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Purpose of this Blog is to become a tool and a place where artist that collect and paint flat figures can find interesting links and news about flats, painting techniques, history and various related articles.English speaking related sites are very few but hopefully this blog will provide the collector and the painter with interesting and valuable information about the Art of the Flat Figure and everything related to it.
During the next days I will post any related info I have collected for a long time about various aspects of Flats. Techniques, photos, links, historic articles, anything that is related. Wherever possible I will including the author of the original article. I apologise if sometimes the author's name is not included. It's not intentional but it is lost through time.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Chapter 8 - Painting Flesh

By Panos Charalampakis

Painting Flesh

“Diagonal of Dreams”.
A Vladimir Nuzhdin figure based on a Luis Rojo painting masterfully painted by Catherine Cesario.

We start our specific color discussion with Flesh. Actually, flesh is not a specific color itself. We use it to describe a number of colors that human skin can be painted with. It varies not only between races like for example Caucasian and Asians but also among people of the same race. Theoretically not a single person have exactly the same skin color with another.
Flesh skin color varies with race, with geographical location, with the person’s own occupation, with his/her present medical condition and also in different parts on the same body. First difference is easy to understand. A Caucasian has a more “pinkish” skin color than an Asian inhabitant, whom faulty consider as “yellowish”. Geographical location plays important role as we all can understand the skin difference between a Northern European Swedish lady and a Southern European Greek lady. Occupation plays its role too since someone who is outdoors most of his life (i.e. soldier) have a much different skin color than an aristocratic lady spent most of her life into a palace. Also, the face of a man that likes to drink a bit more, like some Napoleonic veterans has different color than from someone who is outdoors in Russian winter, barely surviving the cold. Finally, we all can see the color differences onto our own body. Our palms and soles don’t have the same color as the rest of our body. Or better yet, we all have laughed with the color difference between what is covered and what is not after two hours of sunbathing. What is very useful for us, is to always observe people around . See how their body is “painted” by nature, observe how skin tones change with occupation or by different sun exposure. Observe all these minor details such as the small reddening of the chicks, or the bluish hue below tired eyes. I have said that photographs of figures are very important and useful for us. Here we need not only photos from figures but photos from real people that can be used as reference to help us achieve the skin tone we are after.


A marvelous 90mm Quadriconcept figure of a French Trumpeter by an unidentified artist.

Let’s start from the “easiest” race to replicate in miniatures, the Caucasian race. This is the traditional flesh tone that we encounter from our very first figure, flat or round. Basically it’s a mixture of ochres and reds, shadowed with deeper reds or even browns for the extreme shadows such as hairlines and highlighted with lighter ochres or even white for hot spots. All colors of this chapter are W & N unless otherwise stated. What I use for Caucasian flesh tones are the following: yellow ochre, golden ochre (Van Gough), brown ochre (Van Gough), burnt sienna, indian red, light red, burnt umber, vandyke brown, titanium white, napples yellow and jaune brilliant. I won’t mention ratios. I strongly believe that for a successful rendering of human flesh one should experiment and test different mixtures of the above colors and in different quantities. Just test the final combination onto your own skin of the back of your hand (not palm!) and see how it goes from there. Also check your photographic reference for endless possibilities. This way, you get to know colors and certain tones and you understand how different hues are obtained. In the end every figure will be a tad different from the previous ones, even if it’s not easily noticeable.
After you primer a figure is a matter of choice if you will block the basic colors with an undercoat. Sometimes I do it sometimes I don’t. Depends on the scale, the mood, the general feeling of the face you want to paint. If you block the flesh color go after a similar tone of your base oil color either in acrylics or enamels. After this step apply the basic tone in all flesh areas but do it in parts. First finish the face, and then proceed to the hands, body, feet etc. Start with some mild shadows with the addition of the reds in your basic mixture like burnt sienna or light red. Face shadows should go under the chicks, the eyes, the sides of the nose, bridge of the nose, the mouth, ears, temples, sides of the mouth. Don’t worry about neatness at the moment. Blend with a dry, brush with the base color. Now add the first highlights adding some jaune brilliant and titanium white to the edge and tip of the nose, upper portion of chicks, forehead, chin, earlobes. Blend again but be careful not to touch the shadowed areas. By now, face has started to take a human appearance. Now its time to let the colors settle and dry and you to go get a refreshment. When this primary coating is dry, usually next day, make darker and lighter mixtures of the shadow and highlight colors respectively and touch again the appropriate areas. They are about the same as previous ones but a bit narrower in each spot. You can do this as many times as you feel like. Personally and for 30mm figures, I find it more than enough to stop right here. Remember to use an extremely dark shadow and outline eyes, nose, lips and details of the ears, if they are any visible at all at this scale. Also put some “hot spots”, nearly pure titanium white in very selective, most light caching part of a face i.e. tip of the nose, upper chicks, chin. Now is time to define and work on eyes, lips, eyebrows moustaches, beards and hair. For 30mm, usually a dark spot or a dark line, depending on the position of the face is all that is needed. For larger scale figures you can choose any eye color you like but use dark tones of each selected color since lighter colors don’t seem realistic. Highlight lower portion of the iris and add a black dot in the middle for pupil. Adding a catchlight, that is a white spot a bit of center adds realism. Lips can be painted with the basic flesh color with some alizarin crimson added and lower lip highlighted.
Now hair is another story. Don’t rush painting the hair as something of no importance. As a frame of a picture can influence the actual picture, hair can add or not to the beauty of a painted face. Decide if their hair will be black, brown, blond, gray ore even white. Black hair are never pure black, Go for a very dark brown black or blue black color. Brown hair is from deep brown until nearly blond and for the love of god, blond hair are not yellow! Instead use some ochres or raw sienna. Depending on scale, hair detail can be added but don’t try to paint every single hair. It’s not possible. Instead shadow and highlight tufts of hair. Looks much more convincing. When face is finally finished, be brave, make a very thinned mixture from the base color with some lamb black added, and apply it to all areas that need shaving much like a wash. This is the so called “5 o’clock” shadow.


An interesting Golberg set title “The Slave market” superbly painted by the British Ken Pipes.

Hands and feet are also very important. Viewers eye always focus on these two parts after the face. Deal with them accordingly. Shadow the areas between fingers and knuckles and highlight the knuckles or the parts towards the light source. If scale permits we can even add nails with a lighter whitish ochre color, not pure white or add some basic veins with a bluish color very thinly and lightly painted. If other parts of the body are exposed, study some real life photos and treat each musculature group as a whole when shadowing and highlighting. Remember that auxillas, groins, popliteal fossae, navel and intercostals spaces are a bit darker. If you paint a nude, add body hair with thinned dark gray or black but do it very sparingly or else your figure will look like a Neanderthal fellow.
Now, how we can produce the difference of rational variability in the Caucasian race? Easy. By altering our base mixture and by changing the amount of shadowing and highlighting. People of the Southern regions tend to be more tanned due to increased sun exposure much like a veteran soldier on campaign is more tanned than a gentleman of French aristocracy of the Louis XV era. Adjusting the reds and ochres in our mixtures and making sharper contrast between shadows and highlights can produce a tanned appearance. People of Northern Europe, the traditional “blonds”, have a paler skin that even when exposed to sunlight becomes reddish rather than dark tan. A touch of cadmium red or even violet to our mixture will give a “pinkish appearance, much needed for such a skin tone.
As a side note, don’t forget the tonal differences between a woman’s and a man’s skin. Women tend to have a lighter toned skin, due to less melanin pigments in their skin and also due to a more even hair growth. Simply adjust your mixture a bit lighter than usual and try it onto a female figure. Don’t forget what we have said over and over. Observe nature around you, study photos of real people and painted figure and experiment, experiment and experiment.

Excellent skin rendition in this Mohr’s 54mm set for Holy Inquisition by the Italian master Gianfranco Speranza. Observe the hair growth of the tormentor on the left.

A bit more difficult matter is the successful rendition of the widely and wrongly called “Black” people. First let’s clear something. There is no black, white, red or yellow people. Clearing this, the notion “black” includes a wide number of different ethnicities. Even in the same geographical region, for example Africa, not all Africans have the same skin tone. Their skin ranges from nearly very dark Caucasian to very dark brown, even to the point that might be called black, but again, its not.
Some painters start this type of skin straight onto the white primer. They paint their base color, usually a burnt umber or something close and then dry brush the whole skin area leaving only a thin film of base color. Highlights have been produced by dry brushing so what is left is to shadow a bit with black, retouch their highlights here and there and voila. I prefer start with a Caucasian flesh painted onto the primer. I paint my blacks with various combinations of burnt umber with indian red, ran umber, raw sienna, or ivory black. After taking away all of the excess paint, some flesh tint of the underlying flesh color is visible but not much pronounced as if it was straight onto white primer. I proceed with highlights using raw sienna, ochres and on very few selected spots some touches of titanium white. Shadows are done with the base mixture plus lamp black, sometimes with very tiny amounts of Prussian blue or Venetian red. As I have told before I try to vary my mixtures so I never have a same color, even if its not visible. I know its true so I am happy anyway.


“Zulus”, a nice set of figures from Paul Krog of Ritter Zinnfiguren.

A good trick is to paint the base coat green and start from there. The end result will be a unique negroid color. I use this method when I want to paint Zulu type ethnicities. On the other hand Nubians are very dark chocolate to nearly black so make a deeper than usual mixture and add a tiny amount or blue. When highlight them with small amounts of titanium white, highlights will have a light bluish appearance which is truly marvelous for these people. Northern Africans, are a bit lighter, while Egyptians, especially of the northern part of Egypt are not negroid but they seem like very tanned Caucasians. and African Americans can have the whole range of tones. Hair color is black and eyes are always dark in color, that is brown. Photographs of the actual people to be our “models” will do the trick and help you decide which “black” you must paint.

“Tribute to Pharaoh”. Figures from a magnificent set by Cortum figures painted by Ken Pipes.

Asians is a huge category including nearly all type of human skin tones. As we move away from Mediterranean, tones become darker and darker until the middle east and India. Colors vary from light to very dark tans and browns. Mixture should contain higher amounts of various ochres tones, with less reds in it. Shadows can be done with different browns like burnt umber or Vandyke brown and highlights with light ochres, napples yellow and titanium white. Chinese and Japanese, the traditionally called “yellow” are not yellow of course. The predominant color is various shades of ochres but they don’t differ much from Caucasians in reality. I usually add some touches of jaune brilliant or napples yellow to the basic mixture but I do use brownish reds for shading. Again , hair is nearly always black with dark eyes. I like painting this kind of hair blue black actually adding some Prussian blue to my black mixture. When highlighted have a pleasant bluish appearance making hair very shiny.
Native Americans, the so called Indians or “red skins” are another major category of peculiar color to render convincebly. Sometimes I leave my figure just with the primer, sometimes I use the flesh color as a blocking color. I usually add a bit of more burnt sienna, or indian red, or light red. Shadows are done with reddish browns and highlights with titanium white, sparingly.


Amalia Retuerto’s Indian. Her figures are simply a joy to see and a lesson to study.

Adding some skin marks can be fun and very rewarding for the finished figure. Scars, moles, freckles or veins all can be reproduced easily with just a bit of color. A reddish brown line with a lighter shade above it can look like a scar while a bluish line fading proximally and distally can represents vein very convincible. Use your references and when you are painting personalities check if that person had any skin mark. They add variety to your flesh painting and personalize the finished figure.
A final word about tattoos. In reality tattoos are made by colors injected with specific hypodermic needles under the skin, coloring it. Predominant color is blue gray but red, green and yellow are used sometimes for more exotic designs. Stick to the blue gray ones for your figures. Colored ones don’t look realistic. Use very thinned paint and very thin brushes. Don’t try very elaborate designs. A little goes a long way.

Another example of exotic skin painted by Amalia Retuerto.