Laying the Foundations
It’s not always as easy as it looks, but usually you can set up a few basic rules that will cover most circumstances. “Rules?” you say? Yes… rules. Well, they’re more like guidelines than hard and fast rules.
All of the studio paint schemes you see from just about any manufacturer are usually set up with some sort of basic rules in mind. Let’s use WARMACHINE’s Cygnar faction for an example as it’s pretty easy to figure out.
- Armor plating = Cygnar Blue. Fairly straightforward, rarely will you see any deviation from this except in an “alternate” scheme. Since Cygnar wears a lot of armor, it makes sense to use a strong primary color as the dominant color for each model. There are a few exceptions to this, but by and large if you see a model from Privateer with blue armor you automatically think “Cygnar.” Even if the model doesn’t have metal plating, making sure that the primary color is used somewhere on the model will visually tie it in with the rest of the force.
- Trim metals = Gold. Again, pretty straightforward. All trim and edging is done in gold.
- “Exposed” armor / working parts = silver. Usually Pig Iron. Pretty simple.
- Trim color = white, tan or light blue. This gets a little tricky if you scan through the range. As a whole, the range works, but not every piece follows the rules. The trim color depends on the piece and the adjacent colors to it. You need to keep this in mind as you go along. Having an alternate color to use is handy if you get into a situation where you might end up putting two very similar (or the same) colors next to each other if you follow your rules to the letter.
- Cloth = white, tan, brown or blue. I found all four of these colors used. It typically depends on the model in question. For instance, warcasters used whites / tans mostly, where Trenchers used all browns. You can use a color variation like this to indicate a change in status between units or just to break up the monotony.
- Padded/quilted “armor” = brown. Cygnar has a distinctive armor feature on many of it’s models in the quilted underpadding for the armor. In the fluff, this is used to insulate the wearer from being shocked by their own weaponry. Scan the faction you’ve chosen and see if there are any key features like this. If you have an idea of what you want to do with it going in then it won’t trip you up when you get there.
I know this seems like a lot of head work, but it’s really not. Just look over the models in the range you’ve chosen, even the ones you may not be currently preparing to paint. Having an idea of how you want to tackle them beforehand will save a lot of headaches if and when you get to them. Look at how the studio painter divided up what went where. See what you like and don’t like about it and think about how you will apply your scheme to the same model.
Enter the Umber Guard
I thought it would be a perfect time to combine my “how-to” on the Umber Guard along with this “how-to” and “why” of creating a paint scheme. The Umber Guard were originally created as a “fluff” piece for WARMACHINE: Superiority. Like the other elements in there, they were conceived by the design team who came up with the reasoning behind the force and such. Then the creative types get involved, writing background and giving locations, etc. All boring stuff…
Fast forward to the instructions handed down to me from the creative staff (at that time, Mike McVey). “The general scheme is “earth tones” but we can discuss later exactly what that is…” Pretty vague. At this point I was thinking of going with GW Scorched Brown and GW Graveyard Earth. (P3s were still out on the horizon.) Easily obtained and they work well together.
Further instructions arrived along with 2 color swatches:
“Colors: Earth tones—armor lighter, cloth darker, gold trim/details.”
“Quite a subtle, limited palette scheme with no dark or strong contrasts. Battle worn but not too grubby or dirty.”
Mike instructed me that the closest matches paint-wise were GW Bestial Brown and GW Vomit Brown. Upon seeing this, my heart sank. I admit it. Vomit Brown is a horrid color and my one experience with it at that point was so frustrating I threw it away. I promptly went to the LGS to pick up a pot and compare it to VMC colors and others to see if I could get a decent match. No dice. The Vomit has an orange cast to it that nothing else replicated. Time to bite the bullet and get over my fear. (Looking back at this scheme now, I can easily appreciate the subtle harmony the colors create. Back then? All I saw was pain.)
So I have my two main colors, and basic placement instructions. My next step was to try the colors out on a test model. Since this was based on the Temple Flameguard (TFG), I grabbed a basic trooper and laid down some paint. Looking at the model and the studio version I saw a problem right away. By having the second color (Vomit Brown) reserved for only armor I had nothing to paint the tabard (over robe) on the trooper with. I couldn’t go with more Bestial Brown, I needed something to contrast the other two colors, yet compliment them at the same time. I hunted around and finally settled on Vermin Brown. It’s an orange brown and sits between the Bestial and Vomit on a color wheel. I now have a color triad to work with.
Now that I have my colors chosen, it is time to figure out the aforementioned rules for placement. Part of it was already given to me, so that narrows the decisions.
- Armor = Vomit Brown. This is the only place I’ll use this color. Some models have much more armor than others, so it will vary how light or dark the model appears. The key is to be consistent.
- Cloth robes / accent armor = Bestial Brown. If there is a primary cloth piece, it will be in this color. If there are no cloth pieces, like on a warjack, I’ll use this to break up the armor color in key places.
- Alternate cloth / accent trim = Vermin Brown. All of the secondary cloth pieces (tabards, loincloths, etc.) and trim on armor panels will be in this color.
- Metals: Standard Steel / Gold. I’ll be sparing in my use of gold though. I want this scheme to look more utilitarian than parade best. Remember - “Quite a subtle, limited palette scheme with no dark or strong contrasts. Battle worn but not too grubby or dirty.”
That’s it, other than the base. I want to get the scheme worked out on a model first before I decide on basing. The color of the basing will have a direct impact on this scheme, so I need to make sure that it will harmonize with the browns, not clash with them. That will come at the end.
One important note: the colors specified here are for the midtone values of the color. That means essentially the base color should be closest to that value. The shade colors will be darker and the highlight colors will be lighter obviously.