Painting zombie skin: a tutorial

Because there's nothing like horsing around with a fake zombie hand.

Toilet paper makes a great zombie skin texture, but isn't a very convincing zombie-type colour.  Happily, it's not very difficult to fix that with some acrylic paint.  Don't bother splashing out on expensive paints - cheap brands will do the job just fine.

I had some areas of bone showing through the skin, so I started by painting them off-white.

Then, it was time to do the skin.  This is really easy.  It's simply a case of mixing up ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, and a bit of burnt umber.  This combination gives you a really nice grey-brown colour that makes for great zombie skin.  I thin the paint with water and blend it with some burnt umber when I apply it.  I quite like to use a mixture of thin grey glaze and very thick burnt umber, for added texture.

I find this requires at least two coats.  The first coat tends to look pretty thorough while it's wet, but as soon as it dries I always see a whole bunch of places I missed.  It's particularly easy to miss painting under the fingernails, so pay close attention to this area and cake lots of paint under there.  Remember, acrylic paint shrinks as it dries.

It's also very important to put a very thin wash of grey over any bone areas, so they look like they belong with the rest of the hand.  If you miss this step, the project ends up looking fake and somehow disjointed (yeah, I know disjointed is fine for a zombie project, but you want it looking convincingly disjointed).

The photo below shows how I've put a grey wash over the exposed finger bone.  It's fairly subtle, but it does make all the difference.  This photo also shows how thinning the paint with water allows you to get an interesting mottled effect on the fingernails.  However, there's no reason why you couldn't give your zombie nail polish or acrylic nails if you feel like it.

One of the things I used to trip up on when I first learned to paint was ignoring the role blue plays in skin tones.  I used to think - I suspect a lot of novice painters think this - that blue isn't a skin tone and doesn't belong in skin colours.  Boy, was I wrong.  Adding a bit of blue really brings skin tones to life.