Bring some diversity into your art journal!
Join me in my art studio as I show you how to paint brown skin tones using mixed media. This is a very simple, beginner friendly technique to paint brown skin tones on whimiscal portraits in your art journal.
One of the most frequent complaints I’ve heard within the art journal community is the lack of diversity in instructions on how to paint faces. Most teachers focus on painting fair skinned portraits, which leaves people of color feeling under-represented and unseen.
Added to that is the fact that getting the shading, highlights, and shadows on darker skin tones is often much more difficult than standard fair featured portraits.
While there are many different ways to approach painting darker skin tones, I’ve come up with a fairly easy way to paint brown skin tones using mixed media art supplies.
These are by no means realistic portraits — after all, I am not a realistic portrait painter! So this darker skin tone isn’t completely realistic, either, but it is a way for me to represent myself in all my brown girl glory on the art journal page.
Watch the process: painting a brown skin toned whimsical portrait with mixed media art supplies
True to form, I went off on a completely different tangent while recording the voice over on the video. Instead of starting from scratch and trying to explain all the nuances of painting a darker skin tone, I decided to leave the video as it is, so you can watch me as I paint and listen to my thoughts as I was painting this page.
If you need more detailed instructions on how I got that brown skin tone, scroll down for a step-by-demo. I promise not to go off on a tangent while writing these instructions for you!
This is the second part in my series on how to use a neutral color palette in your art journal.
If you enjoyed this video, you will also love this mixed media portrait tutorial of a brown skin tone using slightly different colors and techniques. And don’t forget to check out the entire series on using a neutral color palette!
Supply list for painting brown skin tones
(supplies marked with * are what you need to achieve a similar skin tone in your art journal)
I used this Mixed media paper to make my art/junk journal, but you could totally do this in any art journal. This one is my favorite.
Acrylic paints in your chosen neutral palette. I used the following:
Pebeo paints: Payne’s grey, Raw sienna*, Titanium Buff, Yellow ochre*
Camel paints: Black, Burnt umber, grey
Black* and White* Derwent Coloursoft color pencils
Baked Earth Derwent Intense pencil *
Princeton Catalyst mini blade no. 01
Paintbrushes in different sizes *
White paint pen (I used a white Sharpie)
Black pen (I used Schneider Xpress)
White Sakura gelly roll pen
Note: All of these links are affiliate links. If you make a purchase using these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you’re an India-based artist, I highly recommend ArtLounge — I get most of my art supplies from them, going to Amazon only for the few brands that they do not stock. Use the coupon code SHINJINIM at checkout to get a sweet discount.
Step-by-step demo: How to paint brown skin tones using mixed media techniques
Step 1: Sketch in a face in your art journal. If you’re new to drawing faces, take a look at this step-by-step tutorial on how to draw whimsical faces. I sketched the portrait using a Derwent Inktense pencil called Baked Earth on a painted background, which essentially served as the underpainting for the face. You can mix up some titanium buff with yellow ochre and use that as the first layer on the entire face to get the same effect.
Step 2: Firm up the lines and features of your whimsical portrait with some acrylic paint. I used raw sienna.
Steps 3 & 4: Lay down a wash of raw sienna acrylic paint on the entire face to darken the skin tone. If the color is too dark, lighten it with some water (see the bottom two images above). The aim is just to deepen the colors slightly.
Step 5: Add some white on the highlight areas – see the first image above (top left) for the exact placement – essentially the bridge on the nose, forehead, and cheeks. I used gesso, but you can use titanium white too.
Step 6: Use your finger to dab the still-wet white paint so it blends a bit into the rest of the face.
Step 7: I used a Derwent Inktense pencil (baked earth) to darken the flesh tone further. Use a light touch. It’s better to build up the colors slowly — you have more control that way.
Step 8: Use a damp brush to activate the Intense shading.
Step 9: More white paint on the highlight areas of the face. Blend it with your fingers again.
Step 10: Add some more shading under the chin. I used the Inktense pencil (baked earth) and a tiny but of raw sienna here.
Step 11: Paint in the hair. I’m not sure why, but painting in the hair on your whimsical portrait helps you to see if you’re happy with the shading or want to add more layers to the face.
Step 12: I was quite happy with the brown skin tone I managed to achieve, so I used a black Derwent Colorsoft pencil to pencil in her eyebrows and a white Derwent Colorsoft pencil to add the white in her eyes.
And here’s the finished painting!
Pin it for later!
Additional tips and techniques
- If you want to deepen the brown skin tone on your portrait, continue to layer with the Derwent inktense and gesso. I would avoid using any more raw sienna at this stage, because it can become too dark, and it’s trickier to work with a very dark skin tone.
- You’ll notice in the final image above that I added some highlights around her face. I used a Sakura gelly roll pen, using the lightest touch under her eyebrows. You want just the barest hint of white at this stage. I didn’t add any more white highlights because it pretty much ends up ruining the entire painting (in my opinion). You’re free to experiment, of course.
I hope you enjoyed this lesson! If you enjoyed this exploration of using a neutral palette in your paintings, check out how to paint an imaginary character using the same color palette, or subscribe to my YouTube channel — I have a series of videos coming out over the next few weeks. I’m sure you will learn something new with each session — I know I did!
If you give this a try, please tag me on Instagram at moderngypsy.in — I’d love to see what you create!
More art journaling inspiration
If you’re looking for more inspiration, take a look at all of my art tutorials or join me for the Inner You e-course to learn how to use I AM statements.
Want to up your art journal game? Then join me for Book of Days 2022, a collaborative e-course that will take you on a deep dive into mixed media art journaling. In this year-long course, we will focus on all the ways that working with journal art can enrich and enhance our lives. The course is suitable for everyone from beginners to advanced artists, and will help you to create and maintain a practice of meeting yourself on the page.
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