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Posted by Dead Dogg


A few of you may have read my first color theory article a while back, but to me, that was a very boiled down article and I’ve been wanting to expand on it for a while now. So if you have already read that one, great! If not and want the basics down before diving into this article, it can be found over here.

Building a Scheme…

A hurdle we all eventually have to jump when painting an army: “What color scheme do I want to use?” The Privateer Press studio colors are some very vivid and striking schemes that would find a good home on any table top army, but often, people like to come up with their own schemes to express themselves with. This is something that I’ve always enjoyed doing to see if I can expand on how a faction is seen or perceived, like my Cryxian horde seen in ESCALATION. Throughout this article though, I will be using a recently developed Cygnar scheme as an example, that made its debut in the 2005 Privateer Press catalogue.

The first thing to think about are color choices. This can be driven by a multitude of things, background story for your army, personal taste in a color, photographic inspiration or even the simple drive to come up with something different and unique. Its best to get a basic idea in your head before you even start looking at colors, as your concept should be the driving force for a good scheme, not colors driving your concept.

Personally I like to create a color scheme with a primary color, a secondary color and a tertiary palette. The primary color being the dominate color that could describe your overall scheme with. The secondary, a color that will be subordinate and help pop the primary color. And the tertiary palette, a small group of colors, that go well with the your primary colors and can be used when needed, be they Jacks, troops or characters to help carry your theme across as a whole. Now this is by no means a must, often people will choose just a single color and let the other shift and change on the fly, or have 2 primary colors. Whatever is chosen, it helps to structure your color choices so a theme can be carried visually throughout your force.

Once I have a concept in my head, the very first thing I do is to grab my color chits. I have thick styrene that is primered white at about 1 inch by a quarter inch wide with the name of my paint on one side and the other side a solid coat of that color. With all of my paint colors on chits, I can create a clear picture of what colors go well with each other. Laying common looking colors close to each other, scooting them around on the table and letting my mind’s eye build ideas on what I want to do. After I have a few colors I like for my scheme concept, all I have to do is turn the chits over and grab the paints listed on the chits.

Now with any scheme, color placement is an issue, but with a little forethought even color placement can help unify an armies look. With my Cygnar scheme, I choose to have the primary color flow as much as possible on any given miniature and use my secondary color of blue, on all shoulder plate armor as a common tie in. Other designs like a color quartered effect, tribal embellishments, strong faction logo usage, a single body part being colored different like a head or arm, or even something like racing strips can help tie your army together visually with color.

One way for Photoshop users to test out an initial scheme, without any serious time spent or paint wasted, is to literally colorize a black and white image via multiplied layers. Take a scanned image of your favorite Jack or troop in black and white and then create a layer for each color you plan on using on top of that. With each color, block in the areas you want a certain color, and then set the blending mode for each colored layer to “Multiple”. This will allow the colors to blend in with the black and white illustration and give you some idea of how it may look. If you want to take it a step further, use your dodge and burn tools to shade and highlight your blocked in colors to better see your colorizing choices.

If Photoshop isn’t your thing, you can even try out a black and white photo copy of the same Jack or troop choice and grab some markers or colored pencils to do the same thing and help yourself better visualize the color choices you’ve made.

Try to remember that when you do this digital/paper test, that even the best laid plan has to adjust when applied. So be flexible when it comes to testing your colors on a model and be willing to refine your choices as you go.

It’s All in the Details…

So now that I’ve given you the one mile view on creating a scheme, lets dive into a few details to think about as you progress on a color scheme.

Your overall palette can cover a WIDE selection of colors, but you need to think them through. Do you want a more primary colored scheme, more neutral toned, a dark and moody feel or militaristic? Your primary color is what all others should be subordinate and supportive of. Often when I choose my primary color, I like to pick its shade and highlighting color also and at times, may even have a fairly serious build for my primary color if I’m limiting the other colors in my palette.

When picking a highlight and a shade to a specific color, be willing to experiment with colors that are more primary or more drab than your initial color to find something unique. Sometimes you can even draw on warm and cool colors while doing this by picking a warmer color for a highlight and a cooler color for a shade to increase some of your color dynamics. The primary color that I ended up with on this Cygnar scheme ranged from a yellow tan, to bleached bone, to a mid brown and finally to brown ink. While going to this extreme in colors for a build is not necessary on all models, I do like to fully explore the extremes in the range, but then dumb it back a bit for table top troopers with my layers or colors used for time sake. But even when dumbing it back, do your best to maintain contrast as you go, as this will set any color build off from the everyday paint job.

Something you should always try to keep in mind when developing a single color’s highlight and shadows, is to remain in a similar warm or cool color family. Colors will always get tricky to flow into each other when you start to blend colors that cross the warm and cool families. While its not impossible, I suggest you know the serious ins and out of color before attempting this realm.

Your secondary color should be supportive and subordinate to your primary color. Often just using it in smaller amounts on any given miniature can do this, but also consider a strong shift in hue or color temperature to increase contrast. With my Cygnar scheme, I intentionally chose a color that was the absolute opposite on the temperature range and went with a very cool color. This helped defined my main color, create a lot of visual contrast and gave me the ability to define various shapes on any given miniature when needed.

Tertiary palettes are the visual playground of any color scheme. Those colors that can be found on ornate armor plates of a Jack or ammo pouches on the common trooper or other various tidbits of detail. While your primary and secondary colors should be found on all your common troopers and jacks, the tertiary colors are ones that don’t have to be used all the time, but when you continue to use these color for smaller details across an army, it helps pull the visual impact together for a very cohesive effect. Colors in this palette, like the secondary color should help support your scheme and not over power or compete with each other. I consider my metallics part of any tertiary palette and tend to include a few neutrals and maybe one other bright color that works well with the main color. Take time in the beginning to find a few colors that fit in your palette and continue to use them, but also be willing to let this palette grow as you paint more and more of any given army. My palette always tends to grow a touch every time I pick up a solo or character to paint.

Warcasters are and should be an exception to any hardcore paint scheme. I still like to use the colors in my scheme, but tend to break every other rule that I laid out for myself towards common troopers and Jacks, just to visually show their uniqueness and have them stand out.

Testing Your Theory…

So, we have sat down and tried our best to figure out a scheme as much as possible without actually painting and now its time to put your brush to miniature. With doing test pieces, I tend to grab a grunt or common light Jack to use, since I always find things I want to shift here and there after I’ve done my first piece with a new scheme. That way I don’t feel compelled to do any stripping as I know it’s good to see how I’ve progressed with a scheme and see where I’ve come from. Especially with troopers, I always enjoy painting a roman numeral “I” on the underside of my first pieces base.

After you’ve done your first test piece, sit it down, walk away and don’t look at it for a few days. As with any painting or color work, you can easily be sucked into the details and forget visually how everything looks overall. The few days helps you come back to your work and look at it objectively, which is the best time to make a judgment call on your scheme and possibly make some adjustments in your color choices. While I know this waiting time is time your all fired up and wanting to get some painting done, its a lot better to take your time now, than to get a full unit done and start second guessing yourself or fighting the urge to strip and repaint. So do yourself the favor and go prep some miniatures while your fully testing your scheme. You’ll thank yourself in the long run.

Applying Your Scheme With Style…

So, there are all kinds of ways I can attack this subject and bore the living day lights out of you, if I haven’t already. So instead I’ll continue the walk through approach with my Cygnar scheme and explain my thinking as we go.

The first completed piece for my Cygnar army was a Charger. Large enough to provide several good testing surfaces and small enough to not be a major time sink in case I decided to shift things on the fly. I intentionally tried a few odd builds just to push some envelopes and see what might develop as I was diving into some serious ink uses and metallics after a long stretch of doing my Cryxian horde that used none of these (Which was an intentional self test) And because of this fact, I found myself sliding from my palette to far and letting my medium testing take over as I was getting a massive kick out of how things flowed. As you can see from the following images, my colors quickly shifted to green on my main color, and my metallics well over the mark on ink usage.

So, on to my second try. After getting the ink and metallic usage out of my system, I once again focused in on my palette choices and following through with them. Again attacking a Charger, the colors carried well on the open spaces, my secondary colors helped pop and define several shapes on the upper shoulders and overall created a look I was very happy with.

The next piece I attacked was a slightly converted Centurion. The large flowing surfaces on this Jack are a double edged sword. They provide the opportunity to show some very flowing expanses of color, but also provide the challenge to get them smooth and even so the shape is not disrupted by color shifts. With the added banner on this Jack, it also gave me the chance to test my secondary color on a larger surface and to see if it would still support my primary color.

The first trooper I tested out my colors on, was a Long Gunner. While I obviously cannot carry such a single color across an entire man sized miniature, I did keep my colors inside the spectrum of my main color. Using the highlight and shading colors of my main color, I used these more often in larger areas as stand alone colors and recreating shades and highlights for them. Pictures of this Long Gunner can be found in No Quarter issue 2 on page 52.

Another of my grunt troopers, the Sword Knights, found me using my tertiary palette a lot more than I had before, As the metallics quickly took over. But keeping true to my plan, I made use of my primary color as much as I could and continued the theme of my secondary color of blue being used on the shoulders.

The first solo I tackled was a Stormsmith. This was also a miniature that would not be seen many times on the table top and a very good chance to use and possibly expand my tertiary palette. With my main colors being very primary, I went with a neutral tone of grey to mix in with my main color, but with my main color being an extremely warm color, I went with a cool grey to set it off better and support it. You’ll notice one thing I tried to accomplish on my Stormsmiths, was to create alternating bands of warm and cool colors, in an attempt to increase the way these colors played off of each other.

My next solo was a converted Journeyman. While I continued the effort of alternating bands of warm and cool colors, the extra armor of the Journeyman gave me the chance to see how an excess of my main color on a man sized miniature could be pulled off.

And of course the true fun of pushing a palette to its extremes falls onto the hefty shoulders of a Warcaster. While I continued the theme of my secondary color on the shoulders and the same metallics being used, I shifted my main yellow-orange to only being used as a trim color and introduced an off-white color to help our young Stryker stand out from his common grunts and Jacks.

Now I know going through each and every step that I’ve laid out may be a touch more than a few are willing to do. Even I don’t go writing everything down to the extreme that I did for this article, but did so to demonstrate my habits, in hope that it may at least get you thinking on a color scheme instead of just reaching for a color because you’ve done it before. Because with any well thought out color scheme, It takes trial, error and time. Test, experiment and test some more. In the end, your efforts will prove well worth while.