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Underpainting and Mixing Skin Tones with Adam Driver ;)

Hello again! In this post I will be sharing a custom piece that I am currently working on! He's not finished yet, so all videos and pictures you see are in progress.

This particular portrait was a request from a customer, but I love painting well known and iconic faces for people to enjoy, and I mean, who doesn't love Adam Driver? I am a huge Star Wars fan, so this was a request I gladly accepted! I painted Mr. Driver once before, but in Kylo Ren form! If you would like to view and purchase this painting, you can do so here!

So let's get to it! To start, I decide what size I would like my finished painting to be. I usually gravitate towards 14x18 inches for a portrait like this because it is a nice size for a single person and large enough so you won't lose any detail. Depending on the composition, you could also smaller. For instance, my Kylo Ren portrait is 9x12 inches, but since it is a close up of his face, you still get a great amount of detail! If I was going to paint more than one person, I would go for a larger canvas so things did not look crowded, small and lose detail.

Next, I sketch the portrait onto the canvas so I have outlines to follow. I will also sketch in any areas that noticeable differentiate in highlight/shadow so it's easier when I add paint. From here, I move onto my underpainting. An underpainting is helpful and important because it is an initial layer of paint applied to the canvas, which serves as a base for subsequent layers of paint. Underpaintings are often monochromatic and help to define color values for those later subsequent layers. To do an underpainting you should only use 2 colors (or 3 at the most). For this underpainting, I primarily used burnt umber, titanium white with a little lamp black. I first mixed my different values using the burnt umber and titanium white, since those were what would give me my value range, and applied the values tp the painting accordingly. I only used black on the darkest areas which were his hair and suit and a tiny tab for the grey background.

If you read my last blog, ‘Oil vs. Acrylic,’ you will recall that to use oil paints, you must use a solvent(thinner). Your initial layer of paint should be a “wash” of color and consist of primarily the thinner. This is because when oil painting, you MUST follow the fat over lean rule. This means your preliminary layers should have more thinner, and as you build up layers, less and less thinner in each subsequent layer can be used. If you do not use enough thinner in your preliminary layers, when your finished painting dries, the paints will tighten and crack. You can see in my video below how my first layer looks like a wash and some of the color even runs. this is ok! Especially because it is only the preliminary layers!

Next, I will let my underpainting dry over night so everything can set and dry. I don’t want my final layers mixing into my preliminary layers because it would change the colors and values I am trying to aim for.

From here, I will start with my final layers. To do this I will again first mix all of the colors and values that I am going to use. A list of colors that I use for mixing all skin tones are: yellow ochre, bunt umber, burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, Cadmium lemon, titanium white, mars black. To achieve black you can also mix burnt umber and ultramarine blue. Mix these colors accordingly to achieve the correct skin tone. This makes things a lot easier and less stressful so you don’t muddy your painting up by trying to add the colors directly to the canvas. I will then add each color to the canvas, blend and add small details until the final product is complete. It is always a good idea to use a photo reference when painting skin tone so you can achieve the appropriate colors, values and details. Please note that the color of skin tone will change based on the environment someone is in, the lighting that’s on them, the background behind them, etc. There are many factors that will affect color and value, so be sure you’re taking that into consideration and you mix your colors according. Before I apply a color to the canvas, or decide it is the right color to use, I will put some on my palette knife and hold it up to my photo reference. If the color matches, it stays, but if it is off, then I adjust the color accordingly.

When you finish your painting, I would let it set up for at least a week, maybe more. Keep in mind oil paints take a very long time to dry. Some colors take longer than others because of the pigments that are used, so you want to be very careful when handling a finished painting! You must give it enough time for every layer of the painting to dry. Once your painting is dry to touch, it is ok to move around, but if you’re planning on wrapping it or shipping it out, I would allow more time to make sure the painting is completely dry.

That’s all for now! If you have any questions drop a comment and let me know! Keep your eyes peeled for my finish product to be posted on social media!

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