Oil Painting technique – 4 steps How to mix colors to make a base flesh tone FAST

This is how you can get a base flesh tone for oil painting in just 4 steps.
Quick and Fast.
OK, it isn’t an “old master” how to painting technique but just a “recipe” to make a roughly base skin oil color very useful if you’re a beginner.
Now you’ll say it isn’t quick and fast but
Quick and Dirty :~)
Why is that? Because every human being has a different color skin shade and more, different shades on the same portrait.
In order to get a realist oil painting portrait, you have to analyze the particularity of your character skin shades.
There is when knowing how to mix colors to get the right flesh tone is coming handy.

You need this oil colors:
White – any kind of white : titan white, zinc white, mix of these two whites
and finally and the best looking white for portraits which was used by the old masters, lead white
(I know it’s labeled as toxic yet I didn’t see any ill painter because of using it. This was maybe in the past when a large number of the painter’s color palette was made of toxic pigments)
I wouldn’t use Titanium white on a commissioned oil painting portrait because it gives skin a chalky look, something like the portrait would be whitewashed.

Yellow – any kind o yellow, from yellow ocher (which I most often use) to Neaple yellow (light pale yellow)

Red – any kind of red – from earth red colors to various cadmium red types

Green or Blue – any kind of them depending on which skin shade you may want to get and also, on how warm or cool you want it to be.
Just make experiments with small amounts of different colors.
You’ll be amazed of so many flesh tones you can get.

So, mixing oil colors for a base skin tone is simple as 1 2 3 4:

  1.   put a big pile of white on the palette.
  2.   add a little bit of red to the white pile and mix them up together very well. Add as much red as it’s needed to get a light pink.
  3.   add yellow almost the same amount as you added red then mix them well.
  4.   put now the smallest amount of green into the mix. Better less then much because you can add more color anytime but never draw out.

That’s it. You just made a nice base skin tone.


  • It’s better to get a more neutral skin shade. It can be toned then locally on the portrait.
    You can add to this base flesh tone small amounts of different other colors to get different tones. I like to use for this violet of any kind.
  • It’s good to know that human skin color is not pink or white or black or whatever. it’s BROWN. Different shades of brown.
  • Pay attention to the background color! A reddish background will make the portrait to fade greenish and also, a greenish background makes portrait looks more reddish.This can be in your advantage if you think your portrait looks either too greenish or reddish. Instead of fixing the colors of the portrait , you can simply change the background color. It’s a lot easier than fixing the portrait!

We are artists so that more visual learners so, if you like this tutorial, watch this video in which I make the skin color recipe I’ve just wrote down.

6 thoughts on “Oil Painting technique – 4 steps How to mix colors to make a base flesh tone FAST

  1. Thank you so much. As a beginner painter and living in a rural area where running to the store for paint is not an option I needed to know how to mix my little set of paints. Thank you again, Catherine

    1. Thank you very much for comment Catherine! Please, forgive my late replay because I wasn’t able to replay to any comment last few weeks being very very busy. Today is the first day in this weeks when I entered on my website administration page.
      Catherine, I’m so glad that my article is helpful! It makes me more responsible and also encourages me to write more “how to” posts.
      Well, it doesn’t matter when one lives on these days when Internet is accessible almost anywhere. Information, books or goods are at a mouse click step.
      All the best, Daniel

  2. Congratulations! You definitely have the determination to move forward for the things you love the most, your famy and the love of art. What a wonderful way to show the world the great talent and vision you have.

  3. I having been Drawing portraits for years but never painted im getting ready to do it ,im really worried because im doing this for someone and all your hints help so much 🙂

    1. Hi and welcome to my website!
      Isn’t that frightening? I know so well the feeling you’ve got. Believe me or not, this is how I feel myself every time I start a new painting. Then I calm down myself thinking that I have nothing to lose but to win : learning from a mistake, at worst.
      Now, you told me you draw portraits and I suppose you do it well if you have been drawing them for years now. That means you have already the sense of face proportions and stuff and your concern is about color…how to do that thing in colors and more of that, in oil colors.
      Diane, I suggest you to do some color studies first. Take down individual parts of the portrait and try painting them as good as you can. Then draw the portrait as you usually did but onto a canvas, seal it down with some oil medium then try to paint over it.
      If the reference image for the portrait is a photo, then you can pair check every color spot you have to mix and its corespondent from the picture. (compare the oil color you mix having it on the palette knife, to the photo, keeping the knife near the spot you want to resemble with)
      So, make some study works before to start the actual painting you have to get done for that one.
      All the best to you, Daniel

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