19 April 2013

Painting Guides and colour theory

One of my targets for the year that I set out in January was to increase my blogging efforts and expand my readership. Of all the things that I have expanded over my years of painting is a good amount of reference material on periods of history that interest me. As someone who enjoys painting miniatures, much of that collection is based on uniforms. So what can I as a reasonable hobby painter do to achieve this target and also as a way of giving something back to the community, whilst increasing my blogging output.

Well I have decided that as I paint units up, I will document the figures. This will aid me as I will have a record that I can look back on rather than all the scribbled notes I currently have. Hopefully the information given will be of some use to readers of this blog or new readers that stumble across from a search of the Internet.

One of the things I struggled to find when I began painting was good usable painting guides and information to assist me in my painting choices. After 30 years I still have many items on my wish list of reference books but I am always happy to share what I have.

So before I go any further one of the key points when working with colours is to understand the basic principles of colour theory. If you have any formal art training this information will be old news, however if you are like me with little education but having learnt the hard way over many years, this next section will be worth the read.

The three primary colours are Red, Yellow and Blue.
The secondary colours are Orange ( Red + Yellow), Green ( Yellow + Blue), and Purple ( Blue + Red).
The tertiary colours are obtained by mixing the adjacent Primary and Secondary colours together.

Analogous colour schemes are made by using colours that run side by side on the wheel.
Complimentary schemes are those that use colours directly opposite each other.
Split complimentary schemes use one colour then use the colours either side of the one directly opposite.

To make further colours we need to add amounts of white or black to tint and shade the colours.

So by adding black and white to the primary colours we can obtain an abundance of colours to choose from
when painting miniatures. The colour wheel above uses the base value of 5 as the starting colour then by adding white you tint towards the inside of the wheel. By adding black to the base value you you shade the colour.

That's the basic lessons on colour over and these days there is no need to mix many colours yourself but the theories can be easily applied to colours you already use, to extend your ranges further. One thing I have learnt over the years is that when painting miniatures using slightly brighter than the actual colour makes the figures visible from 3ft away the average distance we see our figures from on the table. The next thing I have really learnt it is far better to apply several thin layers of paint to achieve the desired colour than one thick coat, as the gradual transition between shadow and light is smoother. (Yellows tend to need this most when building up from a black undercoat)

Now when I paint a unit for my collection my intention will be to present the information I have compiled over the years. Where possible I will include plates, images and source material used in research to paint my forces with a comprehensive breakdown of the colours used. The images will have come from a variety of sources, some widely available some not. Where ambiguity exists in my sources I will always choose a common sense approach in trying to resolve the actual colours and present that information.

I will always respond to any questions you may ask about my choice of colours or anything associated with the painting of miniatures as best as I can. This year much of my work will be Napoleonic however other periods in history will feature.

There will be a retrospective guide for the Neuchatel battalion that I completed during the challenge. I know that is a popular unit for many Napoleonic collections due to the vibrancy of the unit on the gaming table.
Above all what ever your style and however you paint they are your figures, whether they are painted basically or to a high standard. Paint them enjoy them and most of all play with the little fellows...


  1. This will be very helpful to someone like myself who is painting purely on instinct. There's so much to learn still and every bit of information is a help.

    Thank you.

  2. I will also find this very useful.

    One of the great things about the blogging community is their generosity in sharing experience - this is in that great tradition. Thanks!

  3. Great post Andrew. Always good to refresh the memory!

  4. Where did you get the drawings of the Enlightenment soldiery at the top? As someone thinking about going into Napoleonics in the near future but unwilling to shell out for a million osprey books something like that could be very helpful!

    1. I have lots of Napoleonic reference books that I use, the image came from one of them. I will however do a post on some useful internet sites shortly. Of course you can also use the contact me section of this blog and ask for some information as well on specific units etc, I will be only too happy to assist where I can.

  5. Brings back the memories of yesterday and very kind of you to offer help to others.


  6. Good post. I'm looking forward to your analysis. I've been painting figures for a long time, but still feel my technique is very basic.

  7. Useful post will save this for later

  8. who knew painting could get so technical :)
    good post you blog whore

  9. Great post. I too am trying to use my blog as a painting notebook of sorts. I have yet to hit on a format. Thanks for the color theory lesson. I suspect that most of us are semi self taught and trying to muddle through. I'll be following this series with great interest.

  10. Good stuff. I don't have a "natural" eye for color and even with a color wheel on my table, I struggle. I like the bit you wrote about going a bit brighter. Since this is a visual hobby and we are looking at our figures at > 3', I've been leaning towards brighter colors. Thanks for sharing!

  11. So, for painting boobs you'd want to use analogous colour schemes 'cause they're side by side, right?


  12. Love this! Thank you. Good wishes for your future painting. :)

  13. Good to refresh my memory. Last time I learned that stuff was a while back...

    I think Curt really enjoyed your previous post...

    1. Who? Me?

      Ok, yes, you're absolutely right.


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