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Painting a Face: Oils over Acrylic

Approach to the rest of the SBS…

I must admit putting together this final stage of painting the face wasn't without its problems. So I had to get creative in how I present this segment to you.

Essentially, because the oil paints stay wet for a long period of time, they become very reflective and make good close-up photography difficult. I found that my pictures really weren't showing the information I wanted to convey to you. So I opted to present this class using two different methods as you'll see below. I hope you find them just as useful.

Let's get started:

Here are the paints I used for painting the face. I use plain household wax paper for my palette. For brushes I used primarily 3/0 sable brushes. I use generic turpentine as my thinner. Oil paints go a long way. What I put on my palette here is far more than I needed. Be conservative when squeezing out your paints.

Working with oils paints

Here you'll notice I basecoated a piece of styrene in the Vallejo sand brown. I used this to explain some of the techniques as it allowed for a larger area and easier visibility.

I started out with a mixture of Burnt Sienna & Titanium white to get a generic Caucasian flesh color. As a rule I try to keep my oils as dry as possible. Too much thinner will make the paint runny and less controllable. In this picture, you'll see what happens when you put the paint on too thick. You have a lot of streaks and an overall rough texture. This is one of the main problems people have when working with oils. They put it on too thick. Try and avoid this.

Here you'll see that I removed the excess paint to obtain a more even surface.

Here you see the same example as above, but on the actual figure. You can see where you would get into trouble down the road if you started out with the paint as it is shown on the left. If you find that you did put too much paint on, simply wipe your brush well on a clean absorbant cloth, then go back and gently remove the excess.

I laid down four colors which were made from a combination of some of the paints on my palette.

To blend two colors together it is important to use a clean, dry brush. Here I'm using a #1 flat. A gentle touch is key to getting nice blends. As I guide my brush along the edge, I use a light stippling (tapping) motion to work the colors together. Remember, you aren't applying paint to the surface at this point. You are "massaging" the paint that is already there. Light and easy is the way.

Another very important step is to continually clean your brush while blending. The purpose is to remove excess paint that will build up on the brush while blending. I simply drag the brush on my cloth with a fair amount of pressure. I try to avoid using thinner to clean in between, as it can cause you to accidentally discharge a small pool of thinner into your paint and cause it to get messy.

More progress. You'll notice that you get a nice, soft break between the colors, but neither one of them lose their identity.

Continuing to blend the rest of the colors...

Here, all the colors have been blended to their adjacent color. The important part of blending is to get a nice soft transition between without cancelling out each other.

To better explain this; here I have our base flesh color to which I placed two streaks of raw umber.

Notice how the streak on the left is still visible, but nicely blended. The streak on the right was overworked and ended up mixing completely with the base color, therefore losing its separation. This is another common mistake for people when working with oils: overdoing it. Make sure to just work on the edges of transitioning colors until they have a soft, pleasing look. Going too far in either direction kills the effect.

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