Thursday, May 6, 2010

Collaborative Post: Palette

On Monday and Tuesday, I outlined the first two principles -basing and iconography- of building army coherence (visually speaking, of course). Today, I would like to conclude my contribution to this collaborative post with what I quite emphatically feel is the most important, third principle in this series –palette. In all, I feel that the attentive selection of the color palette for any given army can (and will) unite the visual effect of the army and greatly enhance its tabletop presence. Many of the bloggers I’ve seen in this community are already thinking quite carefully about palette, and sometimes without being aware that they are as such. Admittedly, these are quite often an intuitive and reflexive series of choices we make about our armies. It is precisely this intuitive nature that makes this topic all the more worthwhile for a bit more careful consideration.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to lecture you on theory. I took a number of art classes in high school, and a good number more in college, but it’s not my game really. Quite a few other bloggers have written wonderful posts about color theory in a manner more thorough and educated than I possibly could (and if you've not read Sandwyrm's yet, I highly recommend you go take a look immediately. You can find part three here, which also has links to parts one and two. Go. Now. This post will wait for you right here). Still, I’ll presume a very basic knowledge of two fundamental elements of said theory that pertain to visual coherency: temperature and complements*.

When considering how I’m going to stitch an entire army together with visual thread, I always begin with a single squad and sometimes a test single model. I assemble and paint my armies one unit at a time, and this initial step is important to set the stage for what follows.

The process of building one unit at a time can also be deadly to things like army coherency, because our tastes and even style changes as we evolve. The ideas here are specifically designed to help keep the broad focus of an army, while also leaving room for innovation and maturation as new ideas and styles present themselves. Fingers crossed.

Often, I don’t directly follow what I’ve created in the test model, not literally, so I don’t need to add pressure to the process by thinking this is going to be THE model that affects everything to follow. Instead, I try to play, to experiment, with colors a bit to see what works and what doesn’t. The test model pictured here looks nothing like the rest of the Arrugginiti, for example, and yet he was crucial to the process of creating that palette. We all have certain colors that we “do” well. This is a good opportunity to play with ones that we don’t work with often. (I find the thought of painting an entire army with a color that I already know very well the quickest way to become weary of that color).

Most importantly, I try to find the single color that is going to dominate the army –the color of which I’m going to need to most paint pots. Take, for example, the plague marine again. If you look at him, you’d think the Arrugginiti were going to be a dominantly green army, but here are the real lessons I learned with him: 1) the green doesn’t look good next to verdigris, 2) the other metals are too clean for a diseased marine, 3) same for the flesh, and 4) Dark Flesh, which is both the shaded color for the green and the accent color for the hosing, makes a much better impression and is extremely versatile as a shading color –which is to say, it goes well underneath a lot of other, unrelated colors.

So what did I come up with. My CSM Arrugginiti army, which is basically rusted metal through and through, really takes a color somewhere between Dark Flesh and Maccharius Solar Orange as its dominant hue. As such, the Arrugginiti are, visually, a very warm army. The Dark Flesh is ideal for the base of Rust (metal problem solved) and ideal for the base of a variety of other colors, which leads us to the next step.

Once I’ve selected the dominant color for my army, I then try to find at least to two secondary colors that lend themselves nicely to the original. Moreover, I consciously seek out at least one accent color that will be in the same temperature family, so to speak, and another accent color that will be close to a complement and from the opposite temperature family as the dominant color. This Possessed Marine was created quite early in the process, and in his case, those colors are yellow (teeth) and green (base, hand, talons) respectively. The same can be said for the Aspiring Champion picture at the top, who takes the warm bone color (helmet) as the first accent, and the green as the complement (base and horn) and turquoise as a second complementary accent (plasma). (by the by, red has since become the main accent color in the warm family for reasons that you can find in the Hailed vs Hated series of posts).

Because they both complement the orange color, the turquoise and the green should look particularly vibrant next to the rust, but I’ve toned down the green considerably with an important trick I’ve picked up, and of which I’ve grown perhaps entirely too fond. I’ll explain that in a moment, but first it’s important to note that the entire army doesn’t need to follow this simple prescription. I feel that they will still look coherent and as if they “belong” on the table together provided that each unit shares the dominant color, and at least one accent color with the others. This leaves me plenty of “wiggle room” when moving from one unit to the next.

For clarity, let me summarize midway:
An army should be sown together with three (perhaps four) basic colors throughout.
1. Dominant color.
2. Accent color from same family as dominant color.
3. Accent color from opposite family as dominant color.

Of course, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to participate in this theory, and it can all be quite simple really. If painting an Ultramarines army, for example, the broad strokes of color selection have been handled already. Blue is the dominant color, white is the iconography and first accent color, and you are often free to pick a second accent color (which is usually yellow or red from what I’ve seen). I should mention at this point that Skull White has quite a lot of blue tone in it, so in this Ultramarines example, we tend to have two cool colors (blue and an accent of white) with a warm second accent color (either yellow or red). In my opinion, that’s sound theory.

Or take the World Eaters: red (dominant, warm), gold (accent, warm), turquoise (accent, cool). In all, if asked to, I would argue that the most visually compelling armies in the established 40k universe are those that in some way participate in this basic principle. My opinion, of course.

But here’s the catch. I could never, ever paint an completely unified Ultramarines army, and I’m stunned by people who are able to pull off entire companies, and the like. That’s juts amazing –as much for the discipline as for the rigor of painting such a proscriptive palette.

Moreover, models (and, indeed, entire armies) won’t always mesh with the three-color principle because they demand more colors than I’ve made room for here, or because they simply don’t call for the dominant color.

The Summoned Lesser Daemons in this army are a fine example of the work around. The rust simply won’t work with them as a dominant color. Instead, rust has become an accent color on the blades and other metalwork. That’s fine. The reference is extremely important, and will still help maintain the visual unity when these units are placed next to the army at large. The trick was to find another, new dominant color for these units which the rust can, in turn, act as accent. In this case I chose to mix things up a bit by creating this cool, gray color but which uses Sepia wash as a shade which helps keep it related to the warmer colors throughout the rest of the army (you can find the recipe here).

Here’s the trick. Once I’ve found the basic three (or perhaps four) colors, everything else is simply a variation on that theme. As mentioned, there’s a real danger of muddling either a unit or, worse, an entire army into an incoherent mess with too many unrelated or unreferenced colors. I avoid that by making certain that any additional colors borrow directly from the palette of the original recipes I’ve already selected. In this case, the rust and turquoise accents follow along from the green on the base (except this time, green and turquoise are not complements because they are in the “cool” family along with the dominant gray color).

To help matters, I’ve then taken this flesh color and brought it back into other subsequent units, like the flesh for the fateful squad, and I’m particularly pleased with this result.

Finally, I’d like to come full circle to illustrate the freedom that this approach can allow while still holding an army together. The Daemon Prince pictured here uses many techniques from the original test model –specifically he uses Dark Flesh to shade Green. He is still very much within the Arrugginiti palette because he uses Dark Flesh throughout (wings and skin tones) and, moreover, the subsequent highlights of that green are accomplished with Tausept to keep the general theme coherent. Granted, the hue has changed completely from orange to Camo Green, but not the substance of the color itself. This is tricky to explain, but I believe instrumental in keeping the Daemon Prince visually connected to his minions.

I’ve not used this second visual trick exclusively for the Daemon Prince. For example, the green, which is a cool color that appears throughout the army as an accent, takes two highlight colors from the warm family –Tausept and Iyanden (you can find the recipe here). Likewise, the bone white in this the first squad above also borrows Tausept and Iyanden as layers working toward that bone color. This is precisely what I mean when I use the word palette.

I’d like to conclude with a quick nod to the first two posts, and particularly how they pertain to the Arrugginiti. You will note that almost all the models pictured here have identical green accent colors for their bases. The only exception is, well, the lava on the exceptional Daemon Princes. I’ve not asked that these bases tie to force together the way I did with the Valhallans, but this small gesture helps establish and maintain that visual thread throughout the army all the same.

With regard to Iconography, the Arrugginiti don’t actually have any yet. You may have notice the black pauldrons throughout, and specifically that blank space on their right one. This is reserved for the moment when I finally decide on their dominant image or pattern. Right now, I’m leaning toward the Chalice for reasons that will seem obvious in these two photos, but we shall see.

(p.s. If you were wondering, I started creating my SM Onorevoli that I featured on Tuesday at about the same time as the Arrugginiti, which goes a long way toward explaining the overlap between the two: orangish brown as the dominant color, with turquoise as the vibrant complement from the opposite temperature family, etc. For the Onorevoli, however, I also chose the yellow striped color as an accent color from the warm family, which nevertheless takes orange as its base, but which has no place with my CSM).

* ok ok. Briefly: Temperature describes the hot and cool aspect of a color. Red is hot. Blue is cool. Easy. This also means that reddish colors tend to jump out while cool colors tend to recede.

Complementary colors are those that sit roughly opposite one another on the color wheel. For example, green is usually the complement of red, purple to yellow, and orange to blue. What’s important here is that these colors are natural shades for one another because when mixed they tend to make a muddy brown. Try it if you haven’t already. If, for some reason, you’re looking for a new shade to add some depth to your red, try mixing a little dark green to the original hue. In fact, I think I remember reading a recent article in WD that suggested using green wash to shade red.

Moreover, when placed next to each other in bold blocks, complementary colors each tend to make the other look a bit brighter. Without trying, I can think of at least two professional sporting teams that use this theory to make their uniforms look more vibrant (and obnoxious in my opinion) including my own hometown Chicago Bears –blue and orange. But enough about them.

Apologies for this substantial wall of text. This was a difficult post for me and, in fact, this is actually the third draft. The first was too theory and the second was too vague to be of any help to anyone. Alas. It's challenging to articulate these ideas properly, and I wanted to be sure that I've given them fair dues. I hope that this helps.

See you tomorrow for some more Arrugginiti action in the next chapter of Hailed vs. Hated.


Brent said...

Great post, as always.

I think it's your distinct painting style that I dig the most about your army - it looks finished and unique, but not overly meticulous.

I'd like a step-by-step sometime in the future - Brent

Dverning said...

Of course, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to participate in this [color wheel] theory *rimshot*

Don't stress about the length. You interspersed a number of good pictures and had a nice progression of logic. You might have been able to break this into a few small posts, but the overall impact would also have dropped.
Even though I've read a lot on color theory, I still read the whole thing.

Cheers on a good article and props for doing such a large post without delaying your post schedule!

Grizzled Gamer said...

Thanks for the articles.
You have really given me a lot to think about.
As I stated previously, your painting style has actually inspired the painting scheme I am going to be using on my Chaos Space Marines. While I do not have your talent, I am hoping to at least mimic some of your outstanding techniques.
All three articles have given me things to think about - things that I been thinking about for awhile and that your articles have actually helped me to solve (hopefully).
Thanks for the articles and keep the fine work coming.

Rabidchild said...

I agree with Dverning above, I've read aritcles and taken classes on color theory and I still read the whole thing.

Excellent work sir, your commitment to writing certainly shines through.

An excellent article with plenty of bite-size concepts. Great work, thank you!

HOTpanda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HOTpanda said...

I have been doing half of what you talked about with that half being picking complimentry colours. Infact I try to always pick three colours, one main colour and two accents that are of equal distance apart on the colour wheel.

I never thought about colour temperatures before. Since reading your post my mind has been trying to figure out what temperature white, grey and black is? Regardless though does using any of these colours take away from your thought process and or technique?

PS - Sorry about having to delete the previous comment by me. Someone hit enter before it was finished.

Brian said...

@ Brent. Thank you very much. I try to work reasonably quickly and, while I admire people that paint with incredible tidiness, I've not managed to make that my style. I'm glad that you like these guys.

With regard to the step-by-step, please let me know if you have anything specific in mind, and I will be happy to accommodate. If you are interested, you can find a rust step-by-step from Sunday's WIP post. Likewise, this coming Sunday, I'm preparing a verdigris step-by-step as well.

@ Dverning. Yes. Well. I try. Thanks for your kind words and your support.

@ Mags. Thank you, kindly. I'm digging your Daemon Prince and looking forward to how the rest of the army comes together.

@ Rabidchild. Cheers. Color theory can be a tricky thing to write about. I remember snoozing through a slide-show lecture on it during college. I was hoping not to have the same effect on you guys.

@ Panda. No worries. It happens to me all the time. And good question. White can be a number of temperatures. Skull white, for example, is cool because it has a lot of blue tones in it. Bleached Bone, by comparison, is very, very warm because of the amount of yellow in it. Skull white makes a great final highlight on bones/skulls that have been predominantly highlighted with Bleached Bone precisely because the temperature contrast makes the color really pop (as ever, in my opinion).

Most GW grays tend to be bluish as well, and are therefore in the cool family. Black, I think, may be neutral, but you can easily mix one color or another to push it toward one temperature. For example, I've read that highlighting black armor is best done with either a blue or a brown instead of gray... but I've never tried this myself.

HOTpanda said...

Cheers for the extra help after the colour theory class. Just trying to see where the Company of the Shadow falls into at this time. I am about to start repainting them and am going to give this a try.