Palette Knife Paintings: Mixing Flesh Tones

See a painting demo of how to mix flesh tones using water mixable oil paints and a palette knife. Using exclusively a palette knife is an effective way to focus entirely on the color mixing process by removing the distraction of needing to address brush technique at the same time. Painting a self-portrait from life, you’ll see how to observe colors in the skin and balance out hue, saturation, value, and warm/cool colors. Watch part 2. Demo by Art Prof Clara Lieu.

Video Walkthrough

  • Palette knife paintings simplify the process, it’s just one tool.
  • The shape and size of a palette knife is a very personal choice.
  • Try out many different palette knives to figure out the ones you like.
  • The palette knife can be a very awkward tool, it takes time.
  • Palette knives are most effective when you use a lot of physical pressure, a lot of people don’t.
  • Not using brushes makes it possible to really concentrate on the mixing.
  • Mixing colors is time consuming!
  • Don’t be frustrated if you are mixing a ton before starting with a brush.
  • Artificial light has a warm tint, natural light has a cool tint.
  • Look at the color in relation to the colors next to it to determine how to adjust your mixtures.
  • Look at the color of your forehead compared to the color of your nose.
  • A lot of color mixing is trial and error.
  • After you mix a color, put a little swatch on your painting to see how it relates to the other colors before adding a ton of it to the painting.
  • This exercise is not about creating a self-portrait that looks like you, you’re using yourself in order to be able to observe the colors in real life.
  • Using a very limited palette will get you to mix more, and you can incrementally add more colors as you get more comfortable with painting techniques.
  • Don’t just paint the face, be sure to establish the neck, hair, and shoulders.
  • Brushes can be distracting when you’re painting, you’re a lot less likely to mix as aggressively.
  • 3/4 view of a portrait tends to look more volumetric than straight on views or profiles.
  • Use a panel, being a rigid board you’ll be able to provide more physical with the palette knife.
  • To truly see color, you need the experience of seeing colors in real life, especially flesh tones.
  • Colors don’t translate well in photos, you’ll miss all the subtleties.
  • If you aim to create accurate colors from what you see, it will likely be too dull, so exaggerate the colors.
  • Training your eye to SEE color will ultimately be the most efficient.

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