Paint Theory – The Basics


First off, why paint?

There are a thousand answers to this question, but I think a good one is just that having painted miniatures makes them look better. Simple block colours immediately add interest to a miniature, and making them attractive is a big part of why the hobby appeals to me – there're few things more rewarding than someone going 'Coo, that's interesting!'.

I'm a big fan of doing things the simple way, so I hope you can pick up some quick and effective shortcuts to getting great results. I'm going to concentrate on the GW Citadel Colour range of paints – I've used these for years and find them great for my approach.

Where do I start?

The GW website or many other places will give you the basic ideas of how to assemble and prime your miniatures, and there are numerous articles online for paint recipes, that'll tell you what colour to paint where. My aim here is simply to explain some of the mechanics of paint, and a later article will move on to choosing your palette for a particular effect.

Alright, what's first?

First up, a quick definition of paint. Paints are made up of ingredients – a pigment, which tends to be a very fine pigmented powder; and a medium, which in the case of the Citadel range is a colourless water-based acrylic. As the water evaporates from the paint, the pigment becomes bound to the surface by the remaining acrylic.

Okay, so what's a palette?

In addition to being somewhere you mix your paints (like a tile), a palette is the range of colours that you choose to use. This can be a bit of a confusing concept at first – after all, most miniature painters come into the hobby with no art background at all, and assume that the Citadel paint range is intended to all be used at once: a red paint for red clothes, blue paint for blue skin etc.

In fact, the Citadel range (like almost all paint ranges) is a giant palette, and you can use it as such. In later articles, we'll discuss using a limited palette, and the various options and effects that this creates.

Back to the Citadel range for a moment. This covers lots of bases: there are hot colours, cool colours, muted earth tones...

Wait a second – 'Hot' colours?

A few technical words are needed here to help avoid confusion:

1) Hue – The quality of a colour: the 'blueness' of blue. The sky is a particular hue; the sea is another. In Citadel terms, Blood Red is one hue, Scab Red another.
2) Tone – The lightness of darkness of a colour. A light tone is called a 'tint'; a darker tone is called a 'shade'. Think of this in terms of your telly – you can adjust the brightness up or down.
3) Saturation – The amount of colour in a colour. This sounds a bit weird; so think of it in terms of your telly – you can turn the colour up until it is 'supersaturated' or down to 'desaturated' – i.e. black-and-white.

In addition to these is the concept of colour temperature. This is more due to how humans perceive colour than anything else. Due to some quirk or other, humans respond to colours in different ways. Sombre blues and greys tend to make us feel sad; while bright oranges and yellows energise and excite us.

Colours fall into three broad (and overlapping) categories: warm, cool or neutral. Warm colours appear to 'advance' (meaning they jump out at us), while cool colours appear to 'recede' (meaning they seem to be farther away than they are. As an illustration, look at the horizon. The colours will seem to be slightly bluer, or colder than those close-to.

So blue is a cool colour, right?

Broadly speaking, yes; but unfortunately, it's not quite as simple as that! Some blue colours are cool, and others are hot. This is due to the pigments used in preparing it.

It may sound odd, but some blues use red or yellow pigments in them. Regal Blue is a perfect example of a warm blue, and this uses red pigments, making it ever so slightly purple. Conversely, Ice Blue is a very cold blue, and this uses some yellow pigments, making it slightly green.

We'll cover this in another article, but for the moment, here's a handy chart to give you an idea:

1) Warm blues contain red pigments, and are thus slightly purple.
2) Cool blues contain yellow pigments, and are thus slightly green.
3) Warm reds contain yellow pigments, and are thus slightly orange.
4) Cool reds contain blue pigments, and are thus slightly purple.
5) Warm yellows contain red pigments, and are thus slightly orange.
6) Cool yellows contain blue pigments, and are thus slightly green.

Notice that the three primary colours (red, blue, yellow) err towards secondary colours when mixed with one another. Understanding the circular relationship between the primaries and secondaries is a great start to colour theory. Google 'Colour Wheel', and you'll get a perfect image to illustrate this.

All very well, but how do I apply this?

We'll cover that at a later point, but for the moment, here is a good starting palette for you to use:
1) Skull White
2) Chaos Black
3) Regal Blue (Warm Blue)
4) Enchanted Blue (Cool Blue)
5) Golden Yellow (Warm Yellow)
6) Bad Moon Yellow (Cool Yellow)
7) Blood Red (Warm Red)
8) Scab Red (Cool Red)