Painting Outdoor Light by portrait painter Brian Neher

So, basically, when I start out, if I’m
going to paint a portrait, I usually start out with a basic mixture of gold ochre, some
people use yellow ochre which is fine also, but I think that gold ochre just has a little
more tinting strength. That means that I’m able to darken a color very quickly. So, gold
ochre and then I might start out with cadmium scarlet which is more of a warm red. It’s
more towards the orange side, actually. I’ll start out with a mixture like that. Let me
add a little more gold ochre in there. And then I’ll add some white to this which basically
gives me a warm mixture to work with. I can get various degrees of values just by adding
white. That’s one way to start for a basic mixture, but I wouldn’t just mix flesh tones
with just different values of this color. I have over here burnt sienna and I’ll show
you what a lot of times artists want to do and that’s just change the value. I don’t
usually use burnt sienna. Sometimes I’ll use it for various situations but most of
the time it’s not even on my palette, but I went ahead and put it on here just to show
you. A lot of times people assume “Well, we just add brown”, which is like a raw
sienna. “If I just have brown and I add a bunch of white to it, then I’ll get all
sorts of values that I can put in to use for my flesh tones”. Now, you’ll see when
I start to do this, you do get all sorts of values. You can get all kinds of values but,
when you look at that, does that look like skin tones? Can you use that all throughout
your painting and look like skin tones? To me, it’s going to start to look pretty fake,
almost like a bad tan or something. It’s all too warm. So what do you do? Let me get
rid of this. Instead of just using this warm mixture that I put down there, I need something
to go into it to help tone it down a little bit, to help neutralize it a little bit. I
shouldn’t say neutralize. When you think of neutralize you think of something different.
Let’s call it graying down. In order to gray down a color you have to add its compliment.
And, remember, we talked about complimentary colors. What I would do, since I started out
with more of a cad scarlet, are a couple of different things. Since cad scarlet is a very
warm red and the opposite of a very warm red is a cool green, I would add viridian.
So, if I mixed some viridian over here, now
surely you can’t just use that in skin tones can you? Well, look at some of the Impressionist
paintings. You’ll see all sorts of colors in skin tones that you never would have imagined
but the way that they used them in compliments next to each other, complimentary colors next
to each other, so when you stand back your eye automatically mixes those colors together
and gives you the illusion of a different color. I wouldn’t necessarily use this color
straight out of the tube like that with white, but what happens if I take a little bit of
that and mix it over here into this mixture that I have? Then something starts to happen.
Then we start to get various grays that start to occur. Those grays happen when the form
turns, just like we talked about with the outdoor light with the cool light on top and
the warm, reflected light on the bottom. In between there, there is a sort of gray that
happens. The same thing goes for indoor light. You go from a light source to a dark shadow
and as soon as that form turns it becomes somewhat gray and that’s where all of these
grays come in handy. So, let’s take a little bit of this and if I take these compliments
and mix them together, all of sudden I get all sorts of different colors that I can use
in my flesh tones. I’m just going to mass in the hair here
and get these big shapes. I don’t want to put this color down here because it’s going
to look too close to the color of the skin there, so let’s go ahead and change it up
a little bit. Let’s add a little bit of cadmium green pale and a little bit of cad
yellow pale. Let me get it a little bit lighter. That should be good.
Let’s get that reflected light bouncing back up in there. This little area here needs
more of a change in value than what I have there. That’s a little too light in value
for me.


  • Carlos Carriles

    Thank you so much! I was looking for a insight explanation on mixing values and tones for human skin. It's been very clarifying to hear that the right complementary for a color is its contrary not only in tone, but also in warmth!

  • Sabah Farooq

    Finally, not just a commercial on Youtube! Excellent work, Brian

    Question: can you recommend books or websites on painting different ethnicities? I have a hard time figuring out what to do (painting subcontinentals, ie, people from India)!


  • hallie grace


  • MagicPie2013

    wow. this is so amazing. I'm learning to oil paint and it is by far the most difficult medium for me. You inspire me.

  • elena ortiz

    magicpie2013 you think oil is hard try watercolors

  • kim peinture

    I love your color, they give life to your portraits …

  • Sherry Eshrati


    A dummy question for you Brian, I noticed you use a wooden thing like a stick that prevents your palm touch the canvas. What is that called? I am an amateur and I don't have enough information about this kind of stuff…

  • giuseppa matraxia


  • Connie Cash

    What a wonderful Artist and teacher you are ! Thank you for being so kind to share you knowledge.

  • Mutt1961

    How come your palette full of paint still looks organized and mine always looks like a mess? 😉  Love those colors you got in that half-light portrait, esp. the cheeks and shadows around the eyes. Great stuff!

  • Lioncub

    Why do flesh-tones exclusively describe white people? This smells very racist

  • Isabel Rivera

    what colors did you mix to get the skin tone??

  • Marian Rowling

    Do you find as a professional portrait artist that you mainly have to work from photos for commission's as people don't have the time to do multiple sittings? Do you prefer to work from life when possible and have you ever done an outdoor portrait totally from life. I would imagine with the weather constantly changing it would be very challenging.

  • Nicholas Wagner

    Brian i love your work and your videos have been helpful. Thank you. Also, what brand of paint do you use or recommend?

  • Liberty

    I always get a little anxious seeing beautiful paint left over on the palette knife after mixing being wiped off onto a rag. It makes me think of the waste and I can't watch anymore. But you do stunning art!

  • Kazuhira Mishima

    She looks like the brunette from your other video.

  • Mirta Pither

    Great help showing the mixing of colours. Many thanks.

  • Anne G

    Hello Brian, Watching your video, I was wondering about the palette you use. Did you have it custom-made? I've been looking for a second-hand service table with small wheels as I thought this would help moving it around. What is your advice, please? No urgency, but would appreciate having your thoughts on the matter, as palettes are usually so small… With kind regards. Anne

  • Eva TB

    Fantastic technic. Love from Holland.

  • peacelrose

    What's that blue tool?

  • Венера Господинова

    Thank you! ?

  • Sargas

    Спасибо, Брайан. Нехер…

  • Myriam Lateur

    So interesting! Thank you, sir!


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