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  • The Mystic Color Theory

    Color Theory

    Okay, most people here are not highly trained in the art of painting and color, but it's been driven into me since day one in kindergarten and it's hard to forget. But even though color is a basic concept, it can be tricky and once mastered it will work for you.. or you can go and through the rules out the window, like some modern artists, But it helps o know what rules you want to break before you can break them, and so I give you my article on Color...(It can get a bit confusing at times, but I promise a comprehensive look and pretty pictures! :P )

    How we see color:

    Yeah, the above even looks like a Modern Art piece, but it's actually how we as humans see color. Now, the sun sends it's white, invisible light out in all the spectrums, but we can only see a part of it. That is, the white part which is actually all colors together, which make White in the light Spectrum (not the art spectrum, wait a bit for explanation....) Now, the light hits an object, an apple in this case. What is important to remember is that we DO NOT see just the red spectrum of light, but we see every other spectrum except that one! Every color except red is absorbed by the object, our eye sees this and sends a message to our brain. Our brain then interprets this as a red apple. The best example of this dependent effect of light on color is seen when a colored lamp is put on something. If we had a red lamp and turned it on in dark closet, everything would be red... that's because there's only red light to bounce off of it!

    Now, in the world of art all colors do not make white. White must be used in it's pigment form, just like black. White and Black cannot be made by any other color, and even though white in it's purest form is light we cannot bottle light, just as we cannot bottle shadow for black. White and black still have interesting properties, though.. White reflects all color (because of light) and black takes in color (not light, that would be a black hole). If you set a black and white piece of paper out in the sun, the white one would be cool and the black one would be hot. That's because the black one's been sucking in energy and the white one's been reflecting it away. This is why White and Black are not really colors, they are called Mediums in the art world, because they have a different effect on colors used with them, as we shall see later in Tints & Shades...

    Color Wheel

    You probably made one of these in school and you may know this stuff already, but then again one of my best friends spent most of his life believing Dark Green was a primary.... The Primary colors, that is, those colors that cannot be made by any other color and must be made by natural pigments in the earth's crust are Yellow, Red, and Blue. These colors make up anything we need in the world of painting. In priniting and graphic design, the primary colors are Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow which look totally different, but we don't need them much in painting... The Secondary colors (those made by mixing half one primary with another half primary) are Orange, Purple, and Green. All of these can be seen on this colors wheel:

    This is a very small and easy configuration, which I'll be using to show you other stuff, but the Secondary can be made into Tertiary colors, that is, mixing the Secondaries with primaries again, making 75% of one, 25% of another. This can be seen in the bigger wheel below:

    The names of these depend on their placement, the one between Green and Yellow, for example, is Yellow-Green. Now, this can get a bit confusing with the two names, but just remember the primary name is never last, and it always lets you know that the color looks a bit more than that primary than it would be just half and half. The only exceptions on the color wheel with Tertiaries is that it is not called Red-Purple, it's known as Violet, and sometimes Blue-Green is called Turquoise... I don't know who made these rules, I just follow them to a point. Note that it's easier to get all the Secondary or even Tertiary colors rather than big bottles of the Primaries, because you would be mixing all day and not painting.. In fact, in mini painting, the more paints of varied colors you have, the less mixing you have to do!


    It's strange how the human mind works.. we like things of opposite ends to come together to please us... The sweetness of chocolate and the tartness of strawberries, for example.. the same thing can be said about the color wheel. Colors right across from each other are called Complementaries because they look better near, or "Complement", each other! You can see these drawn together by a line below:

    Now, this is important to remember in the mini world because it helps break away from monochromatic, or one colored, paint schemes. If you use Blue a lot, use Orange in some place. Now, some of these can be tricky, as with Red and Green make things look "Christmasy" if you're not too careful, but the areas do not have to be of equal size and close to one another. Heck, if you have a ranger in a long, green cloak, think about adding red to his rings, or even make him a red head! Below you can see a pic of how this can work to you advantage:

    In Brom's "Loveless, most everything is red. The women's lips, her skin, her hair, the background stone, but one thing stands out the most: her green eyes. Of course this was by design of the artist's thoughts, even if he didn't do it consciously. This configuration makes her eyes glow and sparkle. Thus, complementary colors stand out if one is placed on top of or near another.

    Another good trick with Complementary colors is they can add contrast. By mixing yellow with purple, you get a mustard brown color that is perfect for shading! The same can be done with all colors, and in fact I advise you to mix a complimentary in just a bit next time you're doing shading and see if it stands out more!

    Colors can also be Complementary by Threes. That is, in a triangle you get three colors of the color wheel that look good together. The Primaries are Complementary by three, or a Triadic Complement, and so are the Secondary. The Tertiaries would be, too but they're harder to figure out just a bit.. A good way with any complement is to remember that all complements make Yellow, Blue and Red.. So two complements like Yellow and Purple would make all the colors (Yellow being a Primary, and Purple being a mix of Blue and Red). There are also complements in fours, but o a colors wheel of 6, you're taking most of the colors. It's best to remember this works for all major details like cloaks, shirts, pants, and boots and tiny little details factor in the color scheme, but not that much.


    Analogous colors are right next to each other on the color wheel if you "spun" it. Usually only three to four colors are analogous, on a 6 color wheel anything else would be like painting a rainbow. As show, yellow, orange and red are analogous:

    Analogous colors when placed next to each other come together, but do not really excite the eye as much as Complementaries. When most people start out, their colors are analogous on most of their miniatures without even knowing it! This makes them seem a bit dull, and the best way to rectify it would be to use complementaries, as above.. However, if the analogous colors are varied enough, it can have good results:

    Sturmhalo's Harbinger of justice is the best example of a muted, Analogous color scheme. Note the skin matches the cloak, which matches the boots, which matches the bow, which matches the hair to an extent.. about the only thing not brownish is the metal, but it's a given metal should be metal colored!

    Now, do not get Analogous and Monochromatic confused. Analogous is colors really close together. Monochromatic is just one color for everything. like if you sprayed a mini all red and said it was done.

    Color temperature is also important. Try to imagine if different colors were a different temperature on a thermometer:

    Blue, Purple, Blue Green and Dark Green are all "Cool" colors that are usually described as "relaxed, calming, serene".. if you're a hippie. The "Warm" colors are Orange, Red, and bright Magenta which all "excite and aggravate" us.. again, if you were a hippie. Yellow and Green being in the middle are neutral to a point, and so is brown. These two could be used with about anything and it would fit in if it was in the right place. Now, the important thing to remember in Warm and Cool colors is that in shading, Cool colors look better, and in highlighting, Warm colors do better. Thus, if you were highlighting Green, you would use Yellow for a highlight. Some colors do not do well with Black and White, so this is the only way some of them will look good. See Tints & Shades Below..

    Tints and Shades

    No, they're not just car accessories, Tints and Shades are names for colors mixed with White and Black respectively. These are good for contrast, but some colors are just horrid when mixed with White or Black.. Look at this Color Wheel (and I apologize about the inner ring next to black, human mind is not as precise as it should be.. also note white circles would be there, if this was not a white surface):

    As you can see, yellow gets this ugly olive color that would not be good if you were doing something yellow that is not camouflage. As stated above, you could use green for a shade or add purple to make a better shade. White also makes Red pink, which would not be used on fire. You would either use Orange or a brighter Magenta to highlight it.

    Notice how the Warmer Colors stick out more in the Shades than the Cool colors? That's not a coincidence. It's strange, but the human eye see more of Green than any other color, but some colors like Yellow just appear too bright to us that we sometimes mistake a bright yellow for a dark or faded white..

    Earth Tones

    Now, Earth Tones are not exclusively for bases, as the name implies. Rather, any color you add grey or a dark color added to a brighter color, you get an Earth Tone. Now, these are the most natural looking colors there are and Vallejo carries them almost exclusively, and it's about all I ever use! Compare the bright color wheel on the left with the one that has had a brownish grey added to it:

    Notice how the second one looks a lot duller a brown in comparison to the brighter colors on the left. These earth colors do not have to be flat brown, but some colors do look brownish, but they should be considered more of that color as an earth tone than brown... To explain, look below:

    Notice that the first color is what I call a "true" brown, while the next color looks like a yellow, then next an orange, and the last a red. However, you note that they are not as bright as they should be. "Should be" being a relative term, because colors are that dingy in real life. Though it is good in the mini world to use bright colors, natural colors also have a good effect.

    One good thing about earth tones is besides looking more natural, they also look better when put next to bright colors and metallics. Again, this helps with contrast and makes areas stand out more. Once again, Sturmhalo's Harbinger is a good example of this:

    All of the major colors are dingy, making them earth tones, while the metallics shine because of their natural reflective qualities.

    Cool Tips and Tricks

    Now, some people can be misled by colors very easily. Look below and see what's wrong:

    No, that statement is true. Not all of that sentence is Pink. It looks like Pink to you, although it looks a bit transparent. But then stop and think: the Pink on the White side is Pink, and the other letter are different. That's because they're PURPLE! And as we learned above, Red and Blue make Purple. The optical effect fakes you out into seeing that the letters are transparent. If the blue was not there, it would be a part purple, part pink sentence. This can be used all over that place. If blood was spattered across something painted, you could mix it in to make a transparent effect, even though it would be different colors.

    Another tip about White and Black: When painting them, remember to save White for the Whitest of the White that every Whited and Black for the Shadows of the Black object in a room at night. Human eyes can see differences in color but our brain has been taught to call things when we were growing up. The best solution to this is to use an off White Grey or Beige for White things and use White as a final and absolute highlight. By the Same token, Black should only be used as a shadow on a black, matte object and the rest should be basecoated with a slight difference in a Dark Grey or even Blue. It should also be noted that all shadows are not Black. In the art world, things just have darker colors for shadows, much like using a cooler color.

    Remember to keep the figure cohesive in colors. By that I mean if you use dark colors, keep it kinda like that. A giant patch of ultra bright Yellow or Orange on a dark Blue mini looks loud and garish looking. If you really want to use Yellow, use a darker kind of Yellow, like that mustard brown you get with Purple and Yellow.. This is just because you have to remember that the whole figure is in the same light, to unless there is a flashlight on just that part, the whole figure would have the same variation in colors.

    Once again, these are the basic "rules" that you should have in the back of your head. You do not need to follow thing to the letter. I will not force you to put green in a red miniature, but you may think of what else you could use. Sometimes you may find it to your style to throw out the rules and do as you please, but it is better to learn the fundementals first. Have fun, and no more purple and neon green color schemes everybody! :P

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Hendarion's Avatar
      Hendarion -
      Black can be black. It not only depends on the light environment or hue, saturation or value. It also depends on the material being used. A glossy material tents to be much more black than a matte one. Soot tends to be much more black than velvet. Different materials reflect and absorb differently. Soot for example nearly doesn't reflect anything ever. You can easily check that by taking a spoon and holding it over a candle for a while. It will turn black. A black that is always black and nearly never grey.
      So while your colour theory is all nice and good, one has to take the material of an object into account.
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