Wargaming Tradecraft: Multitone Black and White


Multitone Black and White

I've been seeing some people posting lately about their own attempts at a greyscale army, which has of course led to seeing lots of people trying and posting about it. The issue I'm seeing in most of these tries is that at worst it looks like the miniatures have been primed black and lightly frosted with white primer (stippling and all) to call it done after basically a zenithal highlight, while at best they're created with beautiful blending but appear like a white version of grimdark where all the details fade away to the viewer since everything has been painted the same.

I've actually talked about this before, using different examples, during my time writing about Colour Theory, specifically for a post about Pure Achromatic painting. I've had more opportunities since then to explore the technique and want to write a follow up post.

Don't forget about Contrasting Achromatic, where I've thrown in a little colour. (Sometimes referred to as the "Sin City" technique.)

Most of the examples you can see pictured here are from that series, but keep reading and we'll look at examples from classic cinema and of my newer approaches to the styles.

Painted Marine Example

Using the Space Marine Painter from Bolter and Chainsword...

Imagine if you'd painted the below marine... Yeah, the blending is nice and detail crisp, but overall it's boring. There's nothing that makes anything else stand out so it all blends together. I feel like this is mostly what I'm seeing these days in the miniatures that are being posted.

Look at the two below instead. The first one has sharper contrasts, the second staying more within greyscale, but they're both so much more interesting.

Examples from the Classics

Don't take my word for it though, start by looking at the black and white movies of the past. (I write this while watching the 1934 version of Treasure Island from Victor Fleming.) In a black and white movie, there are no colours, but good directors used contrasts between black, white and various shades of grey to ensure that actors, wardrobes and props stood out.

Look at this photo from the movie. Jim's outfit is pretty straight forward - black pants and vest with a white shirt. But look at the salty dog there. Black coat and hat, grey shirt, white cuffs, grey pants that aren't the same shade as the shirt. The spyglass he carries also has two different greyscale which also stands out from his outfit. Both these actors stand out from the background too.

How about the creature from the Black Lagoon? I've brightened one of the versions above by turning a lot of the grey into white. Isn't it boring? This is what I feel like most artists are doing when they try their hand at greyscale by ignoring contrasts. In the original (darker) version of the creature above there are multiple ranges of grey: scales are darkest, claws are white, his chest scutes are lighter, as are the scaly bits around his neck.

Not everything is "painted" with the same dark/lightness of grey and a lot of the highlights are done with grey, not white.

A couple more examples to look at, from Wizard of Oz and Metropolis, below:

I think I've covered a bunch of the theory, so you have a decent idea of what I'm looking at in those photos. Not just on an individual basis, but costumes are designed to stand out from one another. Black and dark greys are just as important as white, but pay close attention to just how much highlighting is done with grey so that the darker clothes don't have crazy bright highlights.

Count Vlagorescu's Midnight Court

You can look at the project page to see links to various aspects of this army, but I'm going to look at how I painted them below.

I started out with some sharp contrasts between dark bodies and bright details.

I've also painted things like the wings and fur in more of a middle greyscale and toned everything back down with a black wash.

I feel like it would be difficult for even me to reproduce. A lot of the highlighting on the black skin was done by brushing white and grey pigment on, then ... I think allowing it to melt and blend during the varnish step.

To finish them up, I kept the skin black, brought claws, bone and weapons up to white and left wings and fur in the middle.

I did the same on the Terrorgheist, you can see some of the work in progress photos below:

Something to pay attention to, even on this creature, is that the leathery skin is actually more of a dark grey, while the muscles are black, the wings are a lighter dark grey and the bones / claws go straight to white.

After I've highlighted him, the muscles have a shinier black appearance, the skin has some mid-dark grey highlighting, the wings a lighter grey highlight and bones really stand out.

If I'd do one thing different on this army, I would probably do something different with the bases... either a different grey tone, or actually base them in colour.

Here's another creature that I think is a great example of using different shades between black and white to make all the details of the miniature stand out. You can also see a pop of colour contrast where I've highlighted the eyes in a glowing purple.

And just another comparison of how things look as I've highlighted the final piece, some areas to complete white, others to grey, others to white but only on the tips of fur - play with those shades!

If you take a look at my X-Wing fleet, you'll see I took a different approach. These are more of a soft and gradual airbrushing blend to create a uniform greyscale with a focus on using green to add a sharp pop of colour contrast. (Much less subtle than the eyes on the above ghoul army.)

Hopefully this has left you with some techniques to use on the topic of painting greyscale miniatures and possibly inspired you to try it yourself!

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