Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Revisiting some pale skin techniques

I always seem to get questions on how to paint pale skin. It seems to be one of those things that isn't covered very often, but can really add a ton of character to a model. The biggest example I have are my Raven Guard Scouts. Their skin color is pale according to what I'm told and just adding that little bit to the models seems to really drive home the feel of the army.

It's real simple and if you take your time and work in the details of the face and blend your highlights, the results are better than tabletop. You can substitute any of the colors I list here to get any number of results in the end. It comes down to the look you're going for on your models.

As far as the colors I use for this result, it's just one color (a light, cool grey) and two washes, Ogryn Flesh and Devlan Mud. Here's the process.

1. Prime. Most of the time I use black, but if you've used a light grey or white, it will be easier since you'll need fewer coats to get a smooth finish for the next step.

2. Basecoat with the light grey. You want a nice, smooth and consistent finish with this coat. Try and keep them thin so you don't end up obscuring any details.

3. Liberal wash with undiluted Ogryn Flesh over the face. It's a warm color so it brings some life into the face and contrasts against the cool grey.

4. Go back with the grey and pick out the raised areas of the face. Here's where we start to add some contrast in values and pull out those details.

5. Slightly thinned (50/50) wash with Devlan Mud over the face. You can dilute it and go over the whole face or keep to the deepest recesses for a nice effect.

6. Go back with the grey and pick out the highlights. Again, this is to bring some more contrast back into the face and clean up any rough areas you might have left over at this point.
Note: You don't always have to have a hundred different shades on a face to get that detail. A few well placed washes and careful use of your base color and you can build those shades in and have some great looking results. But it takes a careful hand to get all those tiny details pulled out.
That's it.
Like I said, if you've got a good, smooth basecoat and you take your time working with the grey, you'll have some really nice transitions on the face and plenty of detail.

Some variations on the pale theme
Dark Eldar skin is perhaps the perfect army for pale skin. It's really just like any other kind of skin except you need to use different colors and keep a few things in mind.

First though, we need to look at pale skin vs "regular skin" tones. Dark Eldar don't spend their free time catching rays like the rest of humanity does. They don't have the rich, warm colors that we associate with healthy, human skin. Their skin is pale, it's lacks normal coloring and even comes in shades we humans aren't used to seeing.

This opens us up to using lots of other colors, but we need to stay away from any warm colors. Things like Tan and Dwarf Flesh are no good for our basecoat.

We want to use something like Dheneb Stone or better yet a light grey that is similar to that in value (lightness). The Dheneb stone is a warm color and if you can keep your basecoat cool, you'll be better off in the end.

I'm going to limit myself to using just those two colors for my basecoats.

Now when it comes to washes, we can use just about any we want... again staying away from warm colors or anything that starts to make the skin tone look human and healthy.

Blues, purples, etc. all work perfectly. You can use reds and some browns if you are
careful. They may start to make the skin look "normal" but it's still an option.

Be careful with green. I would stay away from it at this point. Green can look more rotted and decomposing than it can look pale if you're not careful and they guys are not rotting or decaying by any stretch of the imagination. For now, save the green for your Nurgle army.

We want really light colors for our basecoat too. Almost white. Nothing deep and rich in color. Remember, these guys are lacking all of that. We want that washed out, barely any color to their skin look.
So let's look at some examples...

Base: Light Grey, Wash: GW Leviathan Purple, Highlight: Base color

Base: Dheneb Stone, Wash: GW Leviathan Purple Highlight: Base color

So you can see with the two different base colors above the subtle difference between the light grey and the stone color. The Dheneb Stone is slightly warmer and a bit more "human" looking if you will. It's not wrong by any stretch, just another option.

The Leviathan Purple wash on the stone color comes across a bit warmer than it does on the grey where it looks like a normal purple and has less "red" to it. The light grey base color would be the "cool" version and the stone color would be the "warm" version of the two here even though we've used the same wash.

Now let's look at a different color wash over the same base colors.

Base: Light Grey, Wash: GW Asurmen Blue, Highlight: Base color

Base: Dheneb Stone, Wash: GW Asurmen Blue, Highlight: Base color

Obviously this isn't the only way to paint Dark Eldar skin, but this might some of you guys who are a little hesitant started. You don't have to stick to these colors either. Experiment with what you have. Keep your colors cool and you should be fine in the end.

Now you can take any one of those that we have above and go one more step with them and add some white to your highlight color. That gives you an even more "pale" look to the skin.
Actually you can do it with straight white if you thin it down enough and just add a few layers of it in key places. It will really push the contrast and lighten the face.

And if you're really looking to go the distance, Grab a spot color from your palette (whatever that may be) and add some facial tattoos to the models. Here I used a red for the contrast, you'll have to play around with the colors you've chosen for your own army to get the best effect.

And adding facial stubble to your models
This last little bit isn't really a tutorial as much as it's "how I do it."

It's a real simple process. I don't paint heads any different if I'm going to add this step or leave it off. I add the stubble at the very end of the process.
I use a medium shade of grey, it's a warm grey but I don't think that matters really. The big question you have to ask yourself is how long ago did he shave? I thin my paint down just a little bit and paint it right on the face where he would have the start of a beard.

Simple as that.
One thin coat = one day growth
Two thin coats = two days growth
After that, you might as well whip out the Greenstuff and add his beard on there.

The last step actually is to go back with a thin Devlan Mud wash and touch up just the recessed areas in the stubble (and the eyesocket for added contrast). This adds the depth back into the face that might have been erased when you were adding the stubble.

And the same thing applies for shaved heads...

Hope this helps, it shouldn't be too hard to get a pale or healthy look to skin. With a little experimenting, you should be able to get just the look you're going for. That along with some "extras" like tattoos and stubble and you'll be all set.


  1. I Bookmarked this article cause I'm painting a bunch of Hellions this week and some bare headed chaos. Such a good tutorial.

  2. Thanks for the article! I am painting a Raven Guard army. This is the perfect pale skin. It follows the fluff very well. Thanks Ron!!!

  3. Ron,
    I'm painting a drunk and I want him to have a set or rose cheeks and a pink, stuffed up nose. On my first attempt, I just used a basecoat of pink, maybe tentacle, and tried to highlight up to pallid flesh. it just didn't work well. would you suggest a darker contrast begin with?

    ps I forgot you had this going on over here

  4. Glad it helps guys!

    Black Matt: My first impression would be to use a red to get the flushed look. By using pink as opposed to red, you are changing the value of the skin potentially instead of just the hue.

    Maybe try a few thin washes of Baal Red over the area. That way, it keeps some of the original skin tones, but has a red tint to it.

    If the Baal Red doesn't work, try a regular red paint (nothing too dark) and thin it down. You're going for the suggestion of the face being flushed more than you are the actual representation of it.

    If you can convince the viewer that it's what they think it is, it doesn't matter if it's not 100 percent accurate.

  5. Have always enjoyed these posts, very much helps me develop my skills.

  6. I like the stubble. Something I haven't done before, but it makes a lot of sense. I'm going to give it a go.

  7. I'm glad they help guys, thanks for letting me know.

    They're simple tricks that can add so much to your models and you don't have to kill yourself for hours on end to get good results.