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In Theory

Craig Argyle

Posted on February 02 2020

In Theory

If you look at beautifully painted miniatures by skilled artists, you might not notice it at first, but they all share something in common. Their colors work well together. They compliment and contrast in ways that call attention to interesting portions of the miniature and bring out details.

Understanding colors is often at the heart of the best painted miniatures. This guide won't teach you everything, but might help get you started on the journey to taking your painting to the next level.

When you’re painting tiny goblins or plastic spacemen( or women), contrast is key. I can not overstate this enough. Contrast is what makes a miniature “pop” from across the table. It helps the eye make out shapes at a glance, and it is what helps convey shadows and lighting at this tiny scale. It’s one of the few things that I kind of got right in my initial attempt at a colour scheme — all the white trim pieces on the edges of the model create an intense light/dark contrast, and help make the basic shape of the model pop in a way that is readily apparent even from across a standard gaming table.

There are many different kinds of contrast. Light and dark is one of the simplest and easiest to understand, the main focal point of this is the colour wheel. When it comes to figuring out what colours go together, the colour wheel is key. It’s basically all the colours in a rainbow lined up bent so the red and the purple touch, and then arranged in a circle.

A colour wheel can be a very useful tool for things like picking out schemes or figuring out what colour to paint a part of a miniature. There are a few basic ways to apply this tool to your painting.

There are Complementary Colours: colours that are directly across the colour wheel from each other, such as red and green.

Analogous colours are the opposite. It’s where you stick to colours next to each other for the colour wheel.

Triadic Colours, as the name implies, create a sort of scheme you might get if you overlay an equilateral triangle over the colour wheel. These schemes tend to be bold and pleasing to the eye, which contain a lot of rich contrast.

You don’t need to go to art school to get a basic appreciation of colour theory. With a little work and practice you can develop some great schemes easily. I hope that this article has at the very least given a basic understanding of how to use these techniques of choosing colour and make those minis pop on the tabletop!

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