Wargaming Tradecraft

Friday, May 15, 2015

Colour Theory in 40k and Iron Kingdoms

I wanted to take a brief look at some of the existing armies we play with and see how the developers have applied colour theory to them. It's funny, that after doing all this research, I find myself catching colour patterns in movies.

While you can paint armies however you like, not everyone is interested in the painting aspect of wargaming and that's ok. They just want to game and have fun. For these players, it's nice to have a variety of painting options, which is something Games Workshop offers in excess through multiple sub-factions within an army with their own stories and often with twists to the armies and rules to match. Privateer Press has more unification in their world without room for separate sub-factions, though I've seen some great ones that players have come up with. About the only colour diversity that comes to mind are different coloured sashes depending on which Trollblood Warlock leads your army.

It was interesting because it seems that Games Workshop uses more complex colours. The results are very pleasing and bold themes often with a single overall colour complimented by well balanced secondary ones for clean accents. A third colour, either complementary or distant enough from the main colours to be contrasting, is then used to bring smaller details to the forefront - things like purity seals, soul stones and eyes. Organic models like Tyranids use more blends of similar colours.

Many of Privateer Press' schemes are simpler. They often use Black or White to either contrast or create a harmony with a single colour or a range of analogous ones. Because of the time-frame of the setting, there's still a lot of greys and browns used as weapons, unpainted armour and cloth / leather.

Ultramarines - Triadic

Blue, Yellow and Red

Overall colour is Blue with many Gold / Yellow accents. Red is used sparingly to stand out.

Blood Angels - Complementary Triad

Red, Yellow, Green

Uses Red overall and Gold / Yellow accents, which are nearly Analogous and therefor a pleasing. Green is then a Complement of Red and used for small details to stand out strongly.
Saim Hann - Complementary

Red and Green

Overall colour is Red with occasional Green details. White is used as an accent piece.

Other Examples: Cygnar - though for the strongest contrast, use Blue with Yellow-Orange instead of just plain Yellow.

Hive Fleet Behemoth - Double Analogous

Red, Violet, Blue-Violet

Strong amounts of Red, balances of Violet / Blue-Violet chitin armour. Violets and Lighter Red-Violets mixed in for biological parts and some weapons. Contrasting White weapons and claws.

Red, Orange and Yellow

Tones and Shades of Yellow / Orange to create Brown bone, Analogous and blending with the Red skin they protrude from.

Other Examples: Cryx, Circle Orboros, Skorne

Legion of Everblight - Cool Colours

Violets, Violet-Blue, Blue, Blue-Green

Lots of Cool colours, with soft organic blends, tints, shades, tones of Blue and Purple. Some areas have brighter Red-Violet for fleshy contrasts. Also communicates the northern setting.
Skorne - Warm Colours

Red, Red-Orange, Orange-Yellow, Yellow

Lots of Warm colours, but unlike the organic blends of Everblight, Skorne's armour is bold. Skipping Orange, it's sometimes used to highlight the Red and shade the Yellow. Also communicates the desert setting.
Retribution of Scyrah - Monochromatic


Much of Ret's theme is white overall, that make soft harmonies with lighter tints for glow effects. Contrasting this are darker shades and tones used for cloth and weapons.

You could paint this entire scheme using Trollblood Base and mixing with either White, Black or Grey.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Colour Theory: Contrasting Achromatic

Sin City
Neutral (Grey) and Near-Neutral Achromatics as well as Monochromatic paint schemes create lovely soft looks, but sometimes you want something to stand out. As I said at the start of this series, choose a paint theme to help you paint, not restrict you. It's OK to cheat if you want to play with contrasts or make something really stand out.

If you're doing this for artistic reason, the effect can be fantastic - a greyscale scene with a coloured dress, red gore, striking eyes. Firey explosions and muzzle flash in The Matrix seem extra bright and striking because so much of the movie is Monochromatic, Near-Neutral or Dull Colours.
Created with painter from
Bolder & Chainsword
  • Don't go overboard.
    • Contrasts can be lost quickly if you paint too much of something.
      Ex: A black and white scene with red blood dripping from claws can look intense. But if you paint red gore all over, it'll just look messy.
  • Contrast details, not generic elements.
    • Pick details that are worth accenting. Skin, jackets, armour and such probably aren't worth standing out. Eyes, gems, a beautiful dress, hair, special effects, blood, tattoos, mirrored surfaces and so on.
  • The reverse is also true.
    • You could take a normally painted scene, then paint an area Neutrally to dull it or mute normally shocking visuals like blood. This would make the rest of the scene stand out.

Alright, I Cheated

Instead of painting a new miniature for this one, I decided to take the one I painted for the Achromatic example and throw some contrast on it.

I mixed some bright (Blood) red in with some pouring medium to give it a little body and gloss. This gives me some nice bright and thick fake blood. Too bright to be realistic, but great if you're trying to be bold.

When I paint it on him, I used a cheap brush like I always do when working with mediums. The obvious place for the gore is his axe and where it would drip down. I also painted some splash across his chest as a spray of blood. For effect, you don't really want to create a "real" spray of blood. (Fine mist, Dexter-like, etc.) Just some solid contrasting areas.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Colour Theory: Monochromatic

Choose a Hue, add White, Black, Grey
Burnetts Boards
This colour scheme is similar to Achromatic (Greyscale) except a single colour is allowed. You can still Tint, (Highlight) Shade or Tone. (Grey) There aren't many situations where you might use monochromatic colours, besides for artistic reasons.

Despite the unusual visual this creates, there are practical situations where you could use this theme, though probably limited to things like natural beast / alien armies like Tyranids or Legion of Everblight or uniform mechanized ones such as Tau and Battletech.

At first glance, you might think you can paint this like Near-Neutral and Neutral Achromatics, but that's not the case. Some similarities and differences:

Friday, April 24, 2015

Colour Theory: Near-Neutral Achromatic

Similar to Pure Achromatic (Greyscale) schemes, are Near-Neutrals. Since Grey is Neutral, Near-Neutrals are Colours that have so much grey (light or dark grey) that it's almost impossible to tell what the original colour was. "Earthy" is another term given to these colours due to how many browns comprise these tones. Painting in Neutrals can feel pleasing as they're not aggressive, even when you're using a lot of darks.

"Sepia" is a term you might be familiar with for an art style that uses mostly Yellow Neutrals. However, a painting style that uses a single colour is called "Monochromatic", which I'll look at next.

Any of the other art styles I've covered can be used when painting with Neutrals. The mixes of Hues, contrasting lights and darks, softer blended ranges, etc.

The chart here is a good guide on colour intensity. To create Near-Neutrals, you really do want to go past the "Dull" colours, where the colour really starts to disappear and the grey tone becomes apparent.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Colour Theory: Pure Achromatic (Greyscale)

Remember when I said colours of equal value look like the
same shade of grey? Look at the Colour Wheel now.
Achromatic Colours are Whites, Blacks and Greys. Greys are also known as Neutral because they have no colour. (Grey is also what you get when you mix two Complementary colours together - they cancel each other out.) Greyscale can be a very unique way to paint a miniature.

The normal reasons for painting like this is for environments like stone formations or cities, either for terrain or for bases. A practical reason for painting greyscale on a miniature would be some form of camouflage, either natural (mountain beasts) or man-made by people living or fighting in these areas. You'll also find these schemes in nature for general reasons: wolf pelts, seals, whales, polar / black / panda bears, etc.

Some reasons you'd paint these compositions would be if you're painting an object that's normally White and/or Black, painting something that's normally composed of Greys or painting something that should have colour artistically.

There are different ways that you can paint a greyscale miniature or scene, each which has a strong impact on the way it comes across to the viewer.

When you're choosing the amount of Black, White and Grey to use, here's some things to consider:

Friday, April 10, 2015

Colour Theory: Colour Contrast and Context

Comparing light, dark and grey contrasts.
When we look at contrast, it means we're looking at how strongly one colour appears compared to another. Specifically, when the 2 colours are painted next to each other. Advertising and websites pay close attention to the contrast of colours to ensure text and objects stand out against their background.

Another important part of Colour Contrast is when we look at people who are colour blind. (A topic I had a buddy write about once - Colour Blind Modellers.) You can convert 2 different colours to greyscale and they become the same grey, causing details to literally disappear. There are a bunch of websites dedicated to testing how well colours contrast.

When we paint miniatures, we want to make colours "pop". Try to remember:


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