is more likely to result in a satisfactory painting, rather than one afflicted with niggles that cannot be cured by perfected painting techniques.

Rather than view the preparation stage of the painting as a task to be rushed out of the way, consider it as a project in its own right.

Drawing Systems

The old masters depicted within this book are ready-prepared compositions that simply need to be transferred. Various ways can be used to do this, from freehand to tracing the image. High awareness of negative shapes as can be seen below means that the image can be viewed as a series of abstract jigsaw pieces to be fitted together.

The negative shapes are background areas, highlighted in orange. If a faint cross was drawn over the centre of the composition, the drawing can more easily be managed. The composition is also likely to fall onto the centre of the art surface and also be of the correct size. Measure the proportions of the composition before doing so.

Gridding up the Image

The old system of gridding the image is another tried and tested method of drawing. Prepare a gridding tool by drawing squares onto transparent plastic. Number each line. Draw a corresponding grid onto the art surface. Trace each line carefully.

Transfer onto the art surface. Soft transitions into shadow, as seen in the Mona Lisa cannot be pinned down, but a little shading by a soft pencil will suffice.

Never use marker pens or ballpoints for the drawing, as the ink will show through the oil paint. Use a soft pencil and work lightly at first. Don’t worry about the style of the drawing, only accuracy. This will form a good foundation for the painting.

Watch out for foreshortening of digits and limbs, such as fingers and legs. Long objects can appear short when angled towards the viewer. Hands and feet are larger than one might expect when compared to the size of the body. Beware of illustrating such aspects too long and the head too large. Some knowledge of the proportions of the body can come in useful when figure painting, but is often of little use when the figure is seated or reclined in a certain way. The head might be roughly one-eighth of the height of the body, but unless the figure is standing upright, this knowledge cannot be implemented. The problem of portraying the figure in an idealised way is touched upon within the troubleshooting section at the back of this book.

As formulaic rules cannot be applied to such an organic form, I will view the figure as an abstract shape never seen before. Working from a photograph means the image can be turned upside down or on its side. This helps the eye see in a new way. Viewing the image through a mirror or gaining some distance will make mistakes more obvious.

The Imprimatura

The under-glaze, also known as an imprimatura, is a thin layer of paint intended to kill the whiteness of the art surface. As flesh colours often contain a lot of pales, their true tonally cannot be appreciated if applied onto white primed canvas. The application of an under-glaze not only reveals the true tonality of the paint, but injects a colour temperature throughout the painting.

The imprimatura creates a fun aspect to the painting. Bright or deep colours will cause the figure painting to evolve through exciting stages as the flesh hues clash or harmonize with a chosen colour. See how Gauguin’s Tahitian women appear to materialize from the green under-glaze; the Birth of Venus appears to shimmer against the violet hue. Any colour can be chosen for the imprimatura, including black for chiaroscuro effects or yellow for a fresco feel, as can be seen in the four images.

Traditionally, the imprimatura comprises thinned oil paint – usually brown in hue – applied over the art surface. But I use acrylic paint as it dries quickly. Add a dollop or two of the pigment into a pot and add a few drops of water. Mix well and then apply onto the art surface via a wide bristle before allowing to dry. As can be seen in this book, I will use a range of different-coloured under-glazes to bring out a chromatic element of the figure. A blue under-glaze will resonate with the cool shadowy tones of the figure. A red under-glaze will inject a warm undercurrent into the skin tones.


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