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Review-Painting Beautiful Skin Tones

If the subject of your paintings are often people then you know how important it is to be able to master the skill of painting quality skin tones. I certainly needed a book to help me, especially with paint mixing. I came across a wonderful book that is dedicated just to skin tones titled “Painting Beautiful Skin Tones with Color & Light in Oil, Pastel and Watercolor” by Chris Saper. It is published by North Light Books. Saper holds a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts and has studied with artists Bettina Steinke, Burton Silverman, Harley Brown, Dan Gerhartz and Phil Beck. Her incredible art is displayed throughout the book.

The book is divided up into six easy to follow chapters. The first chapter covers The Five Elements of Painting. She emphasizes that good drawing skills are fundamental in portraiture. After all, it is the basis to which the entire painting will be built on. Saper says to paint many paintings, in fact paint every day that you can to get as much practice as you possibly can. Value, lightness or darkness of an object is covered in great depth by studying the Five-Value Scale (light to dark). Saper teaches you how to think in black and white by comparing a color photograph to the same in black and white. I found this to be very helpful, as my drawing teacher never used this technique in college. The color wheel is discussed using hue, intensity, gray zone and temperatures of colors. I found this section of the book to be a good refresher, but it is also a nice teaching guide for beginners as well. By the end of the chapter you are ready to get out your paints and have a sense of what a balanced composition looks like.

The second chapter The Colors of Light and Shadow goes into great detail explaining how light carries paint color, but shadow carries the entire painting. This is something that many beginning painters forget to do when they are first starting out – define where their light source is coming from and where the shadows are falling on their subject. The light and shadows is what brings the subject to life and gives it dimension. I found this chapter’s explanation of cool and warm light and the different colors they create to be very interesting. It’s something I’m still trying to work on. Of course her drawing examples make the explanations easy to understand.

The third chapter The Local Color of Skin: A Question of Orange is my favorite and it is the most useful for getting skin color right for your portraits. I struggled with getting flesh right for a painting I was working on and went to one page in this chapter that told me exactly what paints to mix to get the color I wanted. I played around with it to make it darker and lighter for shaded areas, but for the first time in painting people I was pleased with my flesh tone. This chapter shows you how to mix your paints for all the different kinds of skin types.

The fourth chapter Using Photographic References doesn’t just tell you to go get a photograph and paint a portrait from it, but actually gives you good instruction on how to set up a good photograph for the purpose of painting a portrait from it later. Saper gives you pointers on how to pose people, attend to details, aim for the right kind of smile, dress your model, select your vantage point, set up composition and light your subject.



The fifth chapter Organize Your Painting in Three Easy Stages basically goes over the early, middle and end stages of the portrait with the reader. Some experienced painters are so good they pick up the paint brush and start painting, but because everyone isn’t a Rembrandt, Saper highly recommends planning out your painting with thumbnail sketches, then drawing out your portrait on the canvas. Saper says that you have a visual memory of your subject to work from if you draw your subject. Secondly, you make color choices, determining where your light source is coming from. Lastly, you fine-tune, or proofread your work and finish. Again, this chapter gave a step-by-step instruction along side progressive illustrations.

The sixth and final chapter Painting Demonstration Step by Step gives you a look at even more of Saper’s work in a pastel, oil and watercolor. Everything discussed in the entire book comes to fruition in this final chapter.

If your paintings have people in them you have a need to paint skin tones. “Painting Beautiful Skin Tones with Color & Light” by Chris Saper is a must-have for your art references.


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