Layering watercolor is basically a way to mix watercolors on your paper by superposing layers instead of mixing them on your palette. As you can mix most colors with the 3 primaries ( yellow, blue and red). You can achieve convincing skin tones with yellow, blue and red. I find layering watercolors gives more control on the paint as you need to focus only on value and edges while painting. You can achieve great transparent and bright colors and convincing skin tones with a layering technique. It is a great way to paint skin tones with watercolor.
You might also be interested in: Painting watercolor portraits layer by layer
How to paint skin tones with watercolor
Here are a few things to remember when layering watercolors for skin tones:
- You can add more convincing light effect by choosing a cool and a warm tone for each color. For example a warm yellow would be yellow Ochre, my main basis for skin colors, and a cold yellow would be lemon yellow. For blue I will often use Ultramarine as a warmer blue and Colbalt or Prussian as a colder tone. I will get a pinkinsh red (Alazarin Crimson) as a warm tone and a more orangy red (Permanent red light) as a cold red.
Sophie, in the kitchen- Watercolor on paper
This portrait was made by layering colors
- I always start by layering yellow . This is because yellow ocher for example and yellow in general will be more opaque than the blue and red colors.
- It doesn’t matter if you paint the blue layer first or the red layer first. Personally I prefer painting blue last.
- Always wait until your last layer is very dry before painting on top. Also try not to lift the paint by using a soft brush and not brushing the paper too hard.
- You can always adjust colors after you have layered the yellow, blue and red by adding more colors ( brown, purple, etc…)
- It is easy to lift off colors with a stiff brush and water.
- You can use Paint shop pro or another image editing software as an help to show you where are the yellow, red, and blue located : see tutorial here