View Full Version : Skin tones and colour blindness

05 May 2005, 04:09 AM
Skin tones are probably the most misunderstood area of rendering (both 3d and 2d), as a lot of the colour and tone has to do with the fall of light, the closeness of the veins and bone to the surface and various other factors. Most beginners and intermediates don't seem to get skin right when painting (too white/pink/brown), and I include myself in that area. My main issue falls into the area of just not being able to get the colour right.
I'm red-green colourblind, and areas of skin are difficult for me to paint. I understand the theory behind it, but I never seem to see the colour correctly. I fully understand that I'm only a beginner to painting (more of a 3d background) and this sort of knowledge comes with time, experience and observation, but I feel my observation is flawed due to my condition.

Is there a good base colour to start from? Light obviously changes the colour completely, as does shininess, and the other areas I covered above. The one I most commonly think of is the base skin tone that Enayla uses in her eye tute, but I know this isn't necessarily the ideal.

Should I just keep painting/sketching and slowly adjust my colour vision to "see" the right colour at a sort of offset of what my actual vision sees?

My current stance is that I'm still learning the ropes and my vision won't effect the overall form of what I'm creating, I just wanted to hear opinions. :)

05 May 2005, 06:15 AM
I was about to make a post about this same topic.
Erilaz, I most definitely understand what you are saying. I have the same problem with skin coloring. My problem however does not necessarily stem from color blindness but just not a formal art education or tutorial telling me which colors to use on skin to get the desired effect. I have asked this question many times and no one has answered me. Along with all the questions you have, I do not understand why every painting I do, ends up with dull, pale, blurry colors that look all 'messed up'. Which color combination produces those shiny, glossy nice skin I see in the paintings I here.
Enayla's tutorial helped me so much, that I went to her web page and gobbled up all the other tutorials there :) I am practising right now.
My first attempt still does not look ok, but its better than the ones I did before, which should tell you how bad it is for me. Its practise practise practise.
I find it really frustrating that I can't get the skin to glow. Anyone feel free to make notes on the picture. Its an exercise am doing. :)

05 May 2005, 06:16 AM
Skin is one of the hardest things to get right, and for a colorblind person, it must be hell. I feel for you.

There really is no "color formula" for skin, because skin reacts to the environment and temperature. When flushed, skin gets really warm (on the cheeks, on the chest..etc). But, in area where there's more fat, the skin is cooler (breasts, buttocks), and sometimes so cool that you see the blue/green veins very clearly. When backlit, the semi-transparent part of the skin (web between fingers for example) becomes very warm--as warm as a cadmimum orange. All of this, doesn't even start to take into account the actual lighting on the skin. The color temperature of the light sources greatly affects the skin tone. Outdoors, the skin take on the warm direct sunlight, but when in shade, it takes on the cool color of the sky. But what if in that shade, is a lot of green foliage? All those green leaves will reflect green unto the skin too. Let's say you have a pinkish skinned toned person standing between a green and purple light--you see how complex this can get?

So, there is no color formula, only laws of physics that you have to understand. I don't know how else to help you other than pointing these things out.

05 May 2005, 07:38 AM
I think ultimately, the issue is whether or not, your rendering is 'credible'. This will be driven primarily by light/dark contast - an area which you have no disadvantage.

Work with what you have - don't try and second guess the way other people see objects (which is highly subjective to begin with). I have seen many of your (dsg) works, and it never occured to me that you had colour blindness. As long as you can lay down a credible rendering in tone, your images should work.


ps: skin tones? whose skin tones? under what lighting conditions. Hey this is such a relative area to begin with.

05 May 2005, 07:53 AM
if you can draw/paint as well as your vision allows you can become an excellent painter no matter if you are colorblind or not. ie, a colorblind person sees in color, but has a harder time picking out specific colors when they are seen together. When a color blind person looks at real skin, it looks like real skin, so if that person paints exactly what he sees, he will achieve a natural effect.

There are many principles and rules out there to help you simplify the complexity of nature, but when it comes down to it, observation is the best way to go. If you can see it, you can paint it. (although color temperature has a huge impact in the final appearance of a painting, getting the values right is usually more important than what color they are... and colorblind people can see values perfectly, so...)

As for your question, again just paint what you see. If when you look at your model's skin, it looks right on the model, then just go ahead and copy that. Colors are relative to each other, so if you paint them inside the "range" at which you see them, they should read as correct, if copied accurately. Also, when learning to paint, don't focus on skin alone, because anything around it will affect the perception of its actual color. Make sure that your entire picture area's color is taken in to account (background, clothing, etc..).

If possible, start with oil painting and then move on to digital... it will be much easier to understand light and color this way.

05 May 2005, 06:58 PM
i have to agree with Ariel, I was going to post pretty much the same thing he said. I have a red/green color vision deficiency too, and feel I have trouble painting everything.
You just have to try to get the values right, and remember that color is subjective. Make it look like what you see, and it'll be pretty close to what everyone else sees. And if all else fails, ask someone with 'normal' color vision to check while you're working. Just to remind myself of that, I keep an unfinished, airbrushed watercolor painting by my desk; it's of a green tinted girl with a whip. She wasn't supposed to be green, and I couldn't figure out why it just looked a little off. Of course i didn't show anyone 'till the skin tones were done, by then it was too late.
Good luck, keep trying and don't be afraid to ask someone if the colors look OK.

07 July 2005, 03:47 AM
I appreciate the question and the many encouraging responses. I'm starting my 2nd year of art school and finding my colorblindness a source of great frustration in some classes (oil painting, for example). My teachers have been kind but unsure of how to deal with me. One suggested I work in one color and just focus on value, which is a great relief... but I'm not so sure I like the special treatment, since it means I'll learn less about important concepts like color temperature (some of which I can distinguish).

So, I'm starting a blog for colorblind artists, which I hope will foster a sharing of ideas and encouragement. If you're interested in joining the conversation, please contribute:

Thus far I've just posted some guiding questions and a few links, but I've been mining the Web for sites about colorblind artists (and I've been contacting some and getting some helpful replies), so I'll add that soon.

My sense so far is that 1) colorblindness varies, and it seems to be a real handicap for some artists, 2) colorblind artists find various ways to work around the problem, including limiting their choices, using computer tools (and their spouses), and just ignoring the issue altogether and doing what feels right, and 3) just as there are many colorblind folks out there (1 in 12 men), there are many working colorblind illustrators, painters and CG artists out there as well. Lots of people to lend support and share ideas.


07 July 2005, 06:55 AM
I used to have the same problem with getting half decent looking skin tones. Until i found colours i liked. I have 3 brown shades (dark, medium and light) which i use to colour the face and then i add more depth by using a tint of purple for the darkest area. Pink (cheeks, nose etc), yellow and orange (between the light brown and dark brown shades) are also very important to add warmth and depth. All i do is use a soft edged brush with 8% flow and 50% opacity when applying these non-brown colours. If you wish i can post up an image of the colour pallette i use.

those colours in use (ignore the crappy hair, i just cant seem to do hair):

click the image again to see it in full view or else it looks blured.

PS: lunatique is right, but im no where near as good as him, so i assume no surroundings, just plain light. Makes it alot easier to practice.

07 July 2005, 07:06 AM
queensoul, i think one of the big mistakes your doing is using a soft-edged brush for the whole thing (or at least thats what is seems). try using a hard-edged brush (for Photoshop CS make sure hardness is 100%, for PS7 select brush size 19 out of the list and change the size as you wish using the bar). Use soft edge for blending only.

08 August 2005, 05:12 AM
found this page:

haven't read through but mabey some more info for you guys.

08 August 2005, 10:26 PM
Ages ago I read an article from a sound engineer that had lost a signifigant range of hearing. Think it was in the higher frequencies. He got around this technically by closely montoring wave form patterns. You might be able to do something similar with the black and white representations of the rgb channels in photo shop. Look at good skin tones in the channels and then compare what you have as I said dont know if this would work but it might help.

08 August 2005, 11:14 PM
Since you mentioned a 3D background, I thought I would offer another possible approach. Building a skin shader in 3D can help give a starting point for what colors to put where. While tweaking various properties trying to get decent skin in 3d (the right amount of scatter, specular, etc.) and constantly comparing with real examples, I found that I was learning what skin was not. Things would look wrong, and I'd adjust the properties to try and get it right. Now, whenever I attempt to paint skin, the approach is pretty close to what I've learned from 3D... what base, scatter, and specular colors to use.

Though, having not painted much skin I'm by no means an expert, and not knowing enough about color blindness I'm not sure how well this approach will work (especially since you also mention that you already understand the theory behind it). But I hope it might.

08 August 2005, 12:18 PM
Nice blog you've got started there, mneuger. I'm colourblind (red/green) and if left to my own reckonings always make skin green. It's a major frustration and really gives great blows to my confidence, I don't know if you get that. I'm always terrified to do any graphic design because I have no idea what colour looks good with what to non-colourblind people.

I found this page the other day: Just check out the detail that's hidden in that Gauguin painting! I was floored. It's gotta be tough makring photoreal art when that much information is missing from our vision.

08 August 2005, 06:11 PM
what i feel is that u see too many soft edge brush. edges near the nose, the part above the mouth, the eyes can be better defined. i am a newbie also. but hope this helps.

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