Portrait Painting From A Photo: Underpainting | Kristy Gordon | Skillshare

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Portrait Painting From A Photo: Underpainting

teacher avatar Kristy Gordon, New York Based Artist And Teacher

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Photo Guidelines


    • 3.

      Toning The Canvas


    • 4.



    • 5.

      Comparative Measuring


    • 6.

      Blocking In The Proportions


    • 7.

      Blocking In The Proportions 2


    • 8.

      Refining The Underpainting


    • 9.



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About This Class

Have you felt drawn to oil painting but are unsure how to begin?  In this 45-minute class, New York based artist and teacher Kristy Gordon will take you through the stages to developing a portrait painting in oils using photographic reference. You will learn how to select a good photo to work from, how to tone your canvas before you begin and how to use oil paints so that they're fun and easy. Kristy will walk you through measuring techniques that will ensure that you get accurate proportions and a good structure to your portrait.  Then she will demonstrate step-by-step how to develop a monochromatic underpainting using Burnt Umber oil paint. With this foundation, you will be ready to move to color in the next class, where Kristy will show you exactly how she mixes the flesh tones that she's mixing! 

After you've completed your underpainting move on to the color class here.

Check out my other classes:

Portrait Painting from a Photo: Underpainting (part 1)

Portrait Painting from a Photo: Color (part 2)

Portrait Painting with a Full Palette

Glazing and other Paint Application Techniques

Composition in Art

How to Paint a Baby in Oils

Painting the Portrait in Profile

How to Paint the Flesh Tones

Contemporary Portrait Painting

Painting the Eye

Drawing Facial Expressions: Determined Eyes

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Kristy Gordon

New York Based Artist And Teacher


Kristy Gordon has twelve years of experience teaching and conducting painting workshops, lectures and classes throughout North America. She is an adjunct professor at the New York Academy of Art and has taught at numerous schools and academies including the National Academy in NYC, and The Academy of Realist Art in Ottawa and Boston. Gordon has exhibited her work in solo and group exhibitions throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and China. Her work has earned numerous awards including the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant and an Exceptional Merit Award from the Portrait Society of America. She has been widely featured in magazines, art publications, radio and television shows, including International Artist, Fine Art Connoisseur, The Artist’s Magazine, Southwest Art ... See full profile

Level: All Levels

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1. Introduction: I'm Christi Gordon, and I'm a New York based artist and teacher. I've taught classes and workshops across North America, including of the New York Academy of Art and the National Academy in New York. I really enjoy painting the figure and the portrait because I think we all have a natural affinity for the human face and figure. And I enjoy the challenge of working with the human face and figure these classes for all levels of artists. And it will be going through the stages to developing a portrait using photographic reference in this class, we're going to start with the burn number under painting to ensure that we get accurate proportions in a good structure to the under painting. The next class will focus on the color elements. I'm gonna show you how to tone your canvas using an acrylic based grey green Jess Oh, and establishing accurate under painting using burnt umber oil paint, I'll show you comparative measuring to ensure that you get accurate proportions and a good structure to your under painting. Artists of all levels will be able to create by the end of the class a portrait that they're proud of. I've decided to teach this class because as you go, you can share your progress on the project page and get feedback from other students. I really do the challenge of painting the portrait and this class will help you overcome some of the challenges that can occur so that you'll be able to get a likeness, the likeness that you desire. 2. Photo Guidelines: so you can either use my source photo, which is gonna be a self portrait, or you couldn't use your own photo. There are some photo guidelines which you can also download, which discussed how to ensure that your photo is the best quality possible. What you want to watch in the photo is that the total value is a very full range. You don't want the lights to be blasted out and look to white and you don't want the darks to end up looking to black. You want to make sure that you've got a human directional lighting on the figure. Just one light source. Strong light source shining on the figure which will create a nice light side and shadow side to face. Once you got your photo and you're ready to begin, we're gonna start by putting a ground on campus 3. Toning The Canvas: we're gonna be using acrylic based jet so tinted with some acrylic paint to create a mid tone, a cool Mentone ground to work. This will be nice because it will eliminate some of the texture of the campus, and it will also create a darker tone, so that would put the lights of the skin on top of it. It will help us dives the tone, the value better because the lights of the skin will stand out on top of the mid tone ground. Whereas if I just put the lights on to the white cannabis they would read totally is darker and it would be a little bit trickier. We're gonna be using an acrylic base, Jess. Oh, to create the mid tone ground that will be working on. This is just white acrylic gesso, which will just pour some of that. And we're gonna tend to using acrylic based paint. So I'm using acrylic liquid acrylics. This is some yellow curry, and it will just add a little bit of that. We can add more as needed, so sort of creep up off the amount they and a little bit of black acrylic paint. I will just mix that together using the phone rush and see what kind of coloring God. So this is a nice mid tone grey. I wanted to be a little bit greener than that, so I'm just gonna add a bit more yellow Oakar, and that looks like a nice mid tone gray color to work on. So using this phone brush, you could just start to apply the guests to your canvas and change the direction of the brush stroke as you go. It's OK. It's not completely even in fact, that is actually even a little bit more beautiful. I can create some nice variety. You want to avoid doing strokes that air like side to side like that is, that could be sort of flat. Instead, just have the brush direction change up a little, and I'll just sometimes brush lately across it, just flattening out any bridges that I see there. And I think that would be a good ground to work on. So let it dry thoroughly. Give it about 20 minutes. Make sure that it's completely dry. It might feel dry to the touch, but you just want to make sure that it's really completely dry before you start to work on it. 4. Materials: so there's a bunch of, like a variety of breaks and flats. Those air the brushes that have a square tipped talk. I've got an arrangement of hog's hair, bristle brushes and synthetic brushes, and I really like the breaks in the flats because they create a nice, chiseled sculptural stroke and you could do a lot of variety. With these brushes, you can use the wide part to create a nice thick Stroker, the thin, narrow edge to create a thin line. And you can use even that corner point to create, like the white dot of I. So Justin arrangement of breaks and flats so you'll need to the brushes and for the oil paint today will just be using birth number. That's the only color you'll need today. And, yeah, well, just be using the burnt number today. I also use woman Alcon medium as the medium Teoh thin the pain to make it go on a little bit more transparently. It will also help the paint dry quicker so it will be ready to work on in color, you know, in a day or two and we just got a little trade for the oil to go into, and I use a rag to wipe my brush off in between brushstrokes and keep it clean and also to wipe out stakes. And we've got a mid tone colored palette you can get even, like pick great paper pallets or, you know where this wouldn't mid tone. One works. It helps us dead, to tell a little bit better than just using a white. And I have some gloves, a lot of time. A wear gloves when I paint just to keep the process is non toxic as possible. So that's all you'll need, so let's begin. 5. Comparative Measuring: So before we begin, I wanted to talk about comparative measuring Teoh, introduce you to some of the measuring techniques that will be using to get our drawing accurately proportioned. So get out too long, thin handle brushes, and we'll be using both of the brushes to measure. You can also use a knitting needle, which works really well, too. So the 1st 1 I want everyone to do along with me is on your source photo. Align the bottom of the brush with the tear duct and slide your thumb nail up to the bottom of the chin. Now hold that and move the whole thing up so that now your thumbnail is lined with tear duct and you can look at the top of the brush and see where its allies to since I had was tilted slightly down in the photo. The bottom of the brush is just skin from the top of my head were basically checking to see how centered the eyes are on the head, and a lot of the time they'll be fairly centered on the head. The nets measurement that I want everyone to take and do this along with me is aligned the bottom of the brush of the top of the head and slide your thumb. Nail up to the bottom of the gym to get the vertical height of the head. And now turn the whole thing horizontal and you'll be comparing the height of the head compared to the width. And as you can see, the width of my head is just slightly under what the height of my head is now. My favorite measurement is what I refer to is the thirds. So there's three equal thirds from the bottom of the nose to the bottom of the gym, from the bottom of the nose to the IRA line and from the eyebrow online to the hairline. There's also an additional space at the top of the head, which is usually just under 1/3. So check these 1/3 measurements. I want everyone to align the bottom of the brush with bottom. Wasn't slider meal up to the bottom of the chin? Hold that and move the whole thing up. So nail your thumbnail is a lot of the bottom of the news, and as you can see, the top of the brush o ends of the eyebrow. Hold that again and move the whole thing up in the line of thumbnail with the IRA line and you'll see that it's bottom of the brush, is aligned with the hairline and then check to see what the ratio is off the last top measurement. Remember to definitely leave some space for the hair at the top, but typically it's just a little bit under from one of the 1/3 measurements. In this case, I would say it's about 3/4 the height of the other 1/3. The next thing I want everyone to do is always be comparing heights to wit. So I wanted to check some of the wits against these heights that got So take the 1/3 measurement. But I wanted the bottom of the brush with the bottom of the news and sliding the thumbnail after the bottom of the chin, unless you know how many 1/3 there are across the width of the face. So if we just align the bottom of the brush here with the outermost point along the face and just check to see visually where your thumbnail lines to, you might have to move it up and down to sort of find something that's solid to grab on to . In this case, it looks like it comes to about the tear duct, so that will move the whole thing over and line the bottom of the brush with tear duct and see how far from the teared up to this to the hairline. And I can see that actually, the hair where it crosses over the job comes back a little bit. There is basically one more on third, so the widest two points of the face. It's basically on this photo to off the 1/3 measurements across. We can check this final distance across the hair, and it looks like the hair itself. It's just under 1/3 in wits, so it really helps to always be comparing verticals to horizontal. If you get all the verticals perfectly proportioned in the horizontal zehr off, the whole thing will look completely out of proportion. And then the next regimen that we're gonna be using is called vertical plumb lines. So if you take your brush and hold it vertically, you can see where things are lining vertically. So if you align, it looked down one side, Brush your line that side of the brush with the pupil and look down the side of it. You'll see it at the corner of the office vertically aligned with people that actually works from all different angles. So the other one that we can do is horizontal plumb line. So if you take your brush and just align it horizontally on the painting, you can check the horizontal placement of different features so you can as you hold it up, you can see that one shoulder is clearly above the other shoulder. You can also follow the edge of the brush along to see the geometric size of the distance between his shoulder and the other side of the chin. You can also check and see the horizontal alignment of, say, the two corners of the mouth. As we hold this up against it, we can see more clearly there is a certain tilt to the head, and this corner of the mouth is a little higher than the other corner because of the tilt of the So the vertical and horizontal club lines are really gonna help us as we go, and the last one which I really love is angle measuring. So if you look at your portrait and find a nice, strong angle that you want to measure in this case, I'm gonna be using the shadow line of the jaw and take one brush and align it to be perfectly nearing the angle that you want to measure and then you'll take the other brush. I'll show this the dam over. When we got the basic painting established and we know where that line is gonna go, we'll just take this other brush and put it where the final Goa and just make it parallel with the angle of this other brush. So the Napa two angles are basically mirror in the shape of that angle face, and it would take this brush in the paint on it just traced the line. So what? These forms of measuring will really be able to establish an accurate under painting 6. Blocking In The Proportions: using this medium sized bright brush to begin. I'm just mixing a little bit of walnut Alcon medium into my pain, so you want the pain to be a little bit translucent as you're working on this stage. So to begin with, mix a little bit of the oil into the birth number and just mix it around, and this will create a more translucent paint. It will also help it dry more quickly. And I'll begin by just doing a very light and very basic outline, which shows me the basic compositions that I'll be doing. And this might be out of proportion at this stage. You know, it doesn't really matter will be holding it mawr as we go for now. This is just to give me a basic indication of the composition that I'll be Jesus. They're so I think, that that's a very pleasing position for the head on the campus. I'm very the amount of space around the head, so there's more space in the front of the face in the direction, but it's looking less space behind need unless at the top. So there's a variety in this facing on the canvas. Next, I'm gonna start to hone in the proportions using the measurements that we talked about. So we remember that the eyes are slightly lower than centered on the face. So I'll replicate that on my campus. Let's see, just a little bit lower. Okay, So the eyes air about here and to begin with, just putting dots and lines. And I'm still using a very thin down oil paint. You don't want to be putting any dark outlines on your canvas at this point, So using a thin down oil paint will be good at this stage. The next thing we want to check is the height of the hand versus the width. So we remember that the width of the head is just under the height of the head and again will, with comparative measuring, basically replicate that proportion on your canvas. So well, just replicate that and that looks like a similar sort of a portion ratio. Maybe this could just slightly come out. Next are the three equal thirds from the bottom of the ocean to the bottom of the nose, the bottom of the nose to the eyebrow line, and then the Iver aligned to the hairline and the hair, the very top is about 3/4. In this case of one of the 1/3 measurements, I'll start to put that on my campus, and it sometimes takes a little bit of shifting around to get this accurate. Yeah, so this will just move down a little bit. The 1/3 iss gonna be slightly smaller than my initial one, and that looks good. So now we've got a lot of information here. We've got the eyebrow online here. The eye line here, the bottom of the nose here and the chins here. Next, we want to get the width of the face itself. And I remember that That's basically two of the 1/3 measurements wide. So the ivory Linus to 1/3 measurements. So the hair will come out here and the chair itself was just under one of the 1/3. Okay, so now we're starting to get a lot of information in just with a few lines and dots. I also want to take a moment to mark some of the key body features and make sure that we get them accurately proportioned as well. So I'm gonna do a horizontal plumb line from this point on the shirt here and extended across to see what the space looks like below the gym. And I think that my line, I think that this will work. We're gonna come at it from a few different ways with the horizontal plumb line. I can see that the shoulder at the back shoulder is a little bit higher this point here, which my ISS the next. We're going to start to measure angles to further dealing me this portrait. If we know this is the eyebrow line, we can start to put in the shapes of some of these features. Looking at the geometric shapes that they're forming, the eyebrows get a little bit wider. The front look at the space between the place where the nose inserts into the skull right near the tear duct and the outer edge of the face. It can be common to make this space a little bit too wide. I'm just gonna use my rag to wipe out some of the lines that we don't need as we go. So we're breaking curves down into angled straight lines. It gives more structure to the face and helps solidify the precise shape of the curve. So I also refer to Apex is which are the outermost point along a curve as the place where the two angled straight lines meet. So at the cheekbone, there's a bit of an apex, and then there's a new angle that starts as we come down the face. I'm just gonna so you can see how you can really use these measuring techniques to fairly easily get a well structured and well proportioned painting. The most. The center of the most sits lately higher than the center of this 1/3 measurement. So if this is the center of the most also, you can put Justin imaginary sort of center line going down the face, which will help make sure that your centering, all the features on the face will, and we remember that the tear duct of the I is. It's just actually slightly in from one of the 1/3 measurements, so I'll just put a little dot there, and then you can measure the angle that the island makes as it comes out from that dog. So breaking the islands down into angles, straight lines again that just gives more structure solidity to the future. I don't want to go into tons of detail with the eyes yet or with any of the features were still looking to first get the big the main shapes. And so, looking at the most here, we're going to start by blocking in the lip as a darker shape. That's in shadow because the lights coming down on the face, the shading on the lips, how the upper lip as a little bit more in shadow and in the lower lip I'm gonna do nothing through the lower lip but just defined the lower lip with the shadow underneath the lower lip. And this is going to give a lot of form to the features. And and it's gonna look really appealing rather than if you put like a sharp outline on the lower lip, which will actually flatten out the features. So as I continue along 7. Blocking In The Proportions 2: looking at the distance from the forehead to the edge of the hair. I think the hair just comes a bit more tightly against the face, and I'm gonna lighten up some of this center lines and any other lines that aren't necessary anymore. We can also take a horizontal plumb line and just check the horizontal alignment of the features that is just ever so slight tilt to the eyebrows here and is a slight, slight tilt to the eyes. There's also a slight tilt to the lips, so I'm marking in dots at the two corners to signify the tilt. And because I moved the hair back of it here, I want to maintain the proper width to the head, so I'm gonna add a bit more hair back. I'm gonna check the vertical alignment with a vertical plumb line along this point, and it comes to right about here, where the hair is meeting the eye brown. So somewhere around there, we can also do an angle measurement for the line of the hair. Here. It's coming at just a bit of an angle. I'm gonna measure the vertical height off the shadow here, and it's just under one of our 1/3 measurements. So this is that under, and I'm gonna start to fill in the shadows. This will help me see more accurately what the shapes of the shadows are forming, and it will help me see the drawing more accurately and remembering that the hair is part of the fall of the face. So the shadow that's coming through here is continuing through the hair. I've got me up against a cool wall, so there's some cool reflected light coming in, and there's a CAF shadow underneath the nose, so onto the face, the nose is casting a shadow. So you want form shadows, which are the part of a feature that have a shadow on it. So the form shadow is on the nose, and the cast shadow is cast it onto another form from the form itself. So there's the cat's shadow under the nose and the form shadow of the nose, and you want to blend together. So for now I'm letting the to blend together and not really having a definition where the edge of the noses and I'll go back in later to define. And I also want to continue with the body and make sure that I'm spending a bit of time getting a nice, well proportioned body in so that when I moved to color in the next stage is I'll be able to just move more quickly and have a lot of fun with it, and I'm just gonna lose the shirt up of it, too. Keep it in the frame I've composed by painting slightly differently than the photo focusing more on the face. So when there's a measurement in question, such as this angle change in the shirt right here. What I'll do is I'll take the size of it on my brush. So the bottom of my brushes, aligned with that angle change on the shirt, and if I just move my brush across to the chin, I can see how far that brought. That point is down from the gym. So hold that and move it up to the face where we know the proportions more accurately, and I'll take a visual measurement of where that's aligning to on the face, and I can see the lines to about the brow. So replicate that on my painting, and in this way you able to get the exact placement of that ankle 8. Refining The Underpainting: Now we're gonna start to hone in the drawing of it further and define the features of more . So I'm using paint mixed with less medium now mostly just pure oil paint, and I'll begin to just shift things around and, oh, add some more concrete lines in as necessary. So, looking at the shake of the mouth and looking distances, I can tell that the upper lip needs to be moved up slate. So again, if you make a mistake, I mean, it's not really even steak at this stage, you know, as you discover something new, you could just shift it. You Can you raise it with your rag? Just no shift things around a little bit. So moving the upper lift up of it and looking at the exact shapes, looking at where the point is all the width of the laps and looking at the way the back of the lip curves like this, the lower lip has a certain couple of angles to it. Here and seller, the shadow that I've put in might be a bit overstated, creating a bit of a weird shape. Now when I do a vertical plumb line from the back corner of the mouth and align it. Verdict vertically with the pupil, I can see that I'll actually need to pull this corner out a little bit further. Also, there's, um the form shadow comes down across the jaw and is actually on the form the face. So there is a small little form shadow on the kin, and then I'll use pure paint to generally delineate the line of the jaw. Also, at this stage, I can round out some of the edges just a little bit, and as I go into my eyes, I'll really be looking for the angles, the specific angles that are created in the island. So there's three very straight angles that I'm seeing, and this is discussed in the hand up that I encourage you to download. The people is half covered at the top by the island. That helps create a more relaxed look to the eyes, and there's the under plane off the island as well. So we might sometimes be tempted to leave out the lower island, thinking, maybe of, like, make it look like the eggs under the eyes or something. But in fact, that helps anchor the eye onto the face. Now he's in the back of my brush here to scratch up the little light bridge of thickness to the lower rim of the I. And as I look at the geometric shapes between the I and the eyebrow, I could see that I just need to move the eyebrow down a little bit space between the I and the eyebrow. It's just a little bit narrower. Continue to define the eyebrows with angled straight lines. That was a big jar curve and look for a softer and shorts the front of the eyebrow and maybe, ah, harder edge somewhere else, perhaps towards the back of the eyebrow. Again, I'm using the back of my brush to scratch out a little bit of a space between the lines in the eye off the I and then looking at this other I again defining it with angled straight lines that really describe the angles, getting a little shadow underneath all the lower eyelid and moving that I broke down slightly to adjust the distance between the eyebrows and the I in the front of this eyebrow . It actually turns into the shadow and sort of comes up right against the edge of the front of the island and continuing to look at the angles that don't create, like the cheekbone, the angle of the eye socket. We could just the shape off the form shadow on the nose. It comes down a little bit lower than I had it. Form shows are very important time noses. A lot of the time since the nose is so soft and round it's easy. Teoh not really perceive the form shadow that's occurring all this lower edge of the nose, but really look for it, find it and put it in because it really improves the drawing of the nose. I was just checking to see the vertical alignment of that point, where it comes to on the face that I can see that vertically. This point comes to about in the center of the nose here, so I just moved it over a little bit. Also, I want to define this curl on this side a little bit more. Others on that nice curl there, and there's a cast shadow coming off it onto the body. And as I worked with that area, I feel that the shirt could just pull back a little bit on the shoulder and looking for the angle. Changes in the line of this shirt will really help describe the form of the body. I'm just feeling in the black of the shirt with our burns number, just to get an infection of the total determination that we're gonna have a painting to see how everything's working together. It also gives me room to lighten up on certain areas where the hair crosses over it and um helps make it easier to define that hair. And on the far edge of the shoulder, we can see a little bit of a cooler shadow, so we'll put that in. And Filipinas well, our bullet, the stages to laugh, have all of the shadow shapes and to fill them in and to get an accurate representation of the proportions ever shapes of the shadows so that when we moved to color, we'll have everything all set out for us and will be able to just have fun going into the color. Careful was defining the jaw. There is a tendency to really overstate those details and put something in that's more than what you see. So since we can only vaguely see where the chin ends and where the shadow on the next begins. We want to put in the same impression of that. The low amount of salt definition that there isn't there. And I want to just adjust the shape of this shadow a little bit. Kind of comes out of it at the chin area, looking again. And since I actually have just noticed that that back eyes too high. So at this stage it's really very easy to move things around. If you see something that's out of place, it's just a few lines at this stage. So just go ahead and wipe it out and, you know, readjusted you will be very happy that you did, rather than painting a perfect I and then discovering that it's really in their own place. Take the time to move things around at this stage. And so I blocked it in lightly at first, using more well that l could meet him. And now I'm using more pure paint and and just redefining some of those lines a bit more clearly, we can see a little bit of the ear poking note, which is cute. So to get that, I'll use a horizontal plumb line, and I find that it's horizontally in line with the Iver out and we can take a measurement of the height of the year. Compare it to the face and it's just under one of the 1/3 measurements. So and then to double check everything, we could take another horizontal plumb line from the bottom of the ear across and check. And it's coming in the right place on our paint and just about the bottom of the nose. And this year is in shadows. So we want to make sure that it continues to sit back into that shadow area and that nothing in the shadows should be as light as anything in the lights. So it'll just sit back there, and I'm not gonna over define it at this stage or at any stage, really. But just make a little impression of it so that I'll know where it ISS when I go to color. So I wanted to keep refining the shapes of some of the features and looking at the I just want toe open up this a little bit more. We can see a bit more of the circle of the iris in the shape of this I and there's a nice curve to the upper islands in the back. I also we can just suddenly define the nostril off the nose and continue. Teoh. Define some of the tones that make the features standard. So I'm darkening behind the cheekbone since there's a nice clear edge to the shape on this side of the face. Okay, so we're just about done here. I'm just going to step back and take a look at it and see if anything stands over. And I think that some of the final details and I'm seeing are more in the hair. Just defined the turning of the form in the hair to the top. Planning of the head being a little bit darker, has it wraps back away from the light, some of the nice curves in the flocks of hair. So the main thing that I want is for you to have fun with this and, you know, enjoy yourself. Trialling these techniques, apply them, see what they could do for you. And you just have a lot of fun. Aziz continue to practice here uh, your practice is gonna grow and improve. And, um, yeah, I think I can't wait to see what you do toe wash your brushes when you're done, Just rinse them around in some gam sel odorless mineral spirits. Wipe them with a rag to really get all the paint off and then wash them with soap and water . 9. Conclusion: Okay, so I think this is a good under painting. We've got accurate proportions, a nice composition and really excited to move to color. So post your finished other painting on the projects gallery. I can't wait to see them, and I can't wait for everyone else to see them as well. Also, I hope this sign up for my next class, where we'll move to color and create a full color finished painting. I'll be talking a lot about the exact ways that I mixed flesh tones. It will be a lot of close up shots focused on my palette that really show how I'm getting the flesh tones that I Knicks. I hope you've enjoyed this class, and I hope to see you in the next one.