3 Different Ways to Paint Skin + Bonus Tips and Assets!


Before We Start- Questions to Ask Yourself

Hello, hi, greetings 😊
First thanks for taking time to look over my tutorial on how I paint skin. I hope you find it helpful and useful in creating your own art work. These are just my tips on how I paint skin these days, but probably for every artist there is a slightly different method so take what you find useful and leave what isn’t. With that said- let’s get started!

When I first start a piece I usually ask myself or already have the answer to the following 3 questions:

1) What is this piece about?

2) What level of realism am I trying to achieve?

3) What is the lighting and/or environment like?

By knowing the answers to these main 3 questions it usually helps me have a clearer idea of what I want to create and having the finished piece turn out like I envisioned. After answering these questions I usually start getting relevant reference for lighting, pose, and etc. I highly suggest you get reference early too. You may *think* you know how something looks and then be surprised to find it’s quite different in reality or the reference may help you solve a difficult color issue, etc.

Style 1 - Basic 2 Color Style (Local colors and shadows)

Once you have the answers let’s get started with a simple sketch. I’m including mine as a transparent .png file. You can use it or create your own sketch to work from. Feel free to edit this as you like (I did while painting!).

The first style we are going to do is a very simple- basic local colors + shadow style. There are lots of skin tone color palettes in the CSP asset store and your own photos are probably a good source of color reference photos. I work with 3D assets too so often make my own reference but here are some you can color sample and use. This isn’t the best example but I often use this and then modify the colors for my art to make the skin warmer/cooler, paler/darker, etc.

I personally prefer to not color pick from the image but to instead use the reference- just as visual reference- and use the color wheel for choosing colors. I think my colors tend to turn out better that way, especially if my reference image has a lot of noise that can make color picking with the eye dropper tool difficult.

It's a good idea to make your background color something more neutral than white. I usually choose gray or whatever color(s) I'll be using for my background in the end.

I keep my lines on a different layer and lock it so that I don't paint on it by mistake. This also allows me to edit my lines later or even remove them easily. Because my lines are solid with few gaps I can select the blank space and invert my selection (Ctrl+Shift+ I) and then fill in the base layer. From there all my layers on top (local colors for the lips, eyes, etc) are set to ‘clip to layer below’ so that I don’t have to worry about painting outside of my base skin layer.

I almost always ‘cheat’ in this simple style on the nose and especially eyes. I do the basic local colors but with just a little airbrushing or additional colors to give a little more volume to the flat shapes. I sometimes take my shadow color and ‘shade’ the eyes or lips a little further by reducing the opacity.

Once I’m happy with the basic local colors then I add a simple shadow layer. I try to take into account where the light is coming from so that I can create some what realistic shadows.

I could stop here and for something really basic it’s not bad. However I really, really like texture. So using one of the many great assets in the CSP store I usually do a basic gradient fill in a blend mode with a noise texture on top. One of my favorite noise assets is here:


This is why I tend to keep everything on a separate layer- in case I change my mind later! So my super basic style is getting a bit more detail and because my lips, eyes, and eyebrows are on a different layer I can add this gradient fill beneath them but just above my base skin layer. I try to do a gradient fill that includes my skin base color and a slightly darker/lighter variation. I don’t want it to stand out too much but just make it a little more interesting. I then lower the opacity.

I then add my noise layer by dragging it from the material folder onto my image and rasterize it (right click on the layer and choose ‘rasterize’).

I then create a selection around my base skin and use option ‘clear outside selection’ to delete the part of the noise layer I don’t want.

From there I play around with different blend modes like ‘Darken’, ‘Add Glow’, etc to get the effect that I want. (Sometimes I also go back and slightly airbrush the lips and nose a little more). And now I really *am* done with this very basic style- unless I decide to add a highlight.


Use the lasso tool to create clean shapes and gaussian blur or the blur tool to soften the edges slightly. Blend modes ‘Add Glow’ and ‘Glow Dodge’ give a really nice color pop as highlights.

Style 2- Simple Rendering

This second style is a continuation of the first style only there is more shading and highlights involved.

If you can work larger ( I often work nearly 2x as large) than you want your finished piece to be. If my goal is to have a piece be 1500x 1500 pixels then I tend to work at 3000x3000 ). Often times going big to smaller makes the final piece look nicer. (Definitely better than going small to big!)

CSP has 3d figure models that are handy for reference including lighting reference. Sometimes I use these to help with a difficult pose or lighting reference.

This is very similar to the first style but now I have considerably more layers with shading set at different opacities. I also have lightly gone through and added blush with the airbrush tool. I tend to add a little blush to areas like the cheeks, chin, nose, finger joints, ears and shoulders. I don’t add too much color because again this is a simple style of rendering focused on soft shadows, base colors, and highlight transitions.

Something was bothering me about this and I couldn't figure out what, until I flipped the canvas *Sigh*. Don't be like me. Please flip your canvas early and often! If you have the space it's a great idea to have more than one window of your art open at a time (Window > Canvas > New Window). Then you can drag your windows wherever you like and even have one flipped as you work.


You can find my workspace here:


Having a smaller version open of the piece I’m working on is really helpful in seeing things that need to be fixed. With the airbrush tool I went over places that I added shadow to soften them with a color slightly inbetween the shadow and base colors. I then use the blend, blur, and watercolor brushes to further smooth the transitions. At this point I went back over my lines to clean them up a little bit (but still kept them on a separate layer) as well as fixed some areas like the mouth, eye, and brow.

The whole time I’m working I’m constantly moving between areas- color picking from one area and adding to another to make sure the colors are consistent.

The colors are starting to look a bit muddy and not as vibrant as I would like. Plus, I think at this stage I’ve done enough rendering/painting for a simple style and want to adjust the colors and start adding textures. So just like last time I’ll add a noise layer on top, play around with various blend modes (sometimes I layer blend modes--> flatten my image with the noise layer on top, then duplicate that layer, lower the opacity and change the blend mode).

This is an easy way to play around with skin tones and texture-layering up blend modes and noise layers. However, keep in mind the more noise layers the noiser your image will become and going up or down several degrees in tone will likely mean you will have to do a lot of hand correcting to make your skin look believable.

Style 3- Soft Painterly

Style 3 takes me considerably more time as I spend a lot of time trying to really blend colors and then select new colors so that transitions are very soft but still show underlying facial structure (cheekbones, nose bridges, etc.). I start with a base color and start laying down messy colors for highlights, shadows, and blush. I tend to use a large chalky brush for this- nothing soft. Mostly at this stage I’m just putting down colors and trying to create the shape of the face (highlights on the higher parts of the face and dark tones on lower parts of the face (under the nose, eyes, and lips)).

Trying to establish where my light is coming from. A quick and easy way to do that is to lasso an area on a new layer then fill it with a color like orange or yellow, then turn that layer’s blend mode to ‘Add Glow’. I then adjust the opacity to a very low number. I then use those colors (toned down a little) as a reference for really bright highlights on other parts of the skin

Because my brush strokes were very loose and big there are parts that aren’t 100% filled in. So the layer that I painted on I duplicate, then duplicate again, then duplicate as needed until the skin starts to look more velvety and smooth. Then I combine those layers together. I have the CSP 3d model as a light reference but I also have a mirror on my desk and a photo I took of myself to help with things like colors in the skin. Around the eyes and lip top I placed cooler colors and gold colors around the eyes to make those areas stand out a bit more.

As I’m going through I always try to keep the main parts separated still like the eyes, brows and lips in case I need to make changes to the surrounding skin. The eyes in my initial sketch weren’t quite what I wanted so as I worked on smoothing out the skin I went ahead and made changes to the eyes. I did this easily by painting an eye shape that I liked then duplicating and flipping it horizontally. I then hand adjusted it by transforming the angle and shape slightly. From there I continued to paint in the eye and surrounding areas.

The default watercolor brushes do an excellent job of blending but you may find tools that work better for you in the asset store. I have so many brushes that I created a new brush set labeled 'FAVE' where I put brushes that I use all the time. I also have brush sets for specific projects so that way I can easily find brushes I am using heavily in a piece. I find this is a great way for me to easily keep up with all my heavily used brushes.

On the nose I wanted to create darker shadows but I didn’t want to paint them in and possibly mess up the work I had already done in that area. So on another layer I lasso’d a shape and filled it with purple. I then used the blend tool to blur it so the edges weren’t so sharp. And from there I lowered the opacity and played with the different blend modes until I was happy with the results.

As you can see the skin is looking much smoother because I am still blending with the airbrush tool and a slightly textured but colorless blender brush. If you haven’t found a blender brush you like- taking a textured brush that you do like and turning down the opacity and playing around with other settings like blending, color mixing, etc. might give you the results you want in a blending brush.

Remember how I said using reference was really important even if it’s something you *think* you know??? Well I didn’t follow that advice and the ears seemed really off especially as I was trying for a more realistic style.

So I went back looked at ear references at the angles my head is at and got better results.

I continue to use the airbrush, colorless blenders, and noise blenders to give the piece a little bit of texture so it doesn’t look overly smooth and plastic like. You can see I keep turning my lines on and off as I work on the rim/edge lighting on things like the ears and cheeks.

Now I’m in the home stretch. I’ll be honest- most of the time I focus on the face and the rest of the piece gets much rougher/coarser brush work. I really like brush strokes in art and for me it’s hard to pull that off in faces but things that usually aren’t the focus like hands, arms, etc. work well in that style, in my opinion. 😊

So I go through with big brush strokes on the hand and arm and the shoulders and chest area get the same but not as rough. Because I don’t want the shoulders and chest to stand out-so on top of those sections I create a new layer and fill it with a gradient fill very close in color to the skin. I then lower the opacity and merge it with the skin layer below. I airbrush in more oranges and pinks while smoothing those areas (chest shoulders and upper arms) a little. So as you can see in the image the arm and hands are a bit rough and painterly while the shoulders, chest and upper arms are a bit smoother. For that big shadow area I did the same that I did with the other styles. On top of the skin layer I created a new layer and lasso’d in a shape similar to the hand shape. I filled that shape with purple, blurred it, then lowered the opacity and played with blend modes until I found one I liked.

At this point I’m rather happy with how it looks. I think if I were to leave it lineless I would need to go in and clean up some edges that kind of merge like the hand and chest and make the left shoulder a little more 3D. However, with this style I wasn’t aiming for 100% realism just something soft and painterly so I’m going to add back in my lines but a little cleaner.

Play around with your line art color. It doesn’t always have to be black and you might find other colors really go well with your art and make different areas POP 😊

At this point I consider this done. I could easily go back and edit things, color correct, etc. if I wanted but I’m happy where this is at.

I hope that you have found this useful and I would love to see any work you do inspired by this tutorial. I think there is room for all 3 different art styles (and more!) for things like game icons, webtons, and so on and I hope you have fun creating your own art!
Happy art making!


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