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Painting a Face: Oils over Acrylic

Introduction: By Rudi Richardson

With over 11,600 page views (at the time writing) and even a translation to Dutch, John Pradarelli’s “John’s Painting Class III” has become a quintessential reference for newcomers to figure face painting.

What many visitors to our website may not realize, is that John had two prior installments to his painting class that also dealt with painting the face, namely the priming of the figure and basecoating the face in acrylics. Now at this point, it would be prudent of me to mention that although this article deals with painting oils over acrylics, the acrylic basecoat could as easily be enamel, as the principles of basecoating and the subsequent oils techniques remain the same.

So, without further ado, I have the pleasure to present to you John’s face painting tutorial, including the supplies, priming and basecoating sections specific to face painting. The words that follow are John’s:


For the purposes of this tutorial, I have elected to demonstrate these techniques on Alpine Miniatures’ US Tanker, kit # 35009.

Don't be shocked at the number of colors I'm listing. It just happens that I have all these paints so I'm utilizing them. Don't feel the need to get every one of them. There's a lot to be said for getting certain core paints and mixing them: especially for the acrylic basecoat. The intention there is to get good coverage as a base so that if any of your oils are somewhat transparent, you won't see primer gray underneath.

Vallejo Acrylics (Model Color):

  • White 951
  • Black 950
  • Brown Sand 876 (for a darker skintone base)
  • Flat Flesh 955 (for a lighter skintone base)

Oil Paints (all Winsor & Newton):

  • Titanium White
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Naples Yellow
  • Cadmium Red Deep Hue
  • Raw Umber
  • Indian Red
  • Paynes Grey

Other items:
  • Turpenoid for thinning
  • Plasti-Kote Sandable Primer (I like this brand as it dries fast and give a fine coating - feel free to use the primer of your liking)
  • Brushes - no special brand. I use Vallejo, Winsor-Newton, Floquil sable, etc. Usually I'll use a #3, #2, #1, #0, #000.

About the Author

About John Pradarelli (john17)

A modeler off and on (as time permits) for over 20 years. By day I work for a Model Railroading company in Milwaukee, WI. By night you'll find me spending time with my wife and two boys...until they go to bed. Then it's off to the basement where I will work on figure painting, armor, planes, diorama...


I came to this article via another post, don't know how I missed it when published. It's very well explained and I'll be trying it out soon. Thanks Rudi for publishing it and of course to John for writing it
MAR 15, 2008 - 07:59 AM
Hello John P. and Rudi John: thank you for writing one of the best face painting tutorials I have seen to date. I think one of the best things about this tutorial is that some of the techniques displayed here lend themselves to various mediums, and not only oil. The diagrams featuring high and low lights are worth their weight in gold. Rudi: nice job at putting the various forum posts together. Thanks for your hospitality during my visit. See you next year. John
MAR 17, 2008 - 06:47 PM
I know this is an old thread but was wondering which Winsor & Newton Oils were used, the Artist's grade or Winton student grade?
DEC 07, 2009 - 01:06 AM
Hello Glueit, To be honest with you, I have an arsenal of both artist grade and student grade Winsor & Newton paints. Not out of intention, but more a case of me just grabbing whatever I happened to pick at Michaels craft store. I'm not married to one grade over another. I haven't done any extensive testing to determine the benefits of artist grade versus student grade in terms of figure painting. Frankly, I think both are acceptable. The artist grade offers more color choices, and uses a higher level of pigmentation. Again, I don't think in what we do this wil be too much of an issue. I hope this helps you in making your buying decisions. John
DEC 07, 2009 - 04:36 AM
Thanks for the reply. I knew that the artist grade offered a higher grade of pigmentation which i guess would not fade as fast as lower concentration of pigment. also the artist grade are a lot more money, but for figure painting it would go a long way as well as the student grade. I have read your articeles pertainting to painting and have found them very useful. If you know of any other articles you can recommend i read let me know! thanks
DEC 07, 2009 - 07:02 AM
Although i have read this article in the past i have just gone through it again and enjoyed it, a very nicely done and informative article. Although i paint pradominately in acrylics i still think oils are best for flesh. nice job John (and you Rudi for putting it together ) Steve
DEC 08, 2009 - 02:34 AM
This was a great tutorial! I was never quite clear on the layering and blending process with oils, but this really cleared things up. The only change I would make is using a better sculpted head for the tutorial. Details are fairly muddy and he sort of has a "dock worker with downs syndrome" expression on his face.
DEC 28, 2009 - 01:40 AM
Taesung Harmms heads and figures are amongst the best in the business. It's also important to view the head/face in context with the rest of the figure.
DEC 28, 2009 - 07:59 AM
Oh yeah, he definitely does good work, it's just this head which I find a little lacking. Did he also sculpt the body, because the body seems to be really well done?
JAN 01, 2010 - 05:07 PM
THANK YOU... just looking at some figures to "play with" so to speak and can get the clothing not too bad (possibly by shadows are too thick and too defined) but I had yet to tackle the heads. as they are just Tamiya kits the heads are already on the torso, but can try to follow this guide (have some oil paints already so hope to be able to get to use them "in anger"....
SEP 25, 2012 - 12:34 AM