What color should I use when I paint your Portrait?


The answer is all of the above!  

Regardless of how you label the color of your skin – white, black, caucasian, mongoloid, negroid, Irish, Indian, etc. –  There is no living being that does not contain all colors in their pigmentation!  Can you imagine if I painted a portrait of a “white” person using only white paint?  Or a black person using only black paint?   The colors used to paint anything and everything are the 3 primary colors – red, yellow, and blue, and variations of the primaries that you get by mixing them in various proportions.  Artists buy premixed versions of red, yellow and blue because their time is better spent painting than mixing paint.  Even so, rarely do we use a color straight out of the tube, but change the value and tone of the color by blending them with each other. (A funny note – you cannot buy a pre-mixed “flesh” color that matches any person’s skin tone!)

Notice that there is no black or white in the color selection. That’s because, technically, white and black are NOT colors!  White paint reflects all light and black paint reflects no light.  Of course I use both black and white paint, but sparingly.  White is used to lighten a color. Mixing white with red, for example, causes more light reflection and we see a lighter version of red which we call pink. I only use pure white when something is so shiny that it reflects a lot of light, as in jewelry with rhinestones or diamonds.  Other than jewelry or very reflective items, there is only one place in painting a portrait that I use pure black and pure white, and that is in the eyes.  The pupil of the eye is an opening into the depths of the human head where no light is reflected. So I use black paint for the pupil.  The pupil and the cornea are covered by a transparent moist layer that reflects the light source.  If I make one tiny spot on the eye which is pure white, it gives us a point of entry through the pupil into the depth of the person I’m painting.  In my portraits, the eyes are the most important part of the likeness, because I believe that the subject reveals so much of their personality through their eyes. I believe it is symbolic that pure white and pure black are used in a representation of the eyes – the “window to the soul.”

All of the tubes of paint you see in the above picture are used in all of the paintings – portraits, landscapes, still life, florals and energy paintings – that I have completed in the past 3 years.  Some of the portraits in this selection were painted with watercolors, but the palette is the same.  My favorites for portraits are cadmium red light, alizarin crimson, light red ochre, yellow ochre, naples yellow, cerulean blue, ultramarine blue, cadmium orange, pthalo green, sap green, burnt sienna, and paine’s grey.  (Ivory black and Titanioum white.)