Lately I have getting a lot of questions about how I paint the skin on my minis. What paints, what colours & what techniques. In this article I hope to give you a little peek into my process of painting skin. Sharing some tips & tricks and the paints I use, a long with some examples. Please keep in mind that these are my personal preferences and opinions, what works for me might now work for you at all and vice versa.
Let me start by saying that I have struggled with painting skin for a long, long time! It always looked streaky, too shiny, too high in contrast, too low in contrast. But for the past year or so, I have the feeling that my skin painting has improved significantly, and by your comments & requests I believe you might feel the same way :).
I have tried a lot of different paint brands to paint skin. For various reasons, none of them really worked for me: GW paint did not have a range of colours I desired, Vallejo paint dried too glossy giving you too little control, Scale 75 paint dried too matt. Skin is not matt, unless you use too much powdered make-up. There is a certain sheen to skin. Of course, you can paint that in and I often do. But I find that with paint that is too matt, it just doesn’t work for me…
Painting flesh remained a struggle.
So what has changed you might ask? I have one short answer for that: Reaper paints! They have completely changed how I feel about painting skin, you could safely say that these are my holy grail!
In this article I want to show you how I use Reaper flesh paints, and in particular their triad system to paint a variety of skintones. The triads form the basis of the skintone, but I use other paints to deepen shadows, warm up skintones and to highlight. While this article is not intended as a step-by-step I hope to give you a little insight in my way of painting skin.
I probably should mention that I typically use around 8-10 or more different colours on one skintone, and most of the time painting a model is spent on painting the skin. I paint with highly diluted paint, you can find a little more info on that here.
First, let me give a little introduction into Reapers paint triads. Each triad is a selection of paints that consist of a base colour, its corresponding highlight colour and its corresponding shadow colour. It is very important to note that the highlights colours are not always simply obtained by adding white, nor is the shadow colour made by adding black. Different colour hues are introduced, complementing the base colour.
The triads are available for a large assortment of colours, and more importantly for a large variety in skintones. I have never used the colour triads, but I do use the skintone triads.
I have used 3 different triads to paint the minis in this article: Golden skin, Fair skin and Dark skin, but in the future I mean to add more examples of other tones to this article as well.
Golden skintone 1
This has to be my favourite skintone triad. It has a lot of warmth in it, enabling you to create a healthy looking skin.
Ivy from Ax Faction (above) was painted using the gold skintone triad.
As I mentioned before, the triad forms the basis of the skintone I painted. I used Vallejo’s pale sand in addition to the triad to paint the highlights. The shadows were intensified by adding the shadow colour from the Tanned skin triad, Hull red from Vallejo and in the darkest shadows Oxford Blue from Vallejo. In some areas that I wanted to add a little warmth, such as between the breasts and the cheeks, I added a thin glaze of orange. That would make the complete palette look like this:
Golden skintone 2
The Savior from Kingdom Death was also painted using the gold skintone triad, but I did not add tanned skin. Instead I mixed the shadows directly into the gold skintone shadow colour. Hence, she does not get a tanned complexion as Ivy did. I also did not use orange to warm the midtones.
I painted a larger surface of highlight colours & pale sand making her skin look lighter overall, compared to Ivy, even though I used the same base colours.
Golden skintone 3
This was a very interesting commission. I was asked to only paint the face of this guy, trying to mimic the colours of Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones. It is a tiny head (the drill bit is 0.8mm). I have used the golden skintone triad again, with many other colours added (see palette below).
Skuld from Ax Faction was painted using the Fair skin triad. She has a much more pinkish complexion, with a cooler undertone.
I again used Hull red and Oxford blue in the shadows. I choose to add Pale Sand as a highlight again. In this case, a very light pink fleshtone could work too but I felt that her face needed a bit more warmth in the highlight (So I used the warmer tone of Pale Sand).
Lastly, Xanthia from Hasslefree Miniatures (still Work-In-Progress) was painted using the Dark skin triad.
Dark skin is difficult because it often becomes too cool or a dull colour. Too much orange and it will also look very unnatural. I think the reaper triad gives a good base, but this particular skin needed even more glazing work than the others. What is nice to see in this triad is that the hue of the colour is really different between the shadow, base and highlight colour. It works really well!
First I added a lighter highlight by adding Green ochre to the mix (Vallejo). It is a slightly cool toned ochre, which works well for skin, too yellow would look strange I think. For the midtones I added warmth to the skin by glazing with Spattered Crimson (reaper). To create stronger contrast in the shadows I glazed them with Regal Purple (reaper).
This was the result at that time. Even though the picture is slightly too bright, you can clearly see the effect of the glazing that came after.
I have never spent this much time on just the skintone, using very many in-between-steps. Therefore, I cannot possibly tell you exactly what colours I used in what order. This is what my palette looked like before I even started with glazing:
After that I spent a long time blending everything with different
glazes, some I don’t remember. To create even more depth I worked with
Reaper clear brights: red in midtones; purple in the shadows; and yellow
in the highlights. As the clear brights are very translucent is lightly
glazes the tones, but does not change the colour too much.
Well I hope you found this article interesting. Do not be afraid to play with skintones. Take your time, practice and have fun!
Painting really good skin is that elusive step for many painters… Thank you ever so much for giving some insight into the process…i think i’m off to go buy some reaper skin triad paints 🙂 and perhaps some scale 75!! .
Kind regards, Shannon
Hi Shannon, thanks for your comments! I’m glad that you like the post, happy painting 😀
Thanks so much for the tutorial. I just got the golden skin triad in the mail and I picked up some hull red and Oxford vote and pale sand at a game shop. So I’m ready to give this recipe a shot!
One question, you mention using the tanned skin highlight for Ivy, but you show the tanned shadow. Can you clarify which it is that you used?
Hi Jon! Thank you for your message 🙂
Thank you for spotting the mistake. Indeed, for Ivy’s skin I used the golden skin triad as a basis, but to make the shadows a bit warmer, I added some tanned shadow to the shadows. I’ll adjust it in the post!
Great tutorial! Love the skintone of Jamie! How did you paint the beard?
Where did you get the Reaper paints (I’m from Belgium)
This is GORGEOUS, thank you for this! Those skin tones are unbelievably beautiful, and you have given me so much inspiration!
lovely work – thanks. I’m starting back with painting after a 30 year absence. Inspirig.
Wonderful job on the faces. I have some V&V Saxons and a home printed Accordion player that I haven’t painted because my painting skills don’t equal the sculpts. I am going to read your articles very closely before I tackle them. Thank you for posting.