Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Collaborative Post: Emblems and Iconography

Yesterday, I offered a very brief outline of the three general principles that I consider when structuring the visual coherence of an army. -in order of efficacy: bases, iconography, and palette. Yesterday I mentioned how the consistent modeling of visually striking bases can pull an army together even when the actual colors of the army vary from unit to unit (in the case of my Valhallans, deliberately so).

Today, I’d like to take a look at my SM army, the Onorevoli, as an example of how one simple icon or emblem, repeated consistently, can accomplish the same work across an army that similarly mismatches colors from one unit to the next.**

In this case, I’ve borrowed the black and yellow stripes from the Iron Warriors as a consistent visual theme through each Onorevoli squad (more on the specific history of the Onorevoli and the reasoning behind this, please take a look the series of posts starting here). As with the bold contrast of the snow from yesterday’s post, I strongly feel that any such icon or emblem must enjoy a very distinct and pronounced image or (as with this case) design. This boldness will make the emblem itself a visual focal point and communicate quite a lot of information in relatively little space. Thankfully, 40K is chalk full of options and examples: the Templar’s cross, the blood drop, the chalice, the Ultramarines inverted omega, any of the four standard chaotic emblems, Saim Hann’s serpent, the list goes on and on.* But again, I don't believe it's enough to simply hang an emblem out there and hope the army pulls itself together. The emblem, design, or icon must boldly contrast with its surroundings (again, think of the sharp white against the deep Ultramarine Blue -or, in this case, bold yellow and pitch black).

For the Onorevoli, this one detail can be found somewhere (sometimes obviously, but other times less so) on every single model in the entire army, and it is the single consistent element that spans every model regardless of rank or position or color. When arrayed on the table, more than the basic colors, the striped theme stands out as the one visually arresting element in the bundle.

Perhaps interestingly, this was really something of an afterthought. When I started this army, I had initially figured that they would use the basic orange (ish) color of the models pictured above as the unifying element; however, that became a bit much, and I was soon looking for opportunities to expand the spectrum of the army in a ways that would allow me to paint the figures I wanted to paint without having to slavishly recreate the same color again and again and again –in my experience, nothing can kill inspiration like tedium, and forcing yourself to paint colors that have started to exhaust you seems a sure way to strand your models on the workbench.

For example, I wanted to work in the new SW Terminators without having to press them into the orange theme I’d developed. The fit seemed neither natural nor organic. And so I binned the color scheme and painted the Terminator unit more or less as I wanted, but while maintaining the striped theme. In my opinion, that was enough to keep the unit visually consistent with its colleagues, while still enjoying creative freedom. Of course, I also stitched together a generous helping of fluff to help make the transition seem reasonable.

Even the two Librarians, who don’t really resemble one another, and whose gold armor also doesn’t resemble the rest of the force in coloring at all, still manage to lend themselves quite nicely to the army as a whole because of the pronounced striping on their pauldron. One simply cannot mistake the reference.

The only moment in which I’ve really pushed the boundaries of this principle is with the Venerable Dreadnought, who harkens back to the Onorevoli’s more glorious history and maintains their "original" color scheme before the Iron Warriors' striping became de rigueur. As such, he is the only model in the entire army that does not have black and yellow striping, but instead sports a similar idea in modesty divergent colors.

This last bit of army coherence, I believe, is a bit more tricky, and introduces the the substance of Thursday’s post -which will discuss the most formidable and worthwhile aspect of army coherency –palette. (As ever, all of this is merely my humble opinion). See you then.

**(and please note as a secondary point of comparison from yesterday's post that the bases on these models are rarely consistent, and often completely unrelated to each other)

*(interestingly, I can also think of some less potent emblems that simply don’t resonate quite as vividly. Apologies to any enthusiasts, but neither the Tau nor Tyranids seem to have any singular and immediately recognizable emblem in their stable. This makes sense for the Tyranids, who rely on palette to do this work, but the Tau? Granted, they have style, but not a specific emblem that resonates the way more notable icons do…).


HOTpanda said...

Another well thought out article that opens the doors into the inner working of your mind. A real treat!!!

The angle on the picture of the Venerable Dreadnought is phenomenal as it empowers the model with power.

Cannot wait for the next installment with it being your process for palette selection.

Brent said...

Yea, I tend to agree - you've got a fairly unique painting style, so it'd be interesting to see you expand on that.


Grizzled Gamer said...

This article is very well thought out and articulated perfectly.
I would have to agree that like bases, a repeating iconography or symbol can work to tie an army together.
Another example of this is the Blood Angels.
They have portions of their army that are black, some that are gold, and the majority red. However, by the use of their chapter symbol and bases they are able to make it a cohesive force.
Looking forward to part three.

Max said...

Ditto the above, and PRETTY...

JamesCabak said...

The Tau are not supposed to have a stand-out iconography. The reason: They are all for the "greater good". I figure if you see a Tau, it's pretty much a forgone conclusion who it belongs to.

Brian said...

Thanks fellas. I appreciate the comments and support.