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How to Neutralize a Colour Scheme: Lars Ragnarsson

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My experiences painting Lars Ragnarsson are a  practical example of how to use some of the tricks and principles I discussed in my recent article about working with neutral colours. I started with red-violet, red-orange, yellow-green, and blue-green and ended up with a grizzled warrior.

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Inspiration

If specific ideas for how I might like to paint a figure aren’t coming to mind, I sometimes do a few images searches for inspiration. The colour palette and general vibe of this painting appealed to me a lot.

38bfa687d2a27a49379fc36cf7cc03fbViking Druid by Tomasz Ryger. Cover illustration for the fantasy novel Kroniki Dwuświata. Mrok we krwi by Paweł Kopijer.

I used a computer graphics program to isolate samples of the colours in various areas to get a clearer look at the individual components of the colour palette.

IMG 0149Viking Druid by Tomasz Ryger. Cover illustration for the fantasy novel Kroniki Dwuświata. Mrok we krwi by Paweł Kopijer.

I wasn’t entirely sure of the root colour family of some of the browns and greys, so I used the color tool in my graphics program to identify the more saturated versions of the colours. (I used the Procreate app on the iPad, but you can do similar things with many different programs, including the free GIMP program which is available for Mac and Windows OS.)

IMG 0151Viking Druid by Tomasz Ryger. Cover illustration for the fantasy novel Kroniki Dwuświata. Mrok we krwi by Paweł Kopijer.

While I think these digital tools can be helpful, I don’t assume that their interpretation of colours like this is 100% accurate. When you’re dealing with a very desaturated grey or brown, I imagine that one program’s coding could interpret something as closer to red, and another as closer to orange. I know that the programming of different digital cameras interpret colours colours differently, and I assume this might be kind of the same thing. Procreate interpreted these colours a little differently than I had expected – a lot of variations of orange and red, and less violet than I had expected.

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Choosing and Refining a Colour Scheme

I decided to experiment with some of these colours in the other direction – if I wanted yellow-green cloth, orangey skin, and some kind of violet/magenta based brown for leather, was there a colour scheme that encompassed those colours, as well as an additional fourth colour? I headed over to Paletton to play with some colour schemes. Paletton is a very handy website that lets you choose different colour scheme options and then manipulate sliders around the colour wheel to refine the options within each scheme. It shows you the colour families to the right of the screen, with samples of different values within those families. You can also control the saturation of the main colour swatches as a group or individually.

I chose a tetradic colour scheme, which is a colour scheme composed of two pairs of complementary colours. Below is an image of the screen with the colours I settled on. I did not refine the saturation and value levels via Paletton. I find the Paletton saturation controls easier to use with a mouse, and I was using a touch screen at the time.

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I did not take full advantage of some of the other features of this app, either. If you look at the sample colours on the right, you’ll see the swatches are different sizes. In this example I have the yellow-green set as the dominant colour. The app based its other colour suggestions around that. Regardless of the number of colours in your chosen colour scheme, you generally do not want to use each of them all on equally sized areas on your figure. It’s more visually pleasing to have one colour that is the dominant colour, then use the second on a smaller area, and then use the other(s) in smaller amounts or just as accents. Which colour you use in which role isn’t dictated by colour theory guidelines. Apart from allowing you to set the dominant colour, I believe that Paletton’s suggestions for which colour in which proportion are just that, suggestions.

I thought that set of colours would work if I used the red-orange for the skin, yellow-green for the cloth, blue-green for the metal, and then red-violet for the leather armour. But I would definitely need to adjust the saturation levels of some of those colours to make them fit my vision of a grizzled, worn warrior! I took the starting points suggested by Paletton and altered the value and saturation levels with my color tool in Procreate to get some ideas for other colours in that colour family that would better suit my vision for the character.. I sampled the colours on a middle value grey background to be able to better judge the value differences. (If you prefer not to use digital tools, the neutrals article includes tips for doing this kind of thing physical colour samples and how to desaturate paint colours.)

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I selected versions of each colour that seemed like they would fit the intended areas of the miniature, picked out some paints to match, and got painting!

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Painting Process

I will share the exact paints that I used at the end of this article. First I want to talk about some of my experiences with the colour scheme during the painting, and assess the end result compared to the intended colours. (I previously shared step by step photos and colour samples for the leather armour.)

The skin and armour painting went pretty well, but as I neared the end of the painting process there were a couple of areas I wasn’t entirely happy with. Below you can see the final version on the left, and a work-in-progress picture on the right. I repainted both the horns and the axe blade.

Lars axe combo wip

I still can’t quite put my finger on why I didn’t like the first version of the horns. Partly I think it is that the colour was a little off. I used a dark blue in the mix, and I think maybe it looked a little unnatural. The streaky texture and value transitions seemed like they should work with the vibe of the piece, but my instinct was that the streaky version of the horns was either stealing attention from the focal point of the face, or not sufficiently drawing the eye towards that area. Sometimes when I don’t like something on a figure I’m painting I try to analyze the problem to understand it better. Sometimes I don’t have time or energy to do that, so I just give it enough time and thought to be sure about exactly which part I think doesn’t work, and then I change that. The single colour horns do look very plain in comparison when I look at just at the horns, but when I consider them as part of an overall piece, I think they work better. I’d be interested to know what you think in the comments, should I have stuck with the original horns?

Lars leather chest comp

I did struggle a little deciding on paint colours to use on the hair and then the horns. The four colours of my colour scheme did not include a yellow, so a golden blond or yellow based ivory would mean straying from the scheme. As I mentioned in the neutrals article, colours like ivory and cream generally ‘go with’ most colours, and likely a blond/ivory type colour would have looked fine. But I wanted to work within the constraints of my chosen colour scheme. I instead opted to use khaki brown tans that had a touch of green in them. I am pretty happy with the platinum/aging blond end result.

I wanted to paint the metal trim items prior to assembly, to make sure I could reach everything. I thought it would also be a good idea to rough in the non-metallic metal on the axe head, as well. I wanted the final version of the NMM to have a little more texture, but I did some basic blends just to get colour on everything and see how the colours looked. (I would have no qualms about this level of NMM for a tabletop or quick paint figure, but Lars needed to be painted to store gallery quality.)

Lars wip1 front cu

After roughing in the axe blade I assembled the figure, and then I put it up on my shelf overnight to give the putty and glue time to cure. When I came back to look at it the next day, I was not happy with the colour of the axe head. It was a lot more blue than I’d intended for this version of blued steel. I’ve used a colour like this for blued steel before, why did it work then but look wrong now? This is a good example of why using the same colour recipe for a particular materials will not look great on every figure, even for materials that are brown, or cream, or grey like hair, wood, and stone. It’s also an example of how working with neutrals that have a little colour in them can be tricky sometimes!

The way we perceive a colour is always in relation to the other colours that are around it. A moderate value colour seems dark when surrounded by light colours and light. A moderately saturated colour seems more intense if it is surrounded by more neutral colours, and less intense if surrounded by highly saturated colours Many optical illusions manipulate the way we perceive colour, but similar issues can occur on a smaller scale in life and with the colours we group together in a painting.

1280px Gradient optical illusion by dodekThe grey stripe in the centre is the same value throughout. It appears lighter at one end and darker at the other because of the surrounding values. Image by Dodek from Wikimedia commons. You can see some other optical illusions that make use of value perception.

GreystrawberriesmainimageThere are no red pixels in this picture. The strawberries are shades of grey. You can confirm the colours and read more about why Akiyoshi Kitaoka’s clever illusion works.

Mixing black into a colour will dull it down as well as darkening it, and mixing white into a colour dulls it down as well as lightening it. I chose a darker bluish paint that already had some black in it and added white to create highlight mixes. I repainted the axe and the metal bits on the belt knife, but I did not repaint the smaller bits of NMM. The stronger blue was not strongly noticeable in the small areas, and probably actually helps them stand out a little more. The finished axe colour was shifted a little more with some glazes. I added a little of the yellow-green from the kilt to a few spots, and some dark orange-brown in the crevices for weathering. These colours were thinned down to be extremely transparent before I applied them.

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Assessing my Execution of the Colour Scheme

When I started working on the article about neutral colours, I wanted to check the colours as they appeared on the figure compared to the colours I had chosen from the online colour scheme tool Paletton. The majority were pretty close. The Procreate colour tool saw a bit of red and purple in some of the midtones and shadows of the leather armour, but I think overall it works as a brown version of red-violet. The one colour that isn’t quite right is the blue-green. Even the repainted axe head reads more as blue than blue-green, and I think that’s part of why the first attempt didn’t look right to me. Desaturating the blue made it clash less, but didn’t bring it in line with the tetradic colour scheme.

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Out of curiosity I digitally edited the photo of Lars to experiment with a more and less saturated version of blue-green on the axe to compare it with how I painted the axe. I think the desaturated blue-green on the bottom left looks the most harmonious of the four options I tested. I don’t think the axe I actually painted is terrible! You don’t have to exactly follow a defined colour scheme for something to turn out looking okay. Colour theory and colour scheme suggestions are handy tools to help us out when we’re having trouble making decisions, they’re not shackles.

Lars axe combo crTop left: final version of the figure. Top right: WIP version with more saturated blue NMM.
Bottom left: digital edit experiment with desaturated blue-green NMM. Bottom right: digital edit experiment with more saturated blue-green NMM.

Earlier in the article I talked about using the colours of a colour scheme in various proportions. I did use the four colours I chose in varying proportions on Lars, but but I did not use the proportions suggested by the Paletton site. Also when considering the coverage area for each colour, remember that it includes the different values and different saturation levels of that colour. The largest area is the red-violet. The leather armour is fairly dark, and the fur on the boots is quite light. The second largest colour area is the red-orange. The lighter skin tone and darker leather accessories like the belt and boots are both red-orange. 

Is the third largest colour area on the figure the yellow-green, or the blue-green? This is also an example of how it can get interesting with three dimensional figures. The area of yellow-green kilt on the front is smaller than the axe, so the colours are in one proportion to another from most front viewing angles. But there is a larger area of yellow-green cloth on the back of the figure, and much less of the axe head is visible from most rear and side angles, so the proportion of those two colours appears reversed. The horns and beard are also in the yellow-green family, but are visible in all angles to one degree or another. 

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Final Pictures

Lars bl front2

Lars bl face

Lars bl back

Lars bl back left

Lars bl back right

Lars bl right

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Paint Colours Used on Lars Ragnarsson

Skin:

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Boot fur:

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Green cloth:

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Leather armor:

IMG 2980Paints to the right were used to paint the texture and battle damage. Paints to the left were glazed over to integrate the texture and add colour depth. See this article for step-by-step photos and swatches of colours used.

Orange-red leather accessories:

IMG 2981Bright Skin 9233 is no longer in production. Add a little orange to 9445 Peachy Flesh for a similar colour.

Base:

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WIP version of the horns:

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Final version of NMM axe:

IMG 3012Colours on the right were used to paint the main NMM. Colours on the left were applied as spot glazes.

Hair and final version of the horns:

IMG 3013The Terran Khaki and Khaki Highlight are swapped in position to what they should be.

The Colours of Neutral

The Patreon supporter PDF version of this article includes high res photographs and better formatting. Ko-fi tips are another way to help keep this content freely available to everyone.

How can you apply the colourful schemes suggested by colour theory to dark and dreary types of characters? Why do some of your brown or grey paints look great on most of your figures, but then sometimes they don’t? What makes the blacks and greys and browns on the figures of painters you admire look more interesting than when you paint those colours? A better understanding of the colour that lurks within our neutral colour paints can help us paint better looking miniatures with less frustration!

Neutrals figures2

The figures shown above and below are predominately painted with classic neutral colours like grey, brown, and black. But are they? Grouped together like this you can see that there are differences between the greys and the blacks on each. Compare the weapons, and the bases of the three with grey stonework. The use of specific grey and brown paint colours creates variations in the colours schemes and atmosphere of each figure.

Neutrals figures1

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Saturation and Neutral Colours

Saturation is a measure of the intensity of a colour’s hue (aka colour family, like red vs blue). We might describe acid green as an intense or highly saturated colour, and describe khaki green as a muted, dull, or less saturated colour. In the diagram below, the top row contains examples of highly saturated colours. The examples on the bottom row are somewhat less saturated versions of those colours.

Primaries warm cool classic

We use the term neutral colour to describe colours that don’t really seem to have a distinct hue – beige, brown, cream, taupe, ivory, grey, etc. Neutrals are considered inoffensive, even bland colours, that can easily be paired with stronger colours to create harmonious colour schemes. The majority of human skin and hair colours are various shades of browns and tans, and most of us treat skin and hair as neutral colours that will look okay with any colour of clothing or decor, or for our miniatures, paint colour schemes.*

You can see some examples of neutral colours below. The bottom row are colours I sampled from hair colours, and the second from the bottom I sampled from skin colours. I sampled these colours from snapshots in my phone photos, not possibly manipulated studio photos.

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Pure white, pure black, and the neutral grey colours you can mix with them are true neutral colours. They are completely desaturated of any colour.** They do cooperate with any other colour, but since they don’t really occur in nature, they can look artificial or too bland in some contexts.

Noir detective front 2000Monochrome colour schemes suit some miniatures perfectly, and are a useful exercise for painters.

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Neutrals can have Colour

If pure black, white, and grey are the only pure neutrals, then all the other colours we call neutral actually have some colour hue to them. Sometimes it’s relatively easy to identify the hue within a neutral. If you look back at the colour samples I shared earlier, you can likely identify that one of the skin tones is kind of orange, and another is kind of red (pink).

The fact that there are colours in neutrals can help us in several ways, which include identifying why our paint choices aren’t working out, adding visual interest and complexity, and applying colour theory to gritty and worn characters. 

When we have a brown or cream or grey that doesn’t seem to be working very well on a miniature, often it is because the underlying colour tone of that neutral doesn’t harmonize well with the other colours we’ve used on the figure. 

When we want to use a classic colour scheme but we’re painting a skulking thief or time-worn undead character, we can use less saturated versions of the suggested colours. Or to put it another way, we can use character-appropriate greys, browns, and tans, but choose ones that have the underlying colour tones of the colours suggested for the colour scheme.

Let’s say I want to paint a thief, and I want to use a triadic colour scheme. The three colours in a triadic colour scheme are spaced equidistant apart on the colour wheel. The two basic triads in the classic colour theory system are the three primary colours (red, blue, yellow) and the three secondary colours (orange, green, purple.) Neither of those sound very thief-like, but let’s see if we can use desaturated versions of those colours to make it work.

On the far left is the kind of highly saturated red, yellow, and blue a colour wheel or online colour scheme tool might suggest for a triadic colour scheme. The row of colours beside each of these is a less saturated version of the original colour. Some are darker, some are lighter, some are a similar value but more muted.

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I’m not suggesting we use all of those colours on our thief! Those are just examples of types of colours that might work. Among that array we might see colours that would work for skin tones, leather, non-metallic metal, and other materials. Below is an example of a possible palette of colours for a thief with dark skin and dark hair. I chose the midtone, shadow, and highlight colours from the above examples, and then blended those together digitally in the same way we might test paint options on paper. These look like a set of colours that are suitably subdued, but still have some touches of colour you can use to simulate different materials and create colour contrast.

Triadic neutral options2

Let’s look at the other triadic scheme I mentioned. On the far left are highly saturated orange, green, and purple. The rows beside them are less saturated versions of those colours.

Triadic neutrals cr

In this second example for a suggested palette, I did something a little differently. I used the same shadow colour and the same highlight colour on all of the mixes. You can see the colours I used for the shadows and highlights on the far left. This thief with pale peachy skin and reddish hair would have a very different colour palette to the one above, but still one that is subdued and which includes colours that could be applied to a variety of different materials.

Triadic neutral options

Note that the colours you use in shadows and highlights still ‘count’ as part of your colour scheme. If I removed the purplish colour from the above scheme but continued to mix that purple into my shadows, I would still be using an orange-green-purple triadic colour scheme. Using the same or similar colours in shadows and/or highlights can help tie your colours together regardless of your colour scheme. If you look at the colour recipes I used on the puzzle party elf, you’ll see that the same colour shows up in the shadows for just about every colour on the figure. The painting process for the face of that figure also demonstrates how you can use colours from elsewhere on your figure to shift and desaturate paint colours you’ve already applied to help make a colour harmonize better if it isn’t quite fitting with the rest of the colours.

Naus the Waghalter is a figure I painted with the aim of creating a dark and dirty colour scheme, but one that had touches of colour rather than using super muted neutrals. I used a different process and I wasn’t adhering to a classic colour scheme, but I was using the general principles that I’ve been talking about here. I sampled various areas of the photograph to create the colour swatches below right. They’re all muted colours, but none of them are true neutral. You may not be able to identify the colour within every sample, but hopefully you can see a few that look a bit blue, green, and pink/purple.

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How to Find the Colour in Neutrals

People who are adept or trained with colour might easily be able to identify the colour family to which a neutral colour belongs, but what about the rest of us? Lucky for us there are some handy tools we can use to find the colours in neutrals, both for photographs and physical paints.

If you can’t really see the colours in an inspirational piece of artwork or someone else’s miniature, you can manipulate the photo to increase the saturation and make the colours easier to see. If you have a smartphone with a camera, the built-in photo editor likely includes the option to alter the saturation of a photo. Photo editing and art software options like PhotoShop, GIMP, and Procreate also include options to increase saturation. (GIMP is free and available for both Mac and Windows operating systems.) I took the photo of Naus and set the saturation to maximum in my iPhone’s built-in photo editor.

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You can also use art and photo editing programs to isolate colours in an image. That is how I created the colour swatches for Naus. Once you’ve isolated a colour, you can study it in the colour/palette tool of the program to identify the colour family it belongs to. In the example below, I’ve selected the colour in the red circle, since the saturation photo trick didn’t give me enough information about that one. Then I opened the Colors tool. Now I can see the overall hue of the selected colour, as well as experiment with what the colour would look like if it were lighter, darker, and/or more saturated. This screenshot is from the Procreate app on iPad, but there are a lot of different programs that do this same kind of thing. The Coolors.co site allows you to upload a photo and isolate colours from it. (It also has some other handy colour tools!)

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It’s not quite as simple with physical paints, but there are still some tricks you can use. The following examples are samples of neutral colour miniature paints that I painted out onto heavy paper. 

Neutral swatches mass

If you look at the colours within each grouping, they look pretty similar, though you may be able to spot slight differences. Now let’s look at those colours again, with a little bit more information. After swatching the paint straight out of the bottle at the top of the sample, I added water to thin it down at the bottom of the sample. It’s easier to see more information about the colours within a paint when it is thinned down and the white of the paper is showing through a little. You can mix a little white into a colour on your palette for a similar effect. You won’t necessarily be able to identify the colour family for every sample below, but you should be able to spot some of them, and see that several of the colours differ more from one another than it appeared above.

Neutral swatches under

(The background behind the swatches varies because I digitally cut out swatches from several different sheets of sample colours and pasted them into one image to create this example. These are all currently available Reaper paint colours, though I think some are only available in Fast Palette sets.)

Another trick you can try is to compare the neutral paint colour to more vivid colours. Colour is relative, and can be hard to assess in isolation. Compare the brown or grey you can’t figure out the colour of to the primary and secondary colours. The one it seems closest to is its colour family. If the colour is dark, you may need to add a little white or thin it down on white paper to see it better.

If you have a colour wheel, one side should have the colours printed at the edge. You can hold the colours next to a sample of paint to make comparisons.

Neutrals test2

Another option is to paint strips of thick paper with the primary and secondary colours and keep them handy to use for this purpose. I used paint store sample cards to take the photo below, but you can also paint your own samples using whatever primary and secondary colours you use most often. The vivid colours in the example below should help you assess whether each of those two browns is more yellow, more red, or more blue.

Neutrals test

I learned the colour comparison trick from a YouTube video. The artist instructor is an oil painter, and it may initially seem as if she’s talking about a different subject, but if you want to know more about seeing the colours in neutrals or mixing neutrals with touches of colour, I think this is a great video.

If you have a physical colour inspiration from an art book or similar, you may find it difficult to accurate identify the colours in it. I have a separate article with tips for how to create a colour scheme based on an inspirational photo or artwork.

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How to Put a Colour into Neutral or Colourize a Neutral

Comprehensive discussions of colour mixing and paint application methods are definitely topics for another article, or video. But here is an overview of methods you can use to tone down or increase the saturation of a colour.

As a general guideline, there are five ways to decrease the saturation of a paint colour. Note that these may also change other properties of the colour, including the value (lightness or darkness). I recommend that you experiment with each of the methods to become more comfortable with colour mixing and learn more about how each method affects various colours. 

* Mix in white
* Mix in black
* Mix in grey
* Mix in brown
* Mix in the complementary colour
* Mix in the closest colour you’re using on the piece to the complementary colour

Don’t worry that you have to figure out the perfect saturation for your paint colours before you apply them to your miniature! If you find that there is an area on your figure that looks too vibrant, you can try applying glazes (paint diluted to be very, very transparent) over it, or over portions of it. Don’t automatically reach for your black or grey paint to do this. Somewhat dark, and at least somewhat vivid colours often work well. This is where those paints that aren’t as opaque straight out of the bottle come in handy!

Try using a complementary colour for your wash or glaze, or the closest colour to the complementary that you’re using on your piece. Complementary colours are directly opposite to one another on the colour wheel. You can also use colour temperature as a guide to glaze colours choices – If your colour is warm, try a glaze of a colour on your palette that is cooler to tone it down, and vice versa. If you aren’t sure what to use, muted purples work well with a surprising number of colours. If weathering is appropriate for that figure, weathering powders/pencils are a great tool to mute colours and add some wear and tear, though as I describe in that article, it’s easy to overdo it and mute too much.

Let’s say you want to tone down a reddish-brown. Green is the colour complement of red, but you’re using a red, blue, yellow scheme. Blue is close to green, but so is yellow. Blue is a cooler colour and yellow is a warmer colour, so blue would be a good choice to try for a glaze or weathering powder/pencil.

This video shows an example of Fernando Ruiz painting a metallic helmet with multiple washes of vivid colour inks. The end result isn’t one colour or another, and it looks much richer than just using a black wash. I learned this method in a workshop with Fernando, and used it on the leather jerkin and cloak for this ranger.

It is also possible to start by painting with true neutrals or very muted colours and then later add notes of additional colour on top. This is the approach I used with Barglemore the zombie butler, below. I used glazes of blues, greens, and purples in the shadow areas of his skin to add subtle hints of colour. I often paint stone bases with basic greys, and then glaze or drybrush on colours that I’ve used elsewhere on the figure. This adds natural variation to the stone, and helps unify the colours on base and figure. I used weathering powders on Barglemore’s clothing to make it look old and worn, but also to introduce a few more hints of colour and tie the golden stone base and reddish brain in with the rest of the figure.

Butler front full

I haven’t used colour underpainting a lot, but I experimented with the approach with Naus, Waghalter. I roughly painted in an an assortment of very vivid colours, and then painted over them with neutral colours that weren’t entirely opaque. (At least that was my plan, as you can read it didn’t entirely work out that way and I used glazing, as well.) My goal was a set of colours that overall looked muted, dirty, and worn, but which still had touches of colour for visual interest.

Wag blue face

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Examples of Muted Colours and Colourful Neutrals on Figures

I’m going to start with an example of a simple figure that I think will make it easier to see the advantages of using some colour in your neutrals. The miniature is a black dog standing on grey stone. If I had used only true black, white, and grey paints, it would look something like this:

Ddog left full bw

The photo below is what I actually painted I added touches of colour to the black fur to help differentiate the shapes while still keeping the overall value pretty dark. The colour within the neutrals helps add visual interest. My first step in painting was to establish the light and dark areas, using uniform mixes of paint. I used true black for the basecoat on the fur, but I probably didn’t use true grey for the drybrushing, nor on the rock. Then I thinned down colours like khaki green, dark red, and soft blue, and brushed them over areas of the fur and the base. (And looking at this now, I think I should have used a few small points of brighter highlights in key areas. Everyone needs more contrast!)

Ddog left full

If I manage to strike the right balance, viewers will find the figure more interesting to look at than if it were painted with true neutrals, but they won’t see so much colour that they start to think about it and wonder why there’s green on the black fur of a death dog. Below is a version of the photo edited to increase the saturation to make it easier to see the colours. The colours of the paints that I applied on top of the fur and stone were pretty close to the colours you see in the enhanced photo. The colours look toned down in the end result because they were thinned down and applied over more neutral colours. Looking at the enhanced picture makes me wish I’d pushed the colours a little more!

Ddog left full 2

Baran Blacktree’s colour scheme is all neutrals – black, grey, brown, and white (on the shield front, not pictured here.) The touches of colour on him are more subdued than the death dog, but he is definitely not painted in true neutrals. If you compare the colour picture to the black and white one, you’ll see that the touches of colour are actually doing a lot of heavy lifting on this figure. Apart from some white highlights on the NMM and base stones, the overall contrast level on Baran is pretty low. The hue and temperature contrast between the warmer browns and cooler greys and blacks helps to compensate for the lower contrast. It also helps visual separate the different areas of equipment and make the figure easier to read for the viewer. The exact paint colours I used are listed in a PDF guide that includes more tips for painting black. You can read more about the weathering and the hue and temperature contrast in this article.

Colour v bw

Romag Davl is painted with a lot of brown, and a little bit of grey. I used temperature contrast more starkly on Romag than on Baran – the grey cloth and non-metallic metal are cool slate blues, and the armour and cloak are warm browns. Roman’s colours are a slight twist on a complementary colour scheme called a split complementary colour scheme. Orange is the colour complement of blue. I used the colours to either side of orange to have two slightly different brown colours on the figure. The armour is a brown in the yellow-orange family, and the cloak is a brown in the red-orange family. I edited the photo with the saturation trick to make the colours a little easier to see.

Romag saturated cr

The colours of the stereotypical uniform for a butler are true neutral black, white, and grey. The fact that this character was a zombie offered the opportunity to introduce more colour by adding weathering and clothing stains after I finished painting the clothing. But I also used paints that were not pure flat neutrals for the initial shading and highlighting. I started the figure with an underpainting using white, grey, and black primers. The photo below is not digitally edited, it compares true neutral paint to colourful neutrals. The difference between cream instead of pure for the neck ruffles and dove grey rather than true grey on the vest and pants is more significant than you might imagine. You can read more about the the underpainting process and see the paint colours I used in this article.

11 sophie barglemore front combo cr

Michael Proctor of Clever Crow Studio is a master at weaving notes of colour into his work.

The husband and wife team at Craftworld Studio often use highly saturated colours to paint their fantastic miniatures.

Sergio Calvo Rubio blends touches of colours into his painting of many surfaces.

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Footnotes

 

Some of my definitions and statements about neutral colours are simplifications intended to help make things easier to understand for people who may not be familiar or comfortable with colour use and colour theory.

*Natural human skin tones and hair colours are not universally considered neutral colours. There are experts in fashion and cosmetics who advise people on colours to wear and avoid based on the undertone of their skin colour. Movie makers design or colourize scenes to harmonize with or accentuate human colouring.

Miniature painters can use the tools and ideas I described above for the browns and tans of human skin and hair as much as leather and NMM. Your figures will have more visual impact if you pick skin and hair browns and tans with touches of colour that harmonize with the other colours on your figures. But at the same time, if your redheaded character wants to wear pink, I say go for it, don’t let the fashionistas tell you otherwise!

**Even black and white aren’t actually as simple as black and white. Just as there are different pigments that make the colour blue, there are different pigments to make white or black. There are several different black pigments and at least two different white pigments in common use today for acrylic paint mixing. Any given miniature paint company probably only uses one black pigment to mix their colours, but they don’t necessarily each use the same one. Just about everyone uses Titanium White for their white. Art paint brands may offer multiple black and white pigment paints, and use different black and white pigments in paint colours mixed from more than one pigment.

These different pigments can have different properties. One property is temperature. A given black or white paint might appear warmer or cooler when compared to another. Warmer means there’s a hint of orange/yellow, and cooler means there’s a hint of blue. In comparison to other colours, though, the statement that pure white and black are true neutral colours is a useful guide for working with colour schemes. If you’re conversant enough about paints and pigments that you think I’m wrong about that, you probably know a lot more cool things about colour as well!

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Miniatures Featured in this Article

Baran Blacktree is available
 in metal.
Goblin with axe is available for preorder via the Bones 6 pledge manager.
Barglemore and Camille are available in metal.
Naus, Waghalter is available in Bones USA plastic.
The Occult Detective is available in metal and Bones plastic.
Death Dog is available in metal and Bones plastic.
Romag Davl is available in Bones USA plastic.

Worn Leather and Woven Cloth – Lars Ragnarson

The Patreon supporter PDF version of this article includes additional photographs. Ko-fi tips are another way to help keep this content freely available to everyone.

I recently painted Lars Ragnarson for Reaper. I know there’s a lot of interest in painting techniques for texture effects, so I’ve included step-by-step photos for how I painted the leather armour in this article, and some general tips for painting textures.

Lars bl frontSculpted by Bob Ridolfi.

I’ve been painting in a pretty smooth style lately, and after I posted the adventuring party and the Hellborn dancer, I received a few comments/queries from people wondering if I always paint in such a cartoony or stylized way, or if I sometimes paint in a more realistic or gritty way. I think it’s true to say that I am known for a fairly clean and smooth style of painting. But for several years now I have been working to learn or develop methods for painting different kinds of textured surfaces, and I have found painting textures can be a lot of fun. When Reaper asked me to paint Lars, he seemed like a great figure to use some textures on.

Lars bl back

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What do I mean by Texture?

Miniature painters sometimes use the term ‘texture’ to refer only to specific painted effects, like the woven cloth and worn leather I painted on Lars. The term texture refers to both the visual and tactile qualities of a surface. Every material has a texture, which is partly a function of how it feels, and how it reflects and absorbs light.

Sculptors apply all kinds of wonderful tactile textures to our figures. Bob Ridolfi sculpted fur texture on Lars’ boots, hair strands on his hair, and texture on his base. I used paint to accentuate those, I didn’t create them with paint. Sculpted textures usually paint up well, even with quicker techniques like drybrushing and washes. Note that smooth is also a tactile texture! The visual qualities of smooth surfaces can vary widely – shiny silk cloth versus matte wool cloth. We can aim to paint smooth-sculpted surfaces on figures like cloth, skin, or metal to mimic the visual qualities of those real world materials.

Lars bl front2

A lot of textures around us are somewhere in between those two extremes – these are materials that don’t have a smoothly blended visual quality, but whose texture is not really tactile enough to be sculpted onto a mini (at least at smaller scales.) It is more reasonable to try to create the appearance of those textures with paint and brushwork.

Lars is clearly a strong and dangerous fighting type of character. His gear is simple, even somewhat primitive. He is not a wealthy character, a magic user, or a cosmopolitan city dweller. I thought that using painted textures to make his clothes look roughly woven clothing and his leather armour battle-worn would partner well with the character of the sculpt.

Lars bl back right

I want to note that Bob Ridolfi sculpted texture on the bracers of the Lars figure. This is less obvious in my painted version because I painted the rest of the leather with a similar texture. I think the texture Bob sculpted would look good as hammered bronze or copper, too.

Lars greenSculpted by Bob Ridolfi

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Leather Armour

In the past I have used washes to create a subtle leather texture effect. That’s turned out well with cloaks and other larger pieces of leather, but I wasn’t sure it would work as well with the plate shapes of Lars’ armour. I’ve also made a few attempts at painting worn and battle-scarred armour by layering on increasingly lighter values of paint with rough brushstrokes. One of my first attempts at doing this was on Caerindra Thistledown. It’s okay, but I don’t think it’s an ideal result. I’m not sure if I was too random or not random enough. ;->

Caerindra leather

I think my final attempt with Anushka’s leather skirt looks a bit more convincing. As you can read here, my journey to that end result was a bit of a winding road! The peak of Anushka’s hat was painted just with brushstrokes. I like how it turned out, but can’t quite remember what I did to achieve that appearance as opposed to Caerindra’s.

Anushka left

So my goal for Lars’ leather armour was to sort of reverse-engineer what I did with Anushka’s skirt. I was also hoping to simplify that process a little, as well as figure out how to get a similar effect, but in an overall darker colour. This is not the first time I’ve been in the position of trying to remember how I did something, and I suspect some of you reading may have ended up in this position once or twice too. When we talk about studying work by painters to try to figure it out, sometimes what we mean is trying to rediscovering something we did previously!

If you try a new technique or effect once or twice and then do not use it for quite a while, you will likely not remember exactly what you did. Or maybe any of what you did. I recommend practicing with something multiple times. Try it with different colours and values. Try it on different shaped areas on figures. Repetition will help you learn something more thoroughly, and experimentation will help you discover situations where it might work better or not as well. I wish I had worked on leather variations more soon after I finished painting Anushka to cement the process better in my mind.

One of the unexpected benefits of writing articles for this blog for me is that it creates a record of many of my experiences painting. It gives me something to refer back to if I want to borrow from an effect or colour that I’ve used on a previous figure. You don’t need to start a blog to get the same benefit, you can instead keep a painting journal. Jot down the paints you used in that colour mix you really like. Make notes of sessions of study and experimentation. Be sure to track what works as well as what doesn’t. Try to take some WIP pictures when you’re trying new things to create a visual record, as well. If your journal is digital, include relevant pictures with the notes from that session. There is a section on Reaper’s forums where people post WIP notes for projects they’re working on. I imagine other sites and communities have similar features, too.

Anushka comp cr banner

Looking at the above WIP pictures of Anushka jogged my memory for some of what I did, and suggested some ideas for streamlining. My first try on the left was not contrasted enough. It was too detailed, with a focus on small texture strokes without having established more of an overall texture. It was all texture, with no use of value to create shadows and highlights to bring out the shapes of the skirt folds. My second attempt had both large and detailed textures, and had more shading and highlighting, though still not enough. If anything this was too much texture for my purposes. To achieve the final effect on the right, I applied glazes of lighter and darker colours over the middle stage. It helped better bring out the shapes of the skirt, and made the texture look more organic and suitable to the character type.

I mention ‘my purposes’, because I think it’s important to keep that in mind. I painted both of these figures with the idea that they’re more display quality, and for Lars in particular, intended to be seen in photographs. Display figures are closely scrutinized, and web photos often appear much larger than the actual figure. In that context, the middle attempt of Anushka’s armour would look too heavily weathered and worn, as if it has not been cared for for years. It might be great for an undead or other monster type, but not for a humanoid whose taking any care of their gear.

Figures viewed on the tabletop are viewed at arm’s length, and often in poor lighting. A more exaggerated texture like the middle version of Anushka map be very effective on a figure meant to be used in that way. How you approach painting something should relate to your time investment goal, as well. Aiming for an end result that basically works or looks good but not great is a more efficient answer if your goal is to paint more figures more quickly. A lot of miniature painting involves small details, but sometimes achieving your painting goals is about knowing when not to sweat the details and look more at the big picture.

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Leather Armour Painting Process

Guided by my experiences painting Anushka, I decided to try using two stages to paint Lars’ leather. First, apply rough texture strokes to try to create random shapes of wear patterns. Although I wanted a dark leather look in the end, I realized that I would have to paint in texture using much lighter value paints for it to be apparent after the second stage. For the second stage, I would apply glazes of darker and lighter colours to integrate the texture to more of a distressed than a completely worn out type of look. I also wanted to use the glazes to add some colours into the armour to fit with the colour scheme I had chosen, but I will get into more detail about that in another article.

The following is a series of step by step photos of the main painting stages for the armour plates on the hips and legs.

The Patron PDF version of this article includes larger high res photos, and a second series of step-by-step photos from a different angle.

Lars leatherA steps1 2 cr

I started with a fairly dark value basecoat. I mixed up several values of lighter mixes to paint on the texture. Since I wanted transition edges and brushstrokes to show, my paint was fairly opaque, and the jump in value between each mix was notable. I used a worn sable brush for this step. I wanted to create random, messy strokes. It can be surprisingly challenging to paint random patterns using a precision brush. We have a natural drive to be more systematic, or to jump straight to smaller details like I did with the first try on Anushka’s skirt.

A softer bristled worn synthetic brush might work even better. I think you need a softer bristle brush so the bristles shift position with different brushstrokes. A stiffer bristle brush might act more like a stamp and apply brushstrokes in a repeating pattern, but I haven’t tried that out yet, so I could be wrong. I think a brush with shorter and/or densely packed bristles might also make marks that look too regular, but again, I haven’t tested yet. If you want to try this, experiment on a test figure with some different brush options and see which you like!

Lars leatherA steps3 4 cr

You want to use a brush you have at least some control with as you start applying the lighter values of texture. I started to choose where to place the brushstrokes more deliberately in steps three through five. My goal from this point was both to create textures, and to try to bring out the forms of the objects. I used the random patterns from the first two steps to help make decisions for where to add additional smaller strokes of lighter colours.

In step four, I started to apply some edge highlights, and also some wear and tear. If there was an area that kind of looked like a rip or tear, I used very light and very dark lines of paint to reinforce that impression. If you look at the plates on the leg on the right photo above, you can see faint lines on those areas in the left photo that I used as guidelines for where to paint deeper cuts. To paint a cut, you paint a dark line to create the depression of the cut. But you also need to paint a light line directly next to it to simulate the edge of the cut. Locate this light line opposite your light source to simulate where the edge of the cut is receiving more light. For the light source I painted on Lars, generally that meant I painted the light line beneath the dark line.

In terms of application, I found it easier to apply the light line first, and then the dark line. Lighter value paint colours are often a bit thicker and don’t flow off the brush quite as easily, so it can be harder to paint thin clean brushstrokes with them. I was using Blue Liner for my dark lines. All Reaper paints include some flow improver in the mix, but the Liner paints are designed to glide off your brush to make lining easier. You can also buy Flow Improver separately so you can increase the flow of any paint colour you have if you’re having trouble painting detail. There are art store brands of this type of product as well. Look for products called flow aid, flow release, or flow improver.

Lars leatherA steps5 6 cr

I added additional layers of texture with my lighter mixes in step five. I was trying to make the highlight areas more noticeably lighter in value than the midtone and shadow areas.

Step six was the glazing stage. I used several colours of thinned down paint. The paint needed to be fairly transparent – I didn’t want to cover up all of that texture! For a project like this it’s better to think your paint down more than you think you need to and apply multiple coats, rather than one not very transparent coat that dries and covers up all your previous work. I applied lighter glazes to the highlight areas, and darker glazes to the shadow areas. I also used a few somewhat vibrant colours in different places to add some visual complexity and hints of colour. (In my colour scheme article I’ll talk about how this colour was the red-violet portion of my colour scheme.) If the glazes toned down the damage cuts and tears I had painted too much, I added some back in with my previous paint mixes.

You can see that the texture looks pretty rough and fairly light in value in all of the steps prior to step six. This is one of those techniques where you have to get pretty close to the end to see whether everything comes together and works, or whether you might need to tweak anything, or even start over as I did with Anushka’s skirt.

The painting process was not quite as linear as the step by step implies. I did work that way, but I also ended up working back and forth over the last two steps a little bit – adding another glaze or two to shift the colour or try to create more volume, and then adding back a little texture, which I would then have to glaze back down a little.

It’s subtle, but you can see a comparison of the leather almost done and then after a little more tweaking in the following picture. Notice how you can see the triangular shape of the top of the helmet a bit more in the final version because I added more highlighting to the lightest areas and more shadow to the darkest areas. The shoulder plates look a little less textured in the final version, but they have a richer depth of colour from the additional glazing.

Lars leather chest compI’ll talk about the changes to the horns in the colour scheme article.

Below are some painted swatches of colours I used on the leather.

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The large square near the middle was the basecoat colour. The long thinner swatches to either side of it were mixes I used to paint the texture. The very light yellow was used only for the light line on some of the painted cuts. The darkest colour small square near the bottom was used to paint the dark line of the cuts and lining in between the armour plates and around the rivets.

The thin paint mixes along the top and right sides are samples of the glazes I painted over the texture to integrate it and build up more shadows and highlights. The blue-grey was added after the step-by-step photos and was used to add shadow depth and tie the armour colour in with the NMM colour a little more.

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Painting is not Always Linear

A lot of painting techniques and effects can involve some back and forth like I painted on Lars. Sometimes it happens because you’re figuring stuff out. Having to figure stuff out does not mean you suck at painting! It’s how we learn and get ideas for how we might do cool new stuff, as well as getting ideas of what doesn’t work so great. Often the process of going back and forth at some stages ends up adding more depth and visual interest to something. That kind of visual interest may be part of what makes the work of painters you admire look richer and more complex than what you might be achieving with a more linear process. The expectation that everything you paint should look better after every incremental step will hold you back more than it helps. (Ask me how I know!)

Going back and forth a bit in painting the armour didn’t really add a lot of extra time to the process. It was just a few brushstrokes of glaze there, or a few brushstrokes of texture mixes here. I think I achieved my goal of streamlining and somewhat speeding up the process I had used on Anushka. While it might sound like a lot of mixes and steps, I suspect I could paint a tabletop version of this more quickly than I could paint blends with smooth transitions, especially if I was okay with a result that looked like steps four or five.

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Cloth Texture

I haven’t come up with a way to do a speedier version of the woven cloth texture effect that I painted on Lars’ loincloth. Or rather, the cloth I painted on Lars is the speedier version, it’s just not speed painting speedy. Currently the only way I know how to paint cloth like this is to use a brush with a fine tip and paint a lot of cross-hatch strokes, though I have an idea of something to try for a tabletop version. When I paint this kind of cloth texture, I’m applying the shadows and highlights at the same time as the texture. It’s like layering, but I’m using tiny hatch strokes instead of smooth strokes.

I used the same process, same types of brush, and same brand and consistency of paint to paint Tristan’s cloth, which you can compare to Lars’ in the photo below. The main difference between the two is just the number of tiny hatch marks I painted one over the other to build up the highlights and shadows. It took a lot more time to build up the more subtle effect of Tristan’s cloth, but the process was otherwise pretty much the same. I suspect it’s true of a lot of texture techniques that once you have the basic approach down you can tweak it to different effects with different brushes, paint mixes, or time investments.

Lars tristan cloth

The photo below shows swatches of the colours I used to paint the cloth texture on Lars’ kilt. I later added some of the blue-grey glaze from the leather colour swatch picture to the shadow areas of the kilt.

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Miniatures in this Article

Lars Ragnarson is available in Bones USA plastic.

Caerindra Thistlemoor is available in metal.

Anushka is available in metal.

How to Steal a Colour Scheme

The Patreon supporter PDF version of this article includes additional photographs. Ko-fi tips are another way to help keep this content freely available to everyone.

Choosing colours is hard. So don’t choose – steal! This article offers tips for how to find, adapt, and apply an inspirational colour scheme to your figures, with links to videos demonstrating how I stole the colour scheme for this figure and painted it. 

Elanter front

It’s valuable to study colour theory and become more confident choosing colours on your own. However, studying and applying the colour schemes that other artists choose is a great way to practice hands-on with colour theory.

I worked out the colour scheme and painted Elanter the Lost Prince on my stream show, Beyond the Kit. Part of my aim on that show, and with many of these articles, is to share the thought process behind what I paint. We tend to put most of our focus on the technique aspect of miniature painting – learning to wetblend or paint non-metallic metal, for example. And we can alway work to improve our technique, of course!

Elanter back

However, once painters have a certain level of competence with a brush, their technique is not holding them back as much as they may think. Often what is needed to improve has more to do with colour choices and use of value (contrast!) than with how they’re applying the paint. A better understanding of how to make those choices is critical to improving as a display painter. Those thought processes are also pretty helpful to tabletop painting. Effective colour choices and clever use of contrast can allow you to streamline some steps, while still painting figures that have great visual impact on the table.

Elanter face

Below you will find some tips for how to find and apply colour scheme inspiration to your miniatures. I am not suggesting that you need to do all of these steps for every figure, but if you’re having trouble identifying and matching colours to an inspiration source, these steps should help make it a little easier.

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Video Version

If you want to skip straight to the videos of choosing the colour scheme and painting Elanter, you’ll find the links below.

Part 1: Stealing the colour scheme, painting the green cloak. I spend some time on a question about mixing colour in the middle of the video, then return to working on Elanter.

Part 2: Blocking in the main colours

Part 3: Painting the scabbard, arrows, robe, quiver, and finishing up the cloak

Part 4: Painting the front of the cloak, leather (boots, belt, straps), faux woodgrain on weapon haft, bow, hair, and checking the value contrast level

Part 5: Painting the base, metallic weapon and trim, a simple method for painting gems, and hands

I think I painted the face off-stream, but you can watch the recording of another stream where I focused on painting faces.

The only WIP shot I took is of the back of the cloak after the first session of streaming. The middle fold shows what it looked like after some initial wetblending. The rightmost fold is what it looked like after I did some smoothing and enhancing of the initial wetblending. The rough layers on the left are an example of a paint method you can use to push your level of contrast, which I talk about in the Part 1 video.

Elanter wip cloak comp

The photograph on the left was taken with an iPhone 12 Pro, the one on the right with my usual miniature photography camera, a Sony Alpha NEX-F3. Both are of the same stage of painting, the differences are due to the photography alone. You can read more about how I take pictures of miniatures in this post.

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Where to Steal Colour Schemes

Where might you find colour schemes to steal? The colour scheme of a miniature you admire is one option. So is your favourite fantasy and sci-fi art. But you don’t need to look at only the type or genre of thing you like to paint for inspiration. We are surrounded by colour schemes that talented and and trained colour experts have designed to attract our attention and be visual pleasing. Anything that attracts the eye or where the colours just seems to work can be inspiration for a great colour scheme. This includes all kinds of artwork, but also movie scenes, photography, home decor advice, product packaging, and advertisements. We generally find natural colour scenes visually pleasing – a flowering bush on a sunny day, a vivid sunset or other scenic vista.

IMG 3006Miniatures and fantasy art are great inspiration, but so are the colours of clothing patterns, home decor suggestions, and many more!

It is often easier to decode and put into use a colour scheme drawn from design or decor than it is to figure out and adapt the colour complexities of a detailed painting. There are also a lot of books and webpages designed to help people choose colours, and those aimed at web page and print designers, home decorators and the like, can be very useful.

Most of us always have a camera on our person thanks to our smartphones. When you see a colour combination you like – take a picture! Then favourite it or sort it into a specific directory you keep for colour inspiration so you can easily find your colour scheme inspirations later. Sunsets, flower beds – you’ll run across all sorts of colour inspiration out in the real world as well.

The colour scheme for Elanter comes from a World Market flyer. I was looking through mail for paper to recycle, and the pile of pillows on the corner of one page of the flyer caught my eye. The colour palette struck me as having a very autumnal feeling while not being the typical fall colour scheme. (Not that I don’t also love a typical fall colour palette!) I really like this colour scheme, but I don’t think I would ever have come up with it on my own.

IMG 2149My colour scheme inspiration.

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Steal the Right Colour Schemes

There are some instances where colour schemes that work for one function, like home decor or a webpage, will probably not work as well for a miniature. When assessing a colour scheme, consider whether there is a mixture of colour values. Is there at least one pretty dark colour, one pretty light colour, and one moderate value colour? Variation in values between areas on a figure makes it easier for viewers to read and identify what’s skin, clothing, armour, etc.

The pillow colour scheme had a dark green and light cream colour, with the flesh tone, orange, and silver in values in between those two extremes, so I was pretty confident it would work well for a figure.

Analogous colour schemes are common in design, but I think they’re pretty tricky to use on miniatures. An analogous colour scheme is 2-5 colours that are adjacent to each other on the colour wheel. Yellow, orange, and red would be one example, and blue, teal, and green is another.

The reasons analogous colours are challenging on a figure is that analogous colour schemes remove or constrain your options for contrast. We generally use analogous colours for shading and highlighting our miniatures. Even if you vary the values of the colours to help define your areas, you’ll be using similar colours for highlights on your mid value areas as you use on your lightest area, and similar colours for highlights on your darkest area as you use on your mid value areas. This can work well on a simple figure like a fire elemental, but would be more challenging on a humanoid with more complex gear.

Mono cowboy front fullSpeed painted with an analogous/monochromatic colour scheme. Since human hair and skin are shades of browns and tans, this colour palette looks pretty natural, but it would be more visually striking with even a bit of subtle colour variation. Note the way it pops a bit off of the cool blue background due to the hue and temperature contrast between the warm browns on the figure and the cool blues of the background.

Analogous colours also minimize temperature contrast. Generally speaking all of the colours will lean more to the cool or the warm side. Depending on which colours you pick, there may be a pair where one is somewhat warmer and one is somewhat cooler in comparison to each other, but this is much less contrasted than choosing complementary colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel.

Mono cowboy mixes horThe palette I used to paint the cowboy – desaturated reds, oranges, and yellows (aka shades of brown).

I’m sure it’s possible to successfully use complementary colour schemes on a miniature! But if you’re stealing colour schemes because you’re struggling with colour, an analogous colour scheme is going to be more challenging than something with a wider mix of colours.

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Steal ALL the Colours

Colour is relative: our perception of a colour is strongly affected by the colours that are near it. That is not always obvious. We may look at a miniature and admire the vivid blue that the person used, or we might love the look of a purple in a sunset sky. But if we try to take the colour we like from here, and another we like from there and combine them, we often find they don’t look great together. If we’re struggling with colour, we will have more success if we borrow the whole of a colour scheme.

When we want to borrow the colour scheme of another figure, or fantasy art or photograph with a person in it, we tend to just look at the character and the colours are on it. It’s easy to overlook the background of a movie scene or the base of a figure, but the soft blue of a sky or pale green grass on a base might be part of what is making the colours on the figure itself pop.

Excluding some of the colours won’t necessarily result in an unattractive figure, but it can have a significant impact on the overall mood and tone of the finished paint job. My painted version of Masquerade Sophie incorporates only the colours on the figure. It does not have the black or red from the background and accents of the colour art. As a result, the lighter and more pastel colours are more visually dominant on the figure compared to the art. The painted figure works in terms of colour, and it is an attractive figure to look at, but it doesn’t have any of the ominous tone of the art. If that had been part of what I was trying to capture in the colour scheme, I would be disappointed by my end result.

Sophie18 color versionsArtwork by Izzy ‘Talon’ Collier.

This example is a figure I painted in 2008 for Dark Sword Miniatures. It is based on the DragonCon 2006 poster painted by Larry Elmore. I followed the colours for the figure itself fairly closely. In Elmore’s artwork, there are several other colours that are prominent in the colour scheme that are not represented on the figure, including the red of the dragon and the soft yellows and oranges of the sky. The colour scheme on the figure works (everything goes with black, after all), but the colour interaction in Elmore’s art is much more complex.

Goth poster comboPoster art by Larry Elmore.

Compare the miniature above as painted with the digital edit below. The red behind the figure helps make the skin really pop, and the lighter sky and base colours do the same with the black boots. I did not edit anything on the figure itself, just added the background and base colours.

IMG 0138

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Steal the Right Colours

Because colour is relative, the colours surrounding a colour may make it appear darker or lighter, more saturated or duller than it is when viewed in isolation. This is the basis of many common optical illusions. You need to take this effect into account when you’re trying to mix or match the colours in your chosen scheme to your paints to get the best effect from your inspiration.

Dale purves value illusionYou perceive the top square as darker than the bottom square. Hold your finger over the middle and discover that they’re the same shade of grey. Your eye is fooled because the colours that surround and separate the two squares influence how you perceive their colours. Picture by Dale Purves.

The following is an example of how even in general art and photographs, our perception of a colour is affected by the surrounding colours. One of my paint buddies, Jen Greenwald, was using a painting for colour inspiration, but finding that it wasn’t quite coming out as she expected on the miniature. I sampled the colours and discovered that the reds the artist used in the auburn hair were actually much less intense colours than Jen had supposed when picking out her paints. The proximity and the large volume of greens and teals in the inspiration image make the reddish-brown appear more saturated than it is. Jen chose brighter reds for her paints, and found they looked too intense on her figure. She matched the teals well (using brighter highlights, which will often be necessary on a figure), but was a bit off on the red-browns.

IMG 0139Fantasy painting by Anna Dittmann. Miniature painted by Jen Greenwald.

There are a few different tools you can  use to isolate colours to see them more accurately.

Digital Colour Sampling

If you have a digital version of your inspirational colour scheme, you can use a variety of different programs to isolate and sample colours. You need a program with an eyedropper sample tool and a brush that you can use to make a swatch of colour. You sample the colour you want, and then paint a large swatch of it, ideally on a plain white background.

On my desktop, I use GIMP, which is a free alternative to Photoshop that is available on Mac and PC. On my iPad I use the Procreate program. It is not free, but I have found it well worth the one-time $10 fee. There is a Procreate Pocket for iPhone that costs $5 that has the sample and paint features.

Don’t try to find one single overall colour in a complex image. Even on something like my ad flyer, the pillows are being affected by the light and have areas where they appear lighter and darker. I will find it much easier to match colours and create highlights and shadows for my miniature painting if I sample from light, midtone, and dark areas of my image. It also helps me identify the range of contrast between the lightest areas and the darkest areas, which is often much more dramatic than we think, even in fairly flat, bright light like like that used in my ad flyer.

Below is an example of the areas I would sample to see the colours on my flyer colour inspiration.

Pillow samples

If you compare the image and the swatches, you may find at least one of the pillow samples is a different colour than it might appear to your eye. The second pillow from the top looks yellowy-cream coloured to me, but when I colour sample on it, many of the colours have a green cast to them. The photo above is intended to demonstrate how to sample from various value areas. I recommend that you make the colour samples larger than that. Then you can print the page out to test colours against.

Pillow digital cr

I printed out a page with my sample colours on it, and then tested potential colours against it, as you can see in the following photo.

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Physical Colour Sampling

My flyer was a printed object, so I could try to match colours directly against it. This is just an ad, so I might not mind painting directly on it to test colours. If it were something I could not paint on, I could paint samples on the edges of another paper and hold those next to the image to see if the colours match. Let your paint dry before assessing the match. Wet paint is shiny, which makes it harder to compare to dry paint, and which can make it look a little darker or more saturated. In the picture below I’m comparing some of the paints I chose against my example colour scheme.

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When comparing against a physical sample, I might still run into the issue of not being able to accurately see all of the colours. You can isolate colours on a physical item by cutting a small hole into a piece of paper. Using midtone grey paper will make it easiest to judge value and saturation, but even using a little hole in a piece of white paper can help. I cut a hole into a piece of index card to isolate an area on the dark green pillow in the picture below.

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Colour Shifting with Image Source

For my colour scheme, I started with a physical advertisement. I took a photograph and then scanned the source to be able to digitally sample it.  Then I had to print those digital samples to be able to test paints against them. If you compare each of these steps to one another, the colours shift slightly. Every camera processes colour a little differently. Each screen displays colour a little differently. Every printer prints colour images a little differently. Doesn’t that matter? I don’t think that the slight shifts between sources matter because the entire image gets shifted from source to source. Whatever colour cast your camera/screen/printer may have, it alters the entire image in the same way, so the colour scheme remains unified and effective.

In the image below, the colour samples on the left side are from the photo taken with my camera, and those on the right are from the image made with my scanner. There are slight differences, and I might prefer one to the other, but each functions as a cohesive colour scheme within itself. 

Phone vs scanner

Testing a Colour Scheme

Testing your colours is the most important step. Regardless of how much effort you spent on the preceding tips, it’s always worth a few minutes to do a quick test of how well your colour choices work together. This is especially important if you did just eyeball matching the colours to your inspiration. 

When using inspiration to find colour schemes, the important question is not how well did you match your inspiration, it’s do these colours go well together? Learning to match and mix colour matches is a great way to improve your eye for colour, of course, but exact colour matching is not necessary to be able to find some great colours to paint on a mini! (Whether the colours go together is also the important question about your chosen colours when you chose them with a colour wheel or your imagination or some other source.)

I painted the following colour swatches while testing the colours for Elanter on stream. I used a piece of tan toned paper. Grey works even better, but white is fine if that’s all you have.

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My goal here is to check if the colours all seem like they’re playing nice together. I tested prospective highlight and shadow colours as well as the main colours, since I find it hard to assess using just flat midtone colours. There are lots of ways to test colours! You can test on a quick speed painted figure, just a part of a figure, swatches on paper, or bad drawings on paper, as you can see in the examples below. (Not pictured is a digital method for testing colours.)

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Paint Colours Used on Elanter the Lost Prince

These are the colours I used to paint Elanter. I didn’t plan in advance to use a number of the Pathfinder colours (the 89xxx paints), they just happened to be the ones that fit in well with my colour inspiration! I can’t follow all of my usual process when I’m painting on stream, so this colour recipe information may not be as accurate as that I usually provide.

Skin:

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Light wood bow:

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Dark wood staff (faux wood grain):

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Green cloak:

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Rust overdress:

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Metallics:

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Figures in this Post

Elanter the Lost Prince is available in Bones USA.
Tywin Lannister is available in metal.
Deadeye Slim is available in Bones plastic or metal.
Masquerade Ball Sophie is currently available in metal, and in plastic via the Bones 6 core set.
Goth Warrior with Sword is available in metal.
Callie Ranger/Rogue is available in Bones plastic or metal.
Anirion, Elf Wizard is available in Bones USA plastic, clear plastic, or metal.
Isabeau Laroche, Paladin is available in Bones plastic and metal.
Geisha Assassin (colour tested on Isabeau) is available in metal.
Seoni, Iconic Sorceress  is available in Bones plastic.
Male Bard with Lute is available in metal. (Colour scheme on paper.)
Arran Rabin is available in Bones plastic and metal.
Children of the Zodiac, Cancer is available in metal.
Wing from Griffon, available in Bones plastic or metal.

Help this Bardic Bird Sing

In this article I’m going to talk about the sculpting and painting inspirations for this figure, and how you could help the Ukraine by winning this figure (and a bunch of paints) or buying a copy of your own to paint.

Kobzar bl front

I’ll start with the links for those who just want to jump straight to the Ukraine relief, and then get into the paint process, the colours I used, and the story behind this figure. Head to Reaper’s page if you want to buy your own copy of Kobzar Soloveiko the nightingale bard. For a limited time, Reaper is donating $7.50 of each sale to UNICEF relief efforts for children in the Ukraine.

If you’d like to win the figure I painted, check out the NOVA raffles! The NOVA Charitable Foundation is running a special raffle for Ukraine aid. Proceeds from all raffles go to Nova Ukraine. The raffle for my painted copy of Kobzar includes the painted figure, new bottles of each colour I used to paint him, an unpainted copy signed by the sculptor Jason Wiebe, and an hour of personalized video instruction with me. (Or email if you’d prefer.) If my painted Kobzar figure is not to your taste, there are lots of other prizes to buy tickets for! These include units, large figures, busts, and more – all painted by some of the best miniature painters in the world. There is also a very special prize of the complete set of Marvel United, with a majority of the figures painted to a jaw-dropping standard. Plus a custom case to carry them in!

Prize packageYou could win all this stuff and an hour of video consultation with me.

When Reaper wanted to produce a figure to raise funds for the Ukraine, sculptor Jason Wiebe came up with the idea for Kobzar Soloveiko, the nightingale bard. Jason describes his inspiration for the figure:

 

When we first discussed a Ukraine relief project, the word Kobzar came immediately to mind.  Historically, a bard known for pointed opinions, and colloquially is used for various eastern European street musicians.  A bard seemed a good choice, but what kind of bard?

The European Nightingale is taken by some as a national bird of Ukraine, Soloveyka along with other common spellings.  We settled on Soloveiko for the ease and western phonetic shorthand.  A nightingale is a rather unassuming bird with a legendary song.

Sunflowers are somewhat of a more recent symbol, due to their economic status in Ukraine.  Now it all came together, as if it had to be; a small but proud character, singing its song with strength and love. I am happy to present the Nightingale Bard, Kobzar Soloveiko!

Kobzar bl back

When the figure released, I bought several copies to support the cause. And because it’s the kind of fun character I love to paint!

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He looked so fun to paint that I decided to start on him right away, on my Reaper stream, Beyond the Kit. My paints are not stored near the desk where I paint (and stream), so I needed to have some ideas for colours I wanted to use in advance. I started by looking for pictures of the nightingale found in the Ukrainian region. I expected to find a dull bird that wouldn’t help much with my colour choices, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a bird with some interesting colouration. If you do an image search on the term ‘bluethroat’, you should find some great pictures. The bird in the picture below isn’t as vividly coloured as some of the images I saw on a general search, but it is the one I could find that I am permitted to use publicly.

Hans veth XBHZSlEA0lo unsplashPhoto by Hans Veth on Unsplash.

The appearance of the nightingale gave me some good ideas for colours, but I thought it would be a good idea to explore the possibilities for various ways to use those colours, the way I did when I painted Fathom, my character from our artist D&D game. I ended up liking the first version I tested enough that I didn’t really keep on with the testing, and decided to just go with the first idea. It’s not visible in the photo above, but the real nightingale has a rusty orange stripe on its chest beneath the blue throat, so I decided to use the orange for the clothing of this anthropomorphic version. 

Kobzar colour testRead the Fathom article for tips on how to do this kind of digital colour test with your own figures.

I painted the bulk of the figure on stream. The videos are now posted on YouTube, so you can see exactly how I did the painting if you’re interested. I painted the feathers and his jerkin on the first video. I did darklining and painted the leather areas during a second video. The rest of the figure was painted and revised off-stream. Many regular viewers of Beyond the Kit prefer a variety of content topics rather than seeing me paint a figure from start to finish, so it is rare for me to do that. Anne Foerster’s RTB stream on the Reaper channel is a great place to watch the full painting process for a number of figures. I painted the lute, feet, and some of the other details off stream. Since I was donating the figure, I later spent some time making small improvements to the painting overall. I also revised the patterning on the head to better match the reference photo of the bird I was using.

IMG 2755A work in progress picture following my first painting stream.

When I was finished the second stream, I thought the painting was going well enough that I wanted to see if I could figure out a way to raise more money for charity with the painted figure. My initial thought was to see whether eBay had a Ukraine charity option I could use for an auction. When I heard that NOVA Charities was planning a Ukraine raffle, I contacted the organizers to see if I could contribute Kobzar, and we worked out a prize package for this figure. Reaper Miniatures very generously donated a fresh bottle of each of the paint colours I had used in the painting, even though some of them were used in only tiny amounts!

IMG 2756A work in progress picture taken after my first video stream.

Some Notes on Miniature Photography

I thought it might be interesting to compare the differences in some of the photos I got with different cameras and different lighting setups. If you find this interesting, let me know and I’ll try to include more information like this in future articles.

Kob wip fin comp

The photo on the left was taken with my cellphone under my painting lights. I placed a sheet of grey drawing paper behind the figure to help the camera focus. I also held the figure in my hand and tilted it figure until it had the best lighting possible on the front. If I sit a figure down on my desk and try to take a head on photo, it will look a lot shadowed and darker than this, like the pictures with paint bottles below. If you can’t move the light to the figure, move the figure to the light. I then edited the photo to crop away boring stuff on the sides, but I also did use the magic wand option in the editor on my phone. My cellphone is an iPhone 12 Pro (currently one generation behind.)

The pictures on the centre and right were both taken with my ‘good’ camera in a well-lit setting. For the blue background photo, I manually adjusted the levels of grey and white by using a grayscale reference card that I put include in frame with the figure to take the photo, and then crop out later. I occasionally adjust the brightness of a photo up or down if that seems out of whack, but that’s about all the editing I do on my miniature photos. The photo on the right was taken with the same camera and same lighting setup, but with a black background. I also have to alter the exposure compensation on my camera depending on whether it’s a lighter background or the black background. I haven’t had great luck manually editing levels with photos on black backgrounds, so I just choose the auto levels for those. To me there’s always a notable difference in colours between the photos taken on the lighter vs the black backgrounds. Figures really pop on the black background, but I think the photos with the lighter backgrounds have more accurate and nuanced colour.

The ‘good’ camera I use was specifically purchased to take photos of miniatures, though it does take pretty nice pictures of other things when I bother to drag it out for that purpose! It’s one of the first few generations of mirrorless cameras, a Sony Alpha NEX-F3, which released in early 2012. I bought it because it combines many of the full DSLR features that are useful for taking pictures of miniatures, but also has plenty of auto settings for non-miniature photography. I am very much not a photographer and I also can’t afford a full DSLR and good lenses and so on. Mirrorless cameras have larger sensors than standard digital cameras, though smaller than a full DSLR, and that makes a lot more difference than super huge megapixel picture sizes. Sure I’d love a newer camera, but this one continues to produce photos that clients like Reaper are willing to use for print quality, so I don’t feel like I have to have a new one. If you’re looking to buy a camera to improve photos of your miniatures, I recommend looking at older but higher quality cameras you can usually purchase for a similar price to a new mid-range camera. I have found the site Digital Photography Review to be invaluable for researching the last few cameras I’ve bought, and their detailed reviews include photo examples of stuff similar to what we do. (Coins, figurines, and objects with detailed text in huge closeup photos.)

The main thing I recommend to someone frustrated with photos of their miniatures is to play around with lighting and backgrounds before assuming the problem is your camera. There’s no one answer for this. Some cameras like loads of light, some phone cam software brightens stuff up so much you might need less lighting to get a better picture. As a general rule keep the lights brighter and further away from the figure, or diffused, if you want to avoid glare. Use a background. It looks nicer to the viewer than a clutter of paint and brushes. It also helps your camera know what to focus on. Pure white and pure black backgrounds are challenging to photograph against. The ideal is a mid to light blue or grey matte surface. Grey toned drawing paper is what I used in the cellphone pic above, and what I use for my streaming camera background. I use Strathmore, but I’m sure there are similar grey paper options available from a variety of sources. The mottled blue background sheet I use is no longer available. For plain colours like the black background, I like to use sheets of fun foam. It’s very matte, soft and safe for figures, and makes a nice sweep, though on the downside it gets marked up pretty easily. I’ve bought my sheets from local craft stores, but this item on Amazon seems similar. (I have found grey the hardest colour to find weirdly!)

Paint Colours Used on Kobzar Soloveiko

I am rarely able to keep track of the colours I’m using in the way I usually do when I am video streaming. I used a lot of wet blending on Kobzar’s head, and that is also much less systematic to outline the colours for than when I use layering. The colours listed below are the ones I recall to my best ability, but I do not consider these colour recipes to be as precise as what I often list in these articles.

Head, Hands, and Wings

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Blue Throat, Blue Leather Bag

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Orange-Brown Jerkin

I later used a bit of more saturated orange to punch up the highlights a little more.

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Beak

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Mouth and Tongue

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Wood areas of Lute

The paint that is cut off on the left is Blue Liner, SKU 9066.

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Gold Trim and Buckles

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Sunflowers

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