Illustrating Skin Color with Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Today, I’m sharing a video from Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s Black Friday Bootcamp presentation that will help you understand how to get differences in skin color right when illustrating.

I’m also sharing a photo of my three white kids to make a point. If you look at the photo, none of them actually have white skin. They have brown skin. Even my oldest, whose skin is so fair that she gets sunburned nearly every time she goes outside, has brown skin. Look at the white socks. Then look at their skin. We’re—most of us—shades of brown.

My children don’t even have the same color of skin. Like I said, Robyn has fair skin, which she gets from my husband’s mother. She’s usually pale or sunburned. Her siblings tan easily. They’re usually darker than she is, even though she spends more time outside.

When you’re illustrating people from ethnic backgrounds that are different than your own, it’s especially important to do your research and play with different skin colors until you get it right. You want children to see themselves in your stories, not a caricature or a stereotype of themselves. There are too many of those already.

In the following video, Vanessa shares an example from her own work.

I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. If you want to check out Vanessa’s Character Design class, you can find it here. She does a fantastic job of simplifying illustration for those of us with less experience.

Spend some time experimenting with skin color. The results will be worth it.

Thanks for reading!

Blog Contributors

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

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3 thoughts on “Illustrating Skin Color with Vanessa Brantley-Newton”

  1. Fredette Forbes

    I love Vanessa’s approach to character creation! Thinking about the process, the way she does has helped me so much.

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