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Painting: Painting with Oils
Discuss Oil painting techniques.
Hosted by Craig Whitaker
John's Painting Class - Part III
Wisconsin, United States
Joined: January 23, 2003
KitMaker: 920 posts
Historicus Forma: 629 posts
Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 12:29 PM UTC
Painting the face in oils

Hello class! Thank you for your patience. I've been quite busy lately, but am glad to say I've finally put together the third installment of our painting class.

I must admit, it wasn't without it's problems. So I had to get creative in how I present this segment to you.

Essentially, because the oil paints stay wet for a long period of time, they become very reflective and make good close-up photography difficult. I found that my pictures really weren't showing the information I wanted to convey to you. So I opted to present this class using two different methods as you'll see below. I hope you find them just as useful.

Let's get started.

Here are the paints I used for painting the face. I use plain household wax paper for my palette. For brushes I used primarily 3/0 sable brushes. I use generic turpentine as my thinner. Oil paints go a long way. What I put on my palette here is far more than I needed. Be conservative when squeezing out your paints.

Here you'll notice I basecoated a piece of styrene in the Vallejo sand brown. I used this to explain some of the techniques as it allowed for a larger area and easier visibility.

I started out with a mixture of Burnt Sienna & Titanium white to get a generic caucasian flesh color. As a rule I try to keep my oils as dry as possible. Too much thinner will make the paint runny and less controlable. In this picture, you'll see what happens when you put the paint on too thick. You have alot of streaks and an overall rough texture. This is one of the main problems people have when working with oils. They put it on too thick. Try and avoid this.

Here you'll see that I removed the excess paint to obtain a more even surface.

Here you see the same example as above, but on the actual figure. You can see where you would get into trouble down the road if you started out with the paint as it is shown on the left. If you find that you did put too much paint on, simply wipe your brush well on a clean absorbant cloth, then go back and gently remove the excess.

I laid down four colors which were made from a combination of some of the paints on my palette.

To blend two colors together it is important to use a clean, dry brush. Here I'm using a #1 flat. A gentle touch is key to getting nice blends. As I guide my brush along the edge, I use a light stippling (tapping) motion to work the colors together. Remember, you aren't applying paint to the surface at this point. You are "massaging" the paint that is already there. Light and easy is the way.

Another very important step is to continually clean your brush while blending. The purpose is to remove excess paint that will build up on the brush while blending. I simply drag the brush on my cloth with a fair amount of pressure. I try to avoid using thinner to clean in between , as it can cause you to accidentally discharge a small pool of thinner into your paint and cause it to get messy.

More progress. You'll notice that you get a nice, soft break between the colors, but neither one of them lose their identity.

Continuing to blend the rest of the colors....

Here, all the colors have been blended to their adjacent color. The important part of blending is to get a nice soft transition between without cancelling out eachother.

To better explain this, here I have our base flesh color to which I placed two streaks of raw umber.

Notice how the streak on the left is still visible, but nicely blended. The streak on the right was overworked and ended up mixing completely with the base color, therefore losing it's separation. This is another common mistake for people when working with oils. Overdoing it. Make sure to just work on the edges of transitioning colors until they have a soft, pleasing look. Going too far in either direction kills the effect.

Now, as I said, I had trouble getting good photos to competently show you the progression of the face, so I decided to convey it in illustrations. I think they should prove just as helpful in understanding the placement of shadows and highlights. That coupled with the techniques mentioned above, you should be well on your way.

NOTE: In the illustration I reference permanent rose, when in fact it is the Cadmium Red Deep Hue that I used.

After you finish painting the face it is a good idea to dry it in a dust free place. Oil paints can take days to dry and even weeks depending on the colors you use.

I constructed a drying box based on the article found here on Armorama.


It works like a charm and dramatically reduces the drying time, while keeping the figure out of the dusty environment.

Here is the final pictures of the head as I painted it. I'm not sure they are as good as they can be, so I may try to reshoot them under different lighting and repost them

And there you have it. Please fire away with any questions I may not have answered, or comments you would like to make regarding the overall class.

Until next time, may all your brush strokes be good ones!

Kikladhes, Greece / Ελλάδα
Joined: September 30, 2003
KitMaker: 6,871 posts
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Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 12:34 PM UTC
Pretty instructive and well done class my friend . A really big amountof effort is in here . one word . BRAVOOOOOOOOOOO
Victoria, Australia
Joined: July 28, 2004
KitMaker: 10,889 posts
Historicus Forma: 4,745 posts
Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 01:32 PM UTC
Hi John,

Excellent explanantion of painting faces. I really appreciate the illustrated SBS.

I'm sure I'll have more question as I try out your technique, but for now I have just 2... What is your ratio for your base coat of Burnt Sienna and White? And how long do you let the oil paint set before applying the next layer (i.e. the highlight or shadow)?

BTW Robert's drying oven is great. I find if you line it with aluminium foil it raises the ambient temperature slightly.

For those interested here are the links to John's earlier classes:

Armorama Painting Class Supplies List
John's Painting Class I
John's Painting Class - Part II

Thanks again John!

Aarhus, Denmark
Joined: February 12, 2005
KitMaker: 426 posts
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Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 02:15 PM UTC
One question.

The figure has a wide open mouth.

How do you deal with that ? Do you "just" paint it with raw umber like the deepest shadows ?
Putrajaya, Malaysia
Joined: March 04, 2004
KitMaker: 2,509 posts
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Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 02:23 PM UTC
excellent class John...
i have to ask the same question. I have an open mouth figure too and it's in 1/16 scale....which the teeth is visible, and in that scale, the tounge is visible too...how do we paint them??

another question, does the picture is in a book?? if yes can you name it??

Staff MemberSenior Editor
Croatia Hrvatska
Joined: February 13, 2002
KitMaker: 5,359 posts
Historicus Forma: 1,985 posts
Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 02:52 PM UTC
Excellent SBS John, one of the best I have seen... I use enamels for painting flesh tones, but your article is making me pick up some oils and trying the new medium.

Very well documented with loads of pictures. This should be one of the most read articles on the figure section... please make a compilation of all your "painting classes" topics and publish it as an article.

Great job,
Aarhus, Denmark
Joined: January 02, 2006
KitMaker: 258 posts
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Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 03:23 PM UTC
You're my Hero!
Goteborgs och Bohus, Sweden
Joined: July 28, 2005
KitMaker: 649 posts
Historicus Forma: 307 posts
Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 05:13 PM UTC
I save this as a bookmark! Thank you John!
Cheers Andreas
North Carolina, United States
Joined: November 14, 2005
KitMaker: 19 posts
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Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 05:22 PM UTC
Well worth the wait John. You're obviously spending a lot of time putting these lessons together. Very helpful!

Staff MemberSenior Editor
Izmir, Turkey / Türkçe
Joined: December 01, 2001
KitMaker: 6,401 posts
Historicus Forma: 2,573 posts
Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 05:38 PM UTC
One word: PERFECT..this is better than almost all figure painting books i have seen...a big effort and a great final....IMO this should be added to Armorama as a feature...
I already have a printout and i know many guys will do the same.
congrats and thanks a lot brother...
England - South East, United Kingdom
Joined: January 11, 2003
KitMaker: 4,306 posts
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Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 06:00 PM UTC
Very clearly illustrated John - 24hrs too late for my current figure but the next will benefit!
Kansas, United States
Joined: April 07, 2005
KitMaker: 1,225 posts
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Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 06:17 PM UTC

It is obvious that you have put a great deal of time and
effort into the planning and execution of this fine
how to series. None of my fig painting books even
come close the important details you explain so clearly
with text and photos, drawings. You have my sincere
thanks, John.

You explained one problem I'm having and now I
see where I went wrong. I over work the area between
two colors that I'm blending so the effect is diminished.

Now I know. Thanks again.
Ontario, Canada
Joined: February 01, 2005
KitMaker: 1,299 posts
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Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 06:20 PM UTC

Amazing Job. Thanks for your time effort. Also a standing ovation to all who are leading these classes. Cant wait to paint my figgy.
Pas-de-Calais, France
Joined: October 24, 2005
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Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 06:45 PM UTC
Amazing explanation - weel illustrated and seems very simple to do

California, United States
Joined: November 20, 2005
KitMaker: 96 posts
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Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 06:48 PM UTC
Hey John. Great lesson. I have a couple of questions though ( remember this is my very first time doing this ). You use a #1 flat brush in your demo. Is this the brush I should use for my head, or would that be too big? Also, do I paint all of the other steps while the base coat is still wet? I'm assuming so because how else would they blend.
Well, I'm off to get some Indian Red ( it wasn't on the list John ), LOL, thanks again for a very informitive class.

Vaud, Switzerland
Joined: September 29, 2005
KitMaker: 243 posts
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Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 07:00 PM UTC
And just before a snowy week end!

You noticed I had been bugging you with question on painting with enamels... But your class is so inspirational that I just went to the DIY shop and bought some Oils!

Questions :
1. Can I trim my cheap big #2 brushes to make them smaller? I know, I'm cheap
2. Shades and highlights : you're showing the area where they should be situated. But is it a general rule that the shades should be in the recessed aread, and the highlights in the raised areas?

Evros, Greece / Ελλάδα
Joined: October 26, 2004
KitMaker: 161 posts
Historicus Forma: 142 posts
Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 10:16 PM UTC
One of the best SBSs ever. Thanks a lot John.. I can;t wait to print this class out.. and make a nice reference of it.

Vaud, Switzerland
Joined: September 29, 2005
KitMaker: 243 posts
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Posted: Friday, February 17, 2006 - 12:30 AM UTC
OK, I got started with the oils and the result is rather... disastrous :-) :-) :-) :-) :-)

What's crazy is how small this piece of plastic is! Looking at the picture it looks real easy, but when you have to apply it on a 0.5 cm head... it's a lot harder.

Questions :

Magnifier : I have a magnifier, but I find it harder to use because I cannot control my motions so well, I have a different view of the distances when I am using it. Is it just a matter of getting used to it?

Diluting : As per your advice I am not thinning the paint, is that OK?

Correcting mistake : I think I am at my 3rd or 4th attempt to make the 2nd step, shadows. When I got it all wrong I am trying to clean by wiping away, and going back to the base coat... however, I never really get back to the original color because of the dark from shadow, and my guy is getting grayer and grayer!!!! :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-)
Any advice?

Is the secret to use a brush with only one bristle?

(I am having a lot of fun anyways)
Wisconsin, United States
Joined: January 23, 2003
KitMaker: 920 posts
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Posted: Friday, February 17, 2006 - 02:24 AM UTC
I’m glad everyone is liking the tutorial so far. I had fun putting it together.

Now to answer some questions…

There really isn’t a set ratio for the burnt sienna and white. Everyone has a different skin tone so there is room for interpretation here. I usually start with a small dab of burnt sienna and then gradually add white until I have a color that I like for a basecoat. I probably never get the same color twice.

After you apply the basecoat, you can start the next step right away. No need to wait. Oh, and thanks for the aluminum foil tip. I’ll definitely try it.


I just used the raw umber in the mouth. There really wasn’t any detail present, but if you would like you could certainly indicate a tongue with some flesh color tinted with a touch of red.

For a 1/16 scale figure I would definitely detail the mouth. You will want to do that part before moving on to the face. Things to be careful of: Don’t overdo the colors. Many people think teeth are white and the tongue is red. Not true. Teeth tend to lean toward either a yellow, blue, or pink tint. Make sure to tone down your white with one of these colors. For the tongue I would use the base color and add a touch of cadmium red, or permanent rose, or even magenta. Something that will make it more on the pink side. I would only use this color on the front of the tongue. If you go too far back with the color you may lose the feeling of depth to the mouth. Leave the back parts of the mouth and tongue darker.

For book pictures, do you mean the drawing of the face? If so, yes it is from a book called “How to Draw Marvel Comics.” The image though is just a black & white line drawing. I did all the coloring steps myself using photoshop.

I wouldn’t recommend using a #1 for blending on a 1/35 face. It worked for the larger example I was using, but you’ll want to use something smaller for this figure.

Yes, all paints were applied while the base was wet. The caution when working “wet on wet” is that you really have to make sure you are keeping your layers thin. If you put the paint on too thick, the colors will start piling and it will be difficult to get a nice blend. Rather, you will end up with a big gray mess.

Yes Nils, I know that Indian red wasn’t on the supplies list. Sheesh! Sometimes I just decide to change things up without even telling myself first! LOL You don’t necessarily have to use Indian red. As you get more comfortable with the techniques you can start experimenting with different colors, which will yield unique results.


Please for the love of all that is good tell me you are kidding about trimming your brushes! LOL I think you know my answer on this one. Don’t trim your brushes. The only time I trim a brush is when it is already ruined and I want to modify it as a weathering brush. Please save up a couple dollars and get yourself the right size. You’ll save yourself a lot of frustration.

Shadows and highlights: Yes, as a general rule you could say raised detail gets highlights and recessed detail gets shadow. But it’s much more than that. It really depends on where your implied light source is coming from. I’ve seen figures that were simulating a person holding a glowing object that radiated light up towards their face. In this case, the recessed areas were highlighted and the raised areas received the shadows. Just the opposite of a “normal” lighting situation.

Using a Magnifier: These magnifiers are great tools for some and disastrous for others. I own one, but don’t use it all that often. I too find it difficult to know where I’m at when using it. The trouble with them is that they have a limited focal range. So even if you are holding your figure in the focal range, moving your brush towards and away from the figure can cause the brush to become blurry and hard to judge it’s location. It definitely takes getting used to. What I do when using one is to bring the brush near the figure without looking through the magnifier, and then look through the magnifier while making the strokes.

I didn’t want to imply that you shouldn’t dilute your paint at all. I just prefer to keep them dryer. If you feel you need to thin them, start by dipping your brush in the thinner and then lightly touching it to your paint rag to wick away any excess. Then only use the little amount in the brush to thin out your mixture. The key is to avoid making your paint look like a puddle, which makes the paint hard to control.

Your face turning gray is all part of the growing pains of learning to use oils. I still do it from time to time. If all else fails, load your brush up with thinner and remove the oil paint altogether. Sometimes it’s better to do that then to keep working a hopeless situation.

Great questions guys! Keep ‘em coming.

Staff MemberPublisher
New Hampshire, United States
Joined: December 15, 2001
KitMaker: 12,439 posts
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Posted: Friday, February 17, 2006 - 02:39 AM UTC
Nice job on the illustrations John. Really helps a lot to see that.

Keep up the good work!

Montana, United States
Joined: June 03, 2003
KitMaker: 498 posts
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Posted: Friday, February 17, 2006 - 03:15 AM UTC
excellent face painting tutorial. I Love the use of drawings to explain where to place paint. better than using actual models due to lack of definition in most photos. I will definately use this. Thanks
Vaud, Switzerland
Joined: September 29, 2005
KitMaker: 243 posts
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Posted: Friday, February 17, 2006 - 03:21 AM UTC
I've painted my first one. I was quite happy, my wife looked like she liked it too.
I went to the next fig, tried 3 times, but went nowhere.
I have posted a picture. my camera is not so good at zooms... sorry. It is Ok if one zooms on the picture, I will try to create a zoomed picture in photoshop, but in the meantime :

My first one is the gentleman holding the helmet in the middle. The second one is the one to his right. I ended up brushing all the oils off, and letting it to dry. Hopefuly I get the energy to try again tomorrow...

So there is one area that I need more details on, I hope this is not getting too tedious for you to answer all those questions...

I'm fully aware that the first thing I want to do tomorrow is to go invest in some proper brushes #:-) #:-) Although I am happy with my 5 bristle brush I built from a nr 3, 0.2 $ brush... (hope you haven't fainted yet)

You've explaint really well how to blend the colors together on the plastic sheet, and I think I get it. My technique is to kinda dab the paint on the spot I want to blend.
Where it is getting impossible for me, it is when you have to blend something that is one bristle wide... most of the colors, especialy the shadows, are one bristle wide for me. So I do I go about blending them? When I try it just turns into one gray area.
I am sure it is about 1. getting better brushes 2. practising practising practising, but you may have some more detaisl on the technique.
Alabama, United States
Joined: November 20, 2005
KitMaker: 12 posts
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Posted: Saturday, February 18, 2006 - 12:23 AM UTC
Great class so far but i have one question. I know this is for oil paint only but can the blending technique you showed us be used with acrylic. Thanks
Goteborgs och Bohus, Sweden
Joined: July 28, 2005
KitMaker: 649 posts
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Posted: Saturday, February 18, 2006 - 12:53 AM UTC
I work with acrylics and I would say no, at least have I never been able to do that. If you succes please tell me!
Cheers Andreas
Wisconsin, United States
Joined: January 23, 2003
KitMaker: 920 posts
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Posted: Saturday, February 18, 2006 - 06:13 AM UTC
Hi Greg:

Thanks for posting. The techniques that you see here will only apply to oils, and may apply somewhat to enamels, but not to acrylics. The drying properties of acrylics are far faster than oils or enamels. They do not allow the proper time to blend colors together. You may get similar effects using acrylics, but it takes a different approach and technique.

If you follow Nate or Costas' class, you will see how they are using acrylics to paint the same figure.

Best of luck to you.