When you are lucky enough to see painted armies on the battlefield, more often than not, they have been painted in the studio scheme. This isn't because people always want to use the studio scheme, but usually because they are too afraid of creating an ugly scheme. Occasionally you see a gamer who is brave enough to experiment with colors, but lacks the ability to arrange them into a strong palette.
This is the first in a series of articles in which I will lay out the process that I use to build a palette. We are going to start with the very basics: the color wheel.
This color wheel is a little different than normal, as it has three rings and the colors are more natural. The first ring consists of the six main colors. In this case, I used GW Teclis Blue (B), Daemonette Hide (P), Mephiston Red (R), Troll Slayer Orange (O), Averland Sunset (Y), and Death World Forest (G). The second ring is a neutral version of the hue. I used Thunderhawk Blue (B), Russ Grey (P), Doombull Brown (R), Deathclaw Brown (O), XV-88 (Y), and Tallarn Sand (G). The inner ring is a high brightness, low saturated version of the hue. I used Fenrisian Grey (B), Slaanesh Grey (P), Cadian Fleshtone (R), Bestigor Flesh (O), Screaming Skull (Y), and Ushabti Bone (G). Note: Just because a paint color has the word "brown" or "grey" in its name, doesn't mean it doesn't have a hue. Don't let the paint color names throw you off.
We all know how the color wheel works; opposite colors compliment each other. Purple goes with yellow, red goes with green, blue goes with orange. Unfortunately for us, miniatures are more than two colors.
Generally speaking, our miniatures have about five or six colors: one primary color, two secondary colors, and two or three tertiary colors.
The main colors on the mini are the primary and two secondary colors, giving you a triad. A triad is formed by two similar colors (adjacent to each other on the wheel) contrasted by a color on the other side of the wheel.
Example: A triad containing blue and green should be contrasted with an orange/red.
Remember that just because the complimentary color should be orange, doesn't mean that it has to be bright orange. There are many more neutral oranges that will accomplish the same contrast as a bright color.
The tertiary colors are usually neutrals that we use to paint the less important parts of the model: pouches, bags, sleeping rolls, undershirts, gloves, etc.
We are going to focus in on building a triad of main colors that will be the backbone of a successful palette.
Let's take a look at an Arcane Tempest Gunmage that I painted a couple of years ago, and put these theories into practice.
As a trained artist, I subconsciously followed these rules, just by picking the colors that appealed to me. Back then, I laid out my faction palettes by the parts of the the models. This is my old Cygnar color palette:
Main Color: Snakebite Leather
Trim: Bleached Bone
Pauldrons: Arcane Blue
Pants/Cloth: Trollblood Highlight
Leather: Bestial Brown
Building the same palette (i.e. without changing the paint colors) with color theory looks like this:
Primary: Snakebite Leather
Secondary: Bleached Bone
Secondary: Arcane Blue
Tertiary: Trollblood Highlight
Tertiary: Bestial Brown
If we form the primary and secondary colors into a triad, we wind up with this:
It's not a perfect triad in which the colors form a perfect triangle, but very effective, and pleasing to the eye. The colors I used are Temple Guard Blue (B), XV-88 (O), and Screaming Skull (Y). As you can see, two of the colors are low-saturated, while the blue is much more vibrant, so there was contrast in both hue (color) and saturation (intensity).
Establishing a color triad is the perfect place to begin building a strong color scheme. A well-planned scheme can simplify the painting process and help you field a good-looking army, and we all know the dice gods favor well-painted armies!