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Digital Subscriptions > The Artist > March 18 > Luminous skin tones

Luminous skin tones

Alyona Nicklesen shows you how to master skin tones for both light and dark human skin for coloured pencil portraits, with tips for colours and layering techniques

Countless generations of artists have been intrigued by the elusive nature of human skin. My favourite master of portraiture is Rembrandt. I am instantly awestruck by his brilliant ability to blur the line between two and three dimensions. The genius of Rembrandt’s portrayal of skin is not only about using a limited set of specific colours or high contrast in values. It is also about manipulating the medium such that skin appears as you would see it in person and in real life – not refined and artificial, but tangible and alive.

According to many writings about his techniques, Rembrandt did not have a single system or method. By experimenting and learning about the properties of the available materials, he constantly stretched their limits and manipulated them, often in unorthodox ways.

Of course, coloured pencil is not paint; however, the ability to allow continuous layers using ACP Textured Fixative* provides us with possibilities Rembrandt did not have. We can lighten values and gradually ‘pull’ lights out of the darkness of transparent shadows. Coloured pencil layers are much more incremental when compared to the thick application of oil paint and do not require long drying times.

The same skin types can look dramatically different under a variety of lighting situations. Their colours are affected by the surroundings and mimic the complexity of the human anatomy beneath. Skin looks warmer as it wraps over a set of muscles, but when it gets closer to the bones it will look cooler. When blood vessels are near its surface, hints of reds are added for arteries or blues and greens for veins. Skin is translucent, very plastic and its texture will vary depending on a person’s age (smoother during childhood and rougher with advancing years), gender (delicate for females and coarser for males), or even lifestyle (subtle texture for exposure only to an office-like indoor environment and more pronounced or weathered texture for someone exposed to outdoor physical activities). Although skin colours themselves are fairly mute and low-key, when in contrast with an even lower-intensity colour created by the shadows or washed out by strong lights, they can appear strong, bright, and vibrant.

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About The Artist

Water-based media enthusiasts will find huge inspiration and masses of great advice from professional artists Hazel Soan, Jake Winkle, Cheryl Culver, Paul Weaver and Marie Antoniou this month. Hazel explains how to translate tones into watercolour on paper to maximise the effects of light and shade in your paintings; Jake reveals the watercolour techniques he recommends to paint texture and patterns in animals; Cheryl demonstrates a coastal scene in acrylics; Paul urges you to try quick studies in line and wash to keep your en plein air skills in tip top condition while Marie demonstrates how to use tube black to best effect in your acrylic paintings! Learn more from Adele Wagstaff about the structure of the lower limbs and feet to help improve your figure painting, and the colours to use for skin tones for your coloured pencil portraits from Alyona Nicklesen. With more features on pastel painting, detailed still lifes, a new technique to try and oil painting demonstrations from Peter Graham and Bob Brandt, whatever your favourite subject matter or medium you're bound to find loads to inspire you in this month's issue!