Step-by-Step Portrait Washes and Bill’s Flesh Colors

Flesh colors, updated Sep 2020. See below for my current colors Check out my YouTube page: William Wise Art for demos.

After attending a Michael Holter workshop in 2019 added/changed my red. I now am using M Graham’s Cad Red Light as my primary flesh red. Cad Red is an opaque. Cadmiums sits on top of the washes below. Scarlet lake is more staining so it is harder to lift.

Logan progressive washes

I did this painting very soon after the workshop in 2019. Follow along with the reference value card in the 5th photo.

Photo #1: The first base wash on face was WN manganese blue value #9 (on standard Value Scale cards). It covered everything but the lights (cheek and nose). This makes a monotone base painting and makes the dark layers glow.
#2: The next layer was the first wash of cad red over the whole face (except highlight on nose and lip) and also into the background (immediately connecting the subject to the background). Both blue and red were a value #9 mix. (see side strip). See this as the lightest on cheek (red over white paper = value 9).
#3: The next wash was the same value red on the shadow. (2 layers of the same #9 value cad red on top of blue = value 7. Look at your value scale and photo #5).
#4: Next was the mouth, nose, eyes, and ears with a alizarin and other warm darks. That completes about 80% of the face.
#5: Now you model the rest with more layers and other common colors to add interest. His hat is a combo of Neut Tint, sepia, and probably pain’s gray. Keep blending and floating your colors for interest. every time I had one color on my brush I stroked it into the background.
#6 Finished

  •  My 2020 (portrait) palette. In order of priority and use:
    Primary flesh colors. (Great flesh triad) Manganese blue, M Grahm Cad red light, Winsor Yellow deep, plus maybe some raw sienna. Blends go from light to dark skin. Mix these colors to match the back of your hand!!  I use Scarlet Lake at the Very End to add warmth to cheeks. (I have been experimenting with Holbine Peacock as a sub for Manganese blue. Peacock seems less granular and less opaque, but the same color!)
    Brown/red Hair, rusty browns, warm darks : The classic – FU Blue, burnt sienna (playing with DS’s Q Burnt orange as sub for BS),
    Blond hair is Raw Sienna in light then add the mix above of FU and BS to make it darker in shadows. 
    Darks on face: (Lips, nostrils, corners of the mouth):  Alizarin, Winsor Blue red shade, with the cad red.
    Eyes: All the above colors, but lean toward the warms and ALWAYS keep the color changing. Same is boring! 
    Greens and cool blues: (My current favorite base background. A complement to flesh colors) Winsor Blue red shade, DS Q Gold, Aureolin. Never wait to start the background. Paint outside the lines of the face knowing the background will be darker than the cheeks!
    Very darks (warm and cool): I blend these 3 together and seldom use alone: Paynes Gray, Sepia, Neut Tint.
    Brands are Winsor Newton if not specified. 

Note: I prefer transparent colors. I am using a Cad red as a warm flesh red. E gads it is an opaque color!!! Yes, I use such a tiny tiny thin amount but yes it glazes over the colors and warms up the tones. This is as of TODAY! Please comment, I would love to hear your thoughts.


Current as of Sep 2020, Replaced my Nov 2018 colors.