Paint Light Skin Tones With Carrie Stuart Parks

Forensic artists Carrie Stuart Parks and Rick Parks are long-time members of the North Light family, which they joined with their first book, Secrets to Drawing Realistic Faces, in 2003. A lot has changed since then. In addition to the print version, that original book is now also available as a PDF download if you like. But one thing has remained the same. The Parks duo is one of the best for teaching you how to get realistic results right away and their style is as friendly and easy to understand as ever. Check out this super-secret excerpt from their upcoming project, Secrets to Painting Realistic Faces in Watercolor, due out everywhere next February.

Painting Light Skin Tones

This beautiful young lady has light skin tones. Be careful about overshading, too, as that can age her. Additional challenges are her dark eyebrows, which can look like black blobs if I’m not careful, and the fur hat. I’ll be working with very light to very dark pigments in this demonstration.

A beautiful photograph makes painting that much easier. This lovely young lady was photographed by Ernie Fisch-hofer.

Line Drawing by Rick Parks












1 Masking and underpainting 

I masked off her teeth, the whites of her eyes, one strand of hair, and the snaps on her coat. After the fluid dried, I wet the entire paper (wa-a-ay wet), dumped the excess water, then applied a pale wash of Cadmium Red Light, Quinacridone Rose and Quinacridone Rust. I painted the edge of her face a bit darker. I added an Anthraquinone Blue wash in her jacket and toward the top of her hat.








2 Re-wet and re-apply shadow

I wasn’t satisfied with the underpainting shadow. Even though she is light-skinned, her shadows have depth. As I didn’t want to lift the first layer, I just wet the whole sheet of paper again with a spray bottle of clean water, dumped the excess, and went around her face once again.









3 Find the shadows

Once again, I wet around the face and darkened it, this time bringing the shadow across the top of the brow. I darkened the sides of and below the nose, and under the lips. The color is diluted on my palette, and I made sure I didn’t add any more water to the puddle by slightly drying my brush on a paper towel to remove excess water. I used a round brush as it will not lift paint as easily as a flat brush. I applied the color on dry paper, but had a wet brush ready to soften the sides of the stroke so there wasn’t a sharp edge.







4 The eyes

Her beautiful brown eyes capture the viewer, and I wanted to do justice to them. I removed the masking fluid there first to work on them. You  can see that the shadows, which seemed dark in previous steps, aren’t all that dark when the dark eyebrows and eyes are added. I used a tiny brush and a dark mixture of Burnt Umber and Anthraquinone Blue.




Pssst. If you’d like to see Carrie Stuart Parks in action, click here to check out her video, Watercolor Secrets: Realistic Faces with Carrie Stuart Parks.




5 More darks and details

Each time I worked on her face, I felt the shadows on the side weren’t dark enough. I was going to be introducing some pretty good darks soon, and that’s not the time to go back and try to adjust colors. I studied her face in the reference photo, looking for the details of where her face was light, dark and midtone. I worked on her lips, using Quinacridone Rose and Quinacridone Rust (more rose than rust as her lips are pinkish). Her nostrils are a blend of the colors I’ve already used plus Burnt Umber to make them dark.







6 More masking fluid

I liked the furry edge of her hat, and had originally planned on ignoring the whiter bits of hair shown in the photograph, creating a darker rim to her face. However, I’ve changed my mind. I want the lighter hairs, so using a ruling pen and masking fluid, I placed a number of hairlike strokes around her face. I made sure the lines were very fine, and lifted the ruling pen at the end of each stroke so the masking fluid tapered at the end.








The dark hair

The young girl’s hair is more implied higher up on her face, and doesn’t really show until toward the bottom. I wet the paper around her face and down into her chin area with clean water. I used a lot of water, forming puddles. I want the hair to run. Just before I was ready to paint, I allowed the water to runoff the paper. You need to work quickly now and with a tilted board. Using a large (no. 12) round brush and freshly squeezed pigment (Burnt Umber, Red Iron Oxide and Anthraquinone Blue), I stroked the hair downward and curving under her chin. Be sure you don’t add extra water to the pigment; touch the back of the brush to a paper towel to discharge the excess water. I used a wet, clean brush to soften the color around her face. A 1-inch (25mm) flat brush will lift pigment and break up the bigger chunks, implying strands of hair.




Furry hat and finish

Get those deep colors out and freshly squeezed onto your palette. I used the same three colors as before: Burnt Umber, Red Iron Oxide and Anthraquinone Blue. I wanted the red to warm up the other colors. Wet the hat and all the way to the end of the paper all around her face. You can even wet a bit below the hat. Dump the excess water; we want the paper very wet, but absolutely no puddles. Make sure your brush does not have extra water in it as well. Load the brush with all three colors at once. Make your first stroke near the masked area to see how far it will bleed. You can adjust the pigment/water ratio if it bleeds too much. Work quickly. Don’t panic if some of the pigment starts to drift across the paper: a wet, flat brush (damp, but not adding extra water) will clean it up. Once this dried, I lifted the remaining masking and blended some of the white hairs into the hat. You don’t want to see both ends of a line—hair comes from a darker source. A slight wash over her coat, and I’m done.

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