Monday, February 4, 2013

Painting Human Skintone - the Face

The face of all our miniatures is often the focal point of the model. There are thousands of ways to paint the skintone of a Caucasian and today I’ll show you the way I use most in this period. 

Note, if you are Italian, you can read this guide here: Dipingere un incarnato umano - Pittura di un volto

In this tutorial we need some colors different from the classic “skintone” because we will recreate the desired effect starting from dissimilar tones that maybe you already have in your box full of colors. So we will not use 42 pots of “skin-something” often quite useless in everyday painting…

For the whole guide we will need of a Vallejo Model Color Light Brown VMC 929, a red, a yellow, an ivory, a purple, a black and maybe a brownish green.

The very first step is to understand where we have to put our lights on the model. Let’s use a small trick. Give a uniform base of black primer on our face.

Now we use a lamp to highlight a model. In this guide I put it over the miniature, slightly shifted on the right of the face. You can put it everywhere you want the light to came on your finished model. Now, using any software to edit images let’s pump the “levels” of the lights (Ctrl+Alt+L and Auto on Photoshop) to get an effect similar to the one shown in the image below.

In this way we can easily see where are the maximum lights: on the top and on the tip of the nose, on the cheekbones, on the eyebrows, on the forehead, on the top of the ears, on areas under the eyes, on the higher lips, around the mouth and on the chin. Even inside these areas we can see zones with more or less lights.

This process is needed only the first times in order to understand exactly where to put the lights. One you have mastered it, you will be able to highlight the face to your liking, totally skipping this step. 

Let’s start giving an uniform base of Vallejo Model Color Light Brown VMC 929. This color is a warm orangeish brown, slightly light. If you want you can even recreate this color starting from brown + yellow + red + white, but honestly I prefer to start from a fixed base, made from a color producer as Vallejo, as a reference point.

Now, it is better to give two or three layers of watered down color instead of one thicker layer. 

Let’s work on the lights. Add a bit of yellow and a tiny bit of red to the VMC 929. Use this mix on the areas with more light, as seen before in the photoshopped picture. 

Let’s continue painting adding more and more yellow color, always in very small amount. Give many layers in smaller and smaller areas. In this phase you can already notice the volumes on the face. 

Let’s add more and more yellow. 

When the skintone is becoming too yellow, it is time for the white to come into play. I prefer to use an ivory instead of a classical white because the first one is warmer and usually dulls less the skintone. 

Let’s add more ivory to the mix… 

…and a bit more. 

Perfect! Let’s work on the shadows now. Ok it’s time to use the purple color. Take the color and water it down… use a lot of water and let’s make some glazes in specific areas of the face, especially around the eyes and the nose.

I use the purple color for two reasons. First, I want to give the model a more realistic and wearied look. Second, I use this color to temper the yellow tones; remember that the purple is the complementary color to the yellow.

When you make a washing or a glaze you have to avoid one thing: the watered color must not dry in “spots” or it will create lines and gaps that will ruin all the blending work done up till now. If you notice this kind of spots, quickly remove them with the brush cleaned in the water.

I use to blow air with my mouth on the model in order to speed this process… I do it every time I use glazings. 

Let’s go on with the shadows. Regain the starting color, the Vallejo VMC 929, and add some black. With this mix let’s glaze the color in the deepest zones of the face, do you remember the starting image?

Keep going on adding shadows until you are satisfied with the result.

At this point I sometimes add a very little glaze with a brownish green, something like a Catachan Green from Games Workshop. 

The skintone of the face is finished! Now we have only to add other finishing touches like painting eyes, veins, beard and shaved hair… but I’ll talk about these things in other tutorials! 

Here you can see some examples of miniatures painted in the way I’ve shown. Changing the amount of the colors it is possible to create a lot of different skintones.


  1. Good stuff, definitely useful! Thanks for posting it

  2. WOW !! how you paint this vein ?!?!?

  3. Hello, it's quite simple. Start with a skin color and highlight it a bit. Draw on the head a shape of a vein, it's just an undulation. Then thake the base color and make it darker, maybe adding a bit of brown. Paint a small shadow under the line of the vein that you have painted before and it's done! :) It's really an easy process.