Painting Flesh Tones with Layered Glazes by David Soper

Painting Flesh Tones with Layered Glazes – PRELUDE

I recently undertook something of a personal painting challenge when I decided to paint the C- Girl Akito bust from Neko Galaxy. Although I’ve been painting minis, on and off, for 36 years I don’t have a great deal of experience painting busts. On top of that the subject of this bust is a youthful female and far more realistic in style than I’m used to painting. All in all I found it a daunting prospect, but it was an exciting one too!

The very first step was to sit back and study the bust. This gave me the opportunity to familiarise myself with the sculpt and develop a plan of action. It’s vitally important to think through any project as thoroughly as possible before you pick up a paintbrush. For example, I was able to consider such things as the order in which I would paint the various areas of the bust, the overall colour scheme, the tone I wished to create and the painting techniques I would use to achieve these things. My ideas may evolve as the project progresses but the initial planning gives me a strong foundation for that process.

the assembled bust is stunning

It was clear that the first big challenge that I faced would be painting the flesh tones. They constitute the largest single type of surface on the bust and, as the innermost ‘layer’, would need to be painted first. I decided to begin with the face as I’ve always believed that if you can’t get the face right, it doesn’t matter how well the rest of the piece is painted it will all look ‘off’!


There is a bewildering abundance of colours describing themselves as ‘flesh tones’ and choosing which ones to use can be tricky. My own choices were informed by a couple of factors. First, as a part of the overall scheme I’m creating, I’ve decided to paint a pale flesh tone. The other influence on my colour choices comes from past experience. When I’ve painted busts before I found it very useful to think in terms of broad colour zones. Yellow tones for the forehead and upper face, red tones for the centre and blue tones for the lower face. This principle is applied to male faces as the blue lower zone can help to create a five o’clock shadow – something I most definitely do not want on this bust!

However, the general idea is a useful one and it helped me make my choices. For the yellow tones I have picked Light Skin and Golden Skin, both from Scalecolour. The red tones are Pink Flesh from Scalecolour and from Games Workshop Bugman’s Glow and Baal Red. I am using a wash for the strongest reds because it’s translucence will give a more subtle effect than paint. Bering Blue from Scalecolour will provide the blue tones. This desaturated blue/grey mixes well with other colours and will not overpower them.

the colours used

The base colour for my flesh tones is Games Workshop’s Rakarth Flesh. This gives me a neutral desaturated layer of colour beneath my glazes that helps to prevent the fleshtones becoming too saturated too quickly. For the highlights I will be adding Vallejo Model Colour Ivory to my palette. The ivory has a warm yellowish tone that works very well as a highlighting colour for flesh.


I needed to create a smooth and subtle blend of my colours for the flesh tones. In recent years I’ve been very focused on creating textures in my mini painting. But back when I first started painting, smoothness was the ultimate goal in all my work. This bust gives me the opportunity to create contrasting areas of smoothness and texture.

I decided to use the technique I normally employ when painting Nurgle Plaguebearers and paint the flesh tones with a series of layered glazes. This will enable me to incorporate a variety of different flesh tones in a subtle and controlled way.

I applied my flesh tone colours on top of the base colour in a series of highly diluted glazes. Applying the colour this way makes use of the translucent qualities of diluted acrylics. This helps to give the flesh tones a luminous quality and, hopefully, a life-like appearance. Because no single glazed layer makes a great difference to the overall effect, the skin tones can be built up in a gradual and controlled way. It is the cumulative effect of the glazed layers that creates smooth and nuanced flesh tones.

early days – but a good start and i am happy

The exact degree of dilution is something I tend to do by instinct and can vary from colour to colour but the picture below should give a pretty good indication of just how dilute my colours are. It is very important to make sure that each glazed layer is totally dry before painting another on top of it!

the level of dilution needed for my glazes

This style of painting works by building up the intensity of colour from a light base. The first layers create broad areas of subtle colour and tone. As the layers are built up the painting becomes tighter and more precise. The final layers of colour are applied only to the areas of strongest colour and deepest shade. What this means is that in the lighter areas more of the base colour shows through.

building up the layers gradually

Although the base colour is quite a light tone it will not be light enough to serve as a highlight. To create the highlights I take the base colour and mix it with a little of the various flesh tones. I then lighten this mix incrementally by adding ivory.

It is extremely important to build up the highlights very carefully. As with the shading I build up the highlights with subtle layers of very dilute colour. The only places where I have used pure ivory are the pinpoint reflections in the eyes.

It is all too easy to over do the highlights by using too much ivory or too little dilution. If this happens it can be remedied by glazing over the highlighted area with a mix of the appropriate flesh tone and Rakarth flesh. But be warned it’s tricky to correct so I’d recommend erring on the side of caution!

It’s worth noting that the highlights work in a different way to the shading. The glazed layers of shading are slightly translucent and the colours are seen through one another in a cumulative effect. This helps to mimic the effect of light penetrating the surface of the skin. The ivory and Rakarth Flesh used in the highlights are more opaque and this creates a contrasting effect. The opacity of the highlights helps to mimic the effect of the light bouncing off the surface of the skin.

the finished effect

I may have to adjust the flesh tones as the overall scheme and contrasts develop but for the time being I’m very pleased with how Akito’s face has turned out. Now I have to paint the fleshtones on her torso before I can turn my attention to her hair and costume.

Look out for the next instalment! A big thanks to Jay for the opportunity to contribute to this site and thankyou for reading, I hope you have understood me and find it insightful!!



  1. Philip

    Now that you have presented the glazing technique with acrylics how about doing one with oil paint if possibe.

    1. Author

      Hi Philip, there are a couple of articles already on the blog using Oil paints and an oil painter recently asked me for advice on using acrylic glazes over the top of oil paints but to date i can not find anyone willing to write such an article. We will do our best though, so watch this space!

  2. Simon

    Hi David,

    How do you make a glaze? Are you diluting solely with water or are you using flow enhancer too?


    1. Author

      hi Simon, I cant speak for David but I always glaze just with water and never had any problems. 🙂

    2. David Soper

      Hi Simon,
      I’m just using tap water in my glazes. The only aditive I sometimes use is a little retarder if the weather is particularly hot & dry. But for this particular job I want my glazes to dry quickly

      1. Simon Lissaman

        Hi David,

        OK, thanks. Since reading this article I’ve ventured into the world of glazing. Early days, but I think I like it.

        Do you have any build articles for your Gutrot and Nurgle minis that featured in White Dwarf? I’d be interested to see them close up.


  3. Pingback: Painting Flesh Tones with Layered Glazes by David Soper Part 2 - figurementors

  4. Derek Conlon

    Just so I’m clear on the terminology, when you say ‘glaze” is this also considered a ‘wash,’ which is also a paint solution diluted with water?

    1. Author

      Hi Derek
      they are different my friend. A wash is a highly diluted paint, loaded onto the brush and painted over the figure so that the colour pools into the shades which in turn defines details. A glaze is super highly diluted, but the majority of the paint/water mix is removed off the brush and carefully applied only to the areas you wish to tint. This process is built up over multiple applications and is much more controlled than a wash. Hope that helps!

  5. Pingback: Painting Worn Leather by David Soper - figurementors

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.