What Colors Do I Use to Color Skin?

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

I know many of us colorers are always looking for the perfect color combination to create beautiful skin color for our coloring projects with people in them. I see all the time on social media where people post the perfect marker color combinations of Caucasian skin or African American skin etc. When I first started coloring faces, I had my go to color combo that I used for every face I ever colored - because I knew that worked. I still remember the colors I used - E53, E21 and YR000 and sometimes a E93 to add some variation. Every time I picked up a project with a face in it these were my go-to markers. I never ever changed. I knew these colors worked so I always did the same thing. Then I went to color a face that I wanted to be darker skinned. I didn't know what to do. I panicked a bit wondering how to make skin look darker. Since I was too chicken to deviate from my typical skin color scheme, I didn't do the project. Crazy right? I was too scared to try a color combo I didn't know, so I chose not to color at all.

Now, I have been coloring for years but when I was recently doing some research for the Practice Corner (as we are focusing on Skin this month) it reminded me how nervous I was when I first started coloring skin. I bet there are a lot of you reading this who suffer the same anxiety about coloring skin as I did. If you are in this group just know that I am here to help. Today we are going to pull up our bootstraps and walk around in our brave britches as we talk about coloring skin. I want to share with you a few things I’ve come across that I know will help you the next time you decide to color skin.

First, let's talk about the color combo you need. Everyone is always looking for the right color combo like there are definitive answers to a test. Here is the deal - there is not a right answer because there is no definitive skin color combination. Take a moment and look at your skin. Seriously, look at your hand or look at yourself in a mirror. Tell me what color you see - yeah what color? Exactly you cannot name just one color. If you are really looking you are seeing several different colors. So, now you know the answer to the skin test "What colors do I use to color skin?" is . . . all of them.

Ok before you think I am crazy, well you probably thought I was crazy before this post but still go with me for a minute here. Skin is the largest human organ. It has several layers before getting to the muscles and the blood underneath. Skin also has pigment that changes color. Skin can also have blemishes, or freckles, or scars or any combination of those. You see there are so many things that affect the color of the skin. Now can you see why I ask, “how can you limit your skin color choices to just a 3-color combination of your markers and/or pencils?” You simply cannot boil your color choices down to just a couple of colors if you are looking to color with realism.

Also, I don’t think we give this any thought, but it’s important to keep in mind that skin is not flat. I know this is a surprising fact, but skin is not just one shape. Skin wraps around fingers, knuckles, knees, cheeks, eyelids, etc. When skin bends over bone or cartilage it will form a different shape. Shapes creates highlights and shadows for depth. Skin around your eyes looks darker because it recedes around your eyeballs which is further back than your forehead. Again, if you are coloring around the eyes it would not be the same color as your cheek. Your skin is also a reflective surface so when the light hits your cheek it will bounce back a brighter color than you would have on your earlobes.

Clearly you are getting the gist that to color skin will take more than just a couple of colors in the same place on every face you color. The most interesting part of coloring faces for me is how fun it is express emotion with color. Think about it for a minute - when someone is embarrassed their cheeks are really red. When someone is sick their nose is red from sneezing all day. How about when someone is tired, you know this because of the darkness under their eyes. You can create so much more interest in your coloring by simply adding color in certain areas in the skin for the dramatic affect.

You can use any color you want to color skin. You see there is no wrong answer to the question. Really, you can create green skin, or purple skin and still make it look realistic. It all has to do with creating the right values in the right areas. Put the highlights in the areas that are reflecting the light and shade the areas that recedes back and add some interesting colors to convey the emotion and presto you have skin that looks realistic.

If you want to explore more on how to create realistic skin colors and get some helpful tips, tools and references to build your confidence to tackle your next coloring project that includes skin (face/arms/legs, etc.) stop by the Practice Corner this month. Come spend some time talking with other creative people who will explore right along with you. We have a spot ready for you with your drill sheets, practice and challenge images just waiting for you.

What's happening in the Corner . . .

Do you like to color images with people in them? Do you freeze when you get to the point you have to color skin? Don't know if you should approach coloring legs or arms different than a face, what colors to use, or even how to shade skin?

If so, come spend a month with us in the Corner while we will focus our coloring on skin. With practice, you can overcome the fear of coloring skin.

If you are reading this after we moved on to the next technique, you can find the Practice Technique Pack for Skin here.

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