+ inload: Using a limited palette +

+ Using a limited palette + 

+ The Iron Hands I showed in the previous post are nearly completed, with little left to do beyond weathering, battle damage and suchlike to add some realism. I thought I'd do a post on that later, and thought it'd be a good idea to show them beforehand, to show the difference a little grit gives a model.

+ Helpfully, I'd been caught my a minor enthusiasm to use a limited palette for these Iron Hands, and thought those WIPs would be a great time to talk about the theory and practice. +

+ Selecting a limited palette +

+ The black and white nature of Iron Hands made selecting the palette fairly simple. I used the following paints:
  • Vallejo white – this doesn't go as chalky as Citadel white, and I find it works better for mixing.
  • Abaddon black – still not convinced about this, but given my minor prejudice against using pure black, perhaps that's understandable.
  • Fenris grey – a lovely cool blue-grey that forms the key to the theory.
  • Boltgun metal.
  • Warlock(?) purple – not sure on the name of this paint, it may be another. In any case, a nice strong imperial purple.
  • Graveyard(?) earth – again, the name may be slightly different.
+ In addition to this palette, I used Agrellan earth textured paint (same hue as the brown I used) for the basing and Mithril silver to pick out the silver on the hands. +

+ Painting black (and white) +

+ When painting any colour on miniatures, the basic concept is that you're creating the illusion of size by exaggerating the tonal change – that is, because the models are small (not far away, Father Dougal), you need to add artificial highlights and shading to simulate the effect that light would have on a large, distant object. Ideally, you want to work from very dark to very light; it's this contrast that provides the illusion and interest. 

+ In order to add interest, you're usually shifting the hue a little, too – but in the case of black, this is not necessarily the case. You can go for a completely neutral miniature using just black and white, and working through tones of grey; but this tends to lead to a dead, lifeless-looking miniature because the eye is attracted to hue.

+ The tonal range on a miniature (the difference between the lightest part and the darkest part) is most striking when you work from near-black to near-white. The problem for black colour schemes is working through this range and keeping the miniature interesting and still appearing overall black (the same applies to white, from the other direction).

+ So, when painting black (or white) miniatures, I find it best to decide on a colour to work through. It really doesn't matter what colour you use as long as you're consistent. Red and yellow don't tend to work quite as easily, because they go muddy when darkened; so if you want to try it out I'd recommend using a blue or green. For the purpose of this blog post, I'll use the term 'core colour' to refer to the hue you've chosen.

+ 'Black' miniatures can thus be thought of actually simply a very dark hue of your core colour (in this case, blue-grey), which makes things infinitely easier to shade as you still have pure black (darker than the base colour) to work towards.  +

+ The benefits of a limited palette +

  • Much like cooking, using a limited palette also makes things like proportions of colours and mixes easier to remember, as there are fewer basic 'ingredients'.
  • A limited palette also tends to lead to a more striking effect. Using lots of different colours on a miniature will increase the chances of a colour combination that just doesn't work, for whatever reason. 
  • Thirdly, using a limited palette is a great way to concentrate on tone – that is the relative lightness or darkness of a colour – without complicating things with the addition of multiple hues. 

+ This last point is particularly marked with black and white, as they are extreme tones; and therefore have to be handled subtly. On a black miniature, the tonal range is going to be heavily shifted to the darker end, but you still need to work through the whole range. 

+ Painting black +

+ The obvious question is then 'but doesn't that just mean you're painting the miniature your core colour?' Essentially, yes. The difference between a black miniature and a miniature of a particular hue is how the tonal range is applied. 

+ On the shoulder pad of this mid-blue miniature, the range still works from a near-black extreme shade to a near-white extreme highlight, but the main hue (mid blue) dominates. It covers roughly two thirds of the area, with the remaining third a smooth and gradual transition between the midtone and the lighter highlights and darker shades. 

+ On a black miniature, the midtone is already near black. It covers roughly ninety per cent of the area, with the highlight (near white) very restricted and the transition from midtone to highlight much sharper. The shade (pure black) cover more of the area, and the transition between it and the midtone is much less marked. +

+ These proportions can be roughly reversed for white. Note in both the black and the white areas of these Iron Hands, the same core colour is used. This is because I'm sticking with a limited palette, but you could quite easily have (say) a cool core colour for the black and a warm core colour for the white to intentionally create contrast. +

+ Other bits +

+ With the majority of the Iron Hands armour being black, and the the remainder white, they're quick to paint. However, one common pitfall of a limited palette is that you're then stuck with either adding colours for minor details, or ignoring them. This is where your accent colours come in.

+ Black and white go with any hues because they are essentially just a very light tint and a very dark shade of whatever colour you choose. The two marines below have their eyes painted in different accent colours: one green, one purple. Generally, I recommend you stick with one accent colour across an army; but with black and white you can easily experiment with two or even more. Just remember to keep these areas small – you want the overall impact to remain black. For these Iron Hands, the green-eyed one was a test model, and I decided to switch to purple for my final palette. +

+ If you do decide to stick with just one accent colour, because you want to use a limited palette, you can sometimes run into awkward areas. For example, purity seals. Traditionally, these are painted with red sealing wax and cream parchment. I could either add red and yellow to my palette, or adapt. This is where desaturation of your midtones can be used. 

+ The marine below left has the sealing wax painted with a mix of the core blue-grey and purple. This fits neatly into the scheme because the core colour was used in both the black and the white, but doesn't leap out as eye-catching bright red would. 

+ Note that the face and hair of the left-hand marine are also painted with the core palette. I used a mix of the brown and the purple, then desaturated it by adding a little black and white. More white and brown was added to highlight. This gives a corpse-like pallor which fits nicely with the Iron Hands, but still looks human. +

+ The pouches on the marine on the right are painted with the core blue-grey, darkened a touch with black. +

The eye is drawn to high contrast areas, so if you don't want minor details like this to stand out, do not highlight and shade them as much as other areas. Add just enough to give the area shape. +

+ Conclusion +

+ I hope that's been a useful post. Next time, I'll be showing these same marines with some battle damage and weathering, and 0 hopefully – showing how these add realism. +

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