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Painting Skin

Painting Skin

Painting Skin


by John Alberts

I am always searching for reality in flesh tones and I strive to achieve accurate shades for the various ethnic groups. You want the skin surfaces to appear smooth and, in general, the smooth finish comes from blending the highlights and shadows on the flesh areas. Skin cannot appear to be harsh, unless it is on a flat surface where gradations of color are stronger.


In reality, skin is made up of so many different colors and hues. Just look at the back of your hand–there is pink, blue (veins), white (knuckles) and many shades in between. Yet, there needs to be a uniform appearance. Hence to achieve smoothness and uniformity I approach the face, arms, legs, hands, and feet as objects–the face is an oval, the arms and legs are tubes, the feet and hands are a combination of tubes and ovals. No matter the skin color that is being duplicated, the form of an oval is obtained by high highlight and deep shadow.

After the face takes shape, the different gradation of colors are applied individually and carefully blended along the edges. Always keep these colors lighter than the darkest shadow and darker than the highest highlight. Eventually, uniformity is achieved. Yet, at this stage the flesh area is only half-way complete.


Next the details–eyes, nose. lips, and ears are painted. These are done by adding the highest highlight color next to the deepest shadow WITHOUT blending the two colors. For details we want strong contrast–this gives the shape of the detail and sets it apart from the uniform color of flesh. After this, the flesh area is 90% complete.


The last step is to “glaze” a color over the entire face. This blurs the sharpness of details and draws it closer to the uniform color–actually I am trying to diminish the contrast. In smaller scales (1/48, 54s and 75s) the glaze is limited because the smaller scale requires greater contrast between details and shape. For larger scales, the “glaze” may be applied three or four times. Whenever contrast is lost, high highlights are added to the glaze. Shadow is seldom lost because glazing by nature darkens the flesh tone. The largest figures are the hardest on which to obtain a smooth finish.


Photo by Phil Novak