login   |    register

Painting a Face: Oils over Acrylic


Alright, this is perhaps one of the most daunting tasks that every figure painter faces. Do I suggest that I have the perfect, 100% satisfaction guaranteed method for making eyes? Heck no! I struggle with them as much as the next guy. I have learned a few things after many attempts that makes it a little more bearable. Hopefully you'll find this to be true as well.

When painting eyes, things you want to avoid are the ever dreaded "deer in the headlights" bright white pop eyes. It is one of the most common mistakes among newer painters.

The first part in avoiding that is to stay away from pure white paint. Here I am using a mixture of AV 955 Flat Flesh and a touch of AV 951 White (and same ratio of water). I gently float the paint into the nicely defined recess of the eye. In order to do the same on the other side, I find it easier to turn the head upside down so I don't have to contend with the nose (for the record in case you haven't noticed, I'm left handed).

The next step is to apply a dot of your color of choice. For this I use an old airbrush needle. I find that it gives me just a bit more control than a fine brush does. A good suggestion is to paint the eye that is hardest for you first, so it will be easier for you to copy its position onto the eye that is more comfortable for you. Also note that even though I used a needle, I still got paint outside of the eye area. We will clean this up at the end.

After you do the color, then go back in with black and indicate a pupil. Personally, I think I covered too much of the blue, but I'm content to leave it as is at this point. Again, if I work up the courage I may go back later to touch it up.

Above you see that I went back with some of my left over flesh color and cleaned up around the eye, bringing it back into the realm of acceptability. Then I did the same with the other. Toward the end of the project, I will go back in and add a glint of highlight to liven up the eyes a bit.

About the Author

About John Pradarelli (john17)

A modeler off and on (as time permits) for over 20 years. By day I work for a Model Railroading company in Milwaukee, WI. By night you'll find me spending time with my wife and two boys...until they go to bed. Then it's off to the basement where I will work on figure painting, armor, planes, diorama...


I came to this article via another post, don't know how I missed it when published. It's very well explained and I'll be trying it out soon. Thanks Rudi for publishing it and of course to John for writing it
MAR 15, 2008 - 07:59 AM
Hello John P. and Rudi John: thank you for writing one of the best face painting tutorials I have seen to date. I think one of the best things about this tutorial is that some of the techniques displayed here lend themselves to various mediums, and not only oil. The diagrams featuring high and low lights are worth their weight in gold. Rudi: nice job at putting the various forum posts together. Thanks for your hospitality during my visit. See you next year. John
MAR 17, 2008 - 06:47 PM
I know this is an old thread but was wondering which Winsor & Newton Oils were used, the Artist's grade or Winton student grade?
DEC 07, 2009 - 01:06 AM
Hello Glueit, To be honest with you, I have an arsenal of both artist grade and student grade Winsor & Newton paints. Not out of intention, but more a case of me just grabbing whatever I happened to pick at Michaels craft store. I'm not married to one grade over another. I haven't done any extensive testing to determine the benefits of artist grade versus student grade in terms of figure painting. Frankly, I think both are acceptable. The artist grade offers more color choices, and uses a higher level of pigmentation. Again, I don't think in what we do this wil be too much of an issue. I hope this helps you in making your buying decisions. John
DEC 07, 2009 - 04:36 AM
Thanks for the reply. I knew that the artist grade offered a higher grade of pigmentation which i guess would not fade as fast as lower concentration of pigment. also the artist grade are a lot more money, but for figure painting it would go a long way as well as the student grade. I have read your articeles pertainting to painting and have found them very useful. If you know of any other articles you can recommend i read let me know! thanks
DEC 07, 2009 - 07:02 AM
Although i have read this article in the past i have just gone through it again and enjoyed it, a very nicely done and informative article. Although i paint pradominately in acrylics i still think oils are best for flesh. nice job John (and you Rudi for putting it together ) Steve
DEC 08, 2009 - 02:34 AM
This was a great tutorial! I was never quite clear on the layering and blending process with oils, but this really cleared things up. The only change I would make is using a better sculpted head for the tutorial. Details are fairly muddy and he sort of has a "dock worker with downs syndrome" expression on his face.
DEC 28, 2009 - 01:40 AM
Taesung Harmms heads and figures are amongst the best in the business. It's also important to view the head/face in context with the rest of the figure.
DEC 28, 2009 - 07:59 AM
Oh yeah, he definitely does good work, it's just this head which I find a little lacking. Did he also sculpt the body, because the body seems to be really well done?
JAN 01, 2010 - 05:07 PM
THANK YOU... just looking at some figures to "play with" so to speak and can get the clothing not too bad (possibly by shadows are too thick and too defined) but I had yet to tackle the heads. as they are just Tamiya kits the heads are already on the torso, but can try to follow this guide (have some oil paints already so hope to be able to get to use them "in anger"....
SEP 25, 2012 - 12:34 AM