What is Flesh-Tone?

Many budding artists ask the question, “What do you mix to get your skin-tones?”  It seems an odd question, in a world of such diverse skin color.  Even in a single human being, the range of colors found on the surface of the skin can hardly be enumerated.  If you really look, you will find brown, orange, red, pink, yellow, green, blue, violet and on and on it goes.  Art supply companies have bent to the will of a society that desires quick answers to complex problems. Most oil paint brands offer a tube labeled “flesh tone”, which tends to be orangey pink in color.  This color might crop up somewhere on a portrait now and then, but will cause the artist to try to use it much more often. Withstand the urge to purchase it at all, and instead learn to see the richness of the color that is before you.  You will be a much more accomplished painter for the effort.

Here is what artists from the past have said on the subject:

It is the eye of ignorance that assigns a fixed and unchangeable color to every object; beware of this stumbling block. – Paul Gauguin

If one could only catch that true color of nature – the very thought of it drives me mad.  – Andrew Wyeth

Optics, developing in us through study, teach us to see. – Paul Cezanne

Whether the chosen medium for a portrait ends in the production of a full color painting or a monochromatic drawing, the artist must be skilled in the art of seeing.  Only then can composition, line, value and color come together to produce a masterpiece.