Painting Perspectives from News Groups


This was an interesting discussion from the newsgroup RGMW

Postings by Myrmidon are in black
Postings by slaughterkin are in blue

From: Myrmidon Who? <>
Organization: Myrmidon Enterprises
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 16:02:48 –0500
Subject: Re: FIVE steps to painting a BEAUTIFUL ARMY (long)

[This followup was posted to and a copy was sent to the cited author.]

In article <>, says...
> Or more aptly named, skip any of these five steps and your army will come
> out looking like CRAP (reminiscing about old SNL skit here)
> this is of course all IMHO, but I have seen a lot that makes me a firm
> believer in the following words.
> There are several steps to constructing a well painted army that looks good
> as a force on the battlefield, as opposed to individual inspection of models
> at 2 inches or less.
> Sadly many strategies that create beautiful individual pieces seem to have
> an opposite effect when viewed as a collection of 50-100 models. This is
> also true when models are viewed under normal lighting conditions that
> humans are used to operating in, as opposed to display lighting conditions.

Good point! Know thy lighting. Most painters (minis or fine
arts) show an appalling lack of knowledge about light. This is after all
what you are working with! Doh! Here are some helpful pointers. First
of all, light intensity has a lot to do with color. Most people think of
sun light as being yellow. It is NOT. Sunlight is in the blue-white
spectrum because it comes from a high intensity source - the
fission/fusion reaction at the heart of the sun. Normal low wattage
incandescent lighting is in the yellow range. That's why some many
people look yellowish or greenish in photos taken indoors without a flash
- especially at night or during the winter. Photographic lamps are
expensive for that reason, they're high intensity lights - like 500 watts
instead of the normal 75 watt bulbs. They also require ceramic holders
with cooling fans to keep them from melting. Now you know why I hated
school pictures, you damn near got a sunburn and dehydration while
waiting for the fool behind the camera to quite futzing around and shoot
the photo. Ideally one would want to paint where there is plenty of
natural light, or where there is high intensity light, (photography lamps
are $80 for the ceramic stand, $5-10 per bulb, and hot as hell) so I
recommend halogen lamps as a decent stand in for natural light. After
that would be florescent lighting, and last would be standard
incandescent lighting. Painters have to deal with the fact that the
color of the floor, walls and ceiling which are reflecting light will
also influence how the paint looks there as opposed to a different
location. I don't recommend using a spot light/direct light to paint
under either, use a muted or reflected light, like off a white ceiling or
a piece of white matt board. In the end there's only so much a painter
can do to determine how the figure will look in a give light condition.
I try to paint my figures under natural light or with the room light by a
halogen lamp stand.

> The steps below I believe are true for both situations but more true for
> constructing a spectacular force. I would like to believe that talanted
> painters dont need to read the guidelines below, but some people never seem
> to catch on to step #2.
> Certain steps need to be modified depending on what armies are being
> painted, or the number of models in the army/unit, but all steps offer some
> valuable advice and direction.
> If anyone has anything to add, or strongly disagrees, I would love to hear
> your opinions.

Overall you make some nice points, but you generalize a lot.

> 1) PLAN to paint a colour scheme. Do not deviate from this scheme!

Planning is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. However, don't be afraid to
deviate from a plan if your planned colors aren't working out. Try a
variation of your original set, or a whole new set and repaint the ones
that didn't work out the first time. Also, don't be afraid to vary a few
in a unit (especially WHFB) where units often were equipped with homemade
uniforms that had a good bit of variation. Imperial Guard is another one
that comes to mind for variation.

> All armies should consist of 3 colours. Secondary colours such as, but not
> limited to, white grey black bone or any metallic do not count against this,
> but
> if prominently displayed should count against the three.
> Remember: 2 colours is boring, 4 colours is a mess. Dont believe me? Go
> look at entire armies in pictures and see if Its true.

I have seen plenty of well painted single color units and armies.
If you want a few examples, try the 3rd Ed. Marine Codex on page 23 & 24.
The single color "Revilers" (all Bluish Gray) and the "Rampagers" (all
Red) are just 2 examples of well painted and attractive figures that
already break your rules.

> Exceptions- this is more true in WHFB than in W40K: certain models demand
> deviation from the set pattern. For instance deamons or Dragons or any
> unusual creature which obviously would not share the same colour patterns as
> the rest of the army. In this case, set up a new set of 3 colours for it
> and do not deviate from that for all similar models in the army. This is
> the case with my Tyranid weaponry. All of my tyranid weaponry has its own
> set of 3 colours or variations that I must follow, apart from the colours
> the creatures have.
> WARNING-- Avoid metallics. For all the beginners out there, metallics look
> like CRAP. Use them sparingly, if at all. Metallics are good for
> highlighting, thats about it. NEVER "paint" anything a metallic colour.

Never? Again, a generalization, and not a good one. You would
have been much better off with the "Use them sparingly, if at all" as
your ending statement. (WHFB) - I've seen some great units of Chaos
warriors & Chaos Knights done in mostly metallics with rust and bright
detailing. Again, it depends on the subject matter and your treatment of
the paint and the detail, not on the paint itself.

> 2) Bright models are Beautiful. Dark models are Ugly.
> HIGHLIGHT HIGHLIGHT HIGHLIGHT. Highlighting is the most important thing in
> building a beautiful looking army. Whatever colours you choose to put on
> your armies, highlight them with even lighter versions. I cant stress this
> enough. Dont stop at dark blue highlighted with blue, go to light blue and
> then even lighter blue. Do this for every color on every model.. no
> exceptions. Mix white into EVERYTHING.

Ugh! Awful advice! Just so you don't think I'm trying to be an
ass about this, please understand my background in miniatures and
painting. I've been collecting and painting minis since I was 10 and I
passed 10 more than 2 decades ago. I also have a Bachelors of Fine Arts
degree with a duel major in Drawing and Painting. I got started in Fine
Arts due to my love of mini painting - I well over 1000 old Dungeons &
Dragons figs by various makers, and that isn't counting the 1000 - 2000
pt Marine, I.G., Chaos, and Tyranid 40K armies I have as well.

First a bit about color and paint. The color in paint is reflected light
(and yes, this is important, as there's a huge difference in reflected
light as opposed to emitted light!) The chroma or intensity of a color
is dependant on the type of pigment particles and the density or amount
of pigment in the paint medium. The ONLY WAY to increase chroma or
brightness in paint (because it is reflected light) is to increase the
amount of pigment to medium mixture or to use a brighter pigment. When
you add white to a color, you lighten it, but that is NOT the same as
brightening it. If you add a small amount of white to a dark blue, you
will make a lighter shade of that blue, but not a brighter blue. When
you add white to any paint, you simply make a MORE PASTEL shade of that
original color. Buy yourself a bright cadmium yellow, and a medium
cadmium yellow, and a tube of white paint all from the same range. Add a
bunch of white to that medium cadmium yellow and mix it together
completely, and then lay some of the bright cadmium yellow next to your
mix. I can guarantee that you will see a HUGE difference in intensity
between the pure "bright" cadmium yellow and the stuff you mixed with
white. No contest. Another common example is when you add a lot of
white to blue - you get a pastel sky blue, not bright blue.

Simply adding white to colors for highlighting is a very poor way to do
it! It works in some cases, but there are a lot more effective ways of
highlighting (see below).

Next is optics and the human eye! The human eye estimates distance of
objects and depth of field based on 2 types of information. The first is
value scale - the difference between the lightest light, and the darkest
dark. The other is chroma or intensity of the colors of an object.
Psychology also plays a part in human vision. In general, the number of
values from light to dark visible in an object increases as the viewer
and object become closer together. If you have a long hallway at home,
throw a towel on the floor. If you have decent light of any type, you
will see more values in the folds of the cloth the closer you get. Next
is chroma - the eye tends to perceive colors with more intensity the
closer they are to the eye. Something like a building for example that
looks bright close up tends to fade and look "washed out" over distance
due to the effects of our atmosphere. This is also referred to as "Hot
and cold colors". People tend to think of red for example as hot, and
blue as cold, but this isn't always the case. There are hot and cold
reds and blues - rose matter red is a warm red while alizarin crimson is
a cold red, and ultra marine is a warm blue while navy blue is a cold
blue color. Thus the brain & eyes tend to use the following scheme -
lots of values/brightness/hot color = closer, and low number of values,
or dull faded chroma/cold color = more distant. The brain also tends to
assign more importance to objects of greater value range or higher color

The third factor is color pull and light mixing. Light, whether emitted
or reflected is mixed by the human eye. To give an example - the primary
colors of paint (reflected light) are red, blue, and yellow. But in your
television set the colors of the light emitting phosphor are red, GREEN,
& blue. In paint there is no way to mix yellow, but in the emitted
light, there is no yellow pigment. Hmmm, so how does this work? Well,
when your eye is viewing the red and green dots on a television screen
both light up together side by side at the same time from a distance,
your eye mixes the colors (please note that on the light wave length
scale - yellow is between red and green in wave length the eye takes the
average of the two) and the viewer perceives yellow. But if you get very
close and look at a yellow car (for example)on your television screen you
will see nothing but a pattern of red and green dots. The eye and the
brain do a lot of color mixing and estimating. The second part is the
"push & pull" effect colors have on one another. To see this, take a
piece of neutral gray paper. Take a 3 inch square of blue paper, and a
like sized square of orange paper. Cut a one inch square hole in the
center of each. Place the blue square on the neutral gray paper and
stare at the small square of gray in the center of the blue. In a short
period of time, the gray in the center will start to look orangish. Do
the same with the orange square, and the center will start to look bluish
after a bit. You eye does odd things with color as the cones and rods
start to get tired it pushes other nearby colors towards the
complimentary color to that which is the dominate color in the area
viewed. By placing complimentary colors such as red & green, orange and
blue, or yellow and purple, side by side each makes the other look
brighter or more intense because of the push pull effect.

> The most stunning army Ive ever seen in battle was painted by a friend of
> mine who now works for GW. It was a goblin army. Normally tons of goblins
> are nothing special to look at, but he had boldly highlighted each goblins
> face, body, weapon and mount. Whats more he did it with a variety of bold
> colours and repeated the highlighting
> consistently throughout the army. I can now say the best painted army I
> have ever seen was a goblin army.

Well, that contradicts what you said earlier about "use white with
everything" to highlight. I can virtually guarantee that if they were
"boldly highlighted" that the painter didn't just add white to the color.
Again, look at some of the stuff in the Marine codex. The "Sons of
Medusa" chapter Marine is green with a white helmet on page 22. But
please note - the highlights are done in a bright yellow-green to stand
out, not white. (Look at the edging on the shoulder pads, etc.)

> ON THE OTHER HAND, dark models, no matter HOW WELL PAINTED under normal
> light look drab and plain, if not just ugly. YES this means YOU. So
> highlight! Then highlight AGAIN!!!

Not true of necessity, and not true in fact. There are examples
to numerous to list that show the error of this line of reasoning. Look
around the web. There are some great "Ugly & Dark" Chaos armies that
stand out on the table top, dark or no, because the painter knew the
above color and optical theories and used them to full advantage.

> 3) Abstraction is Beautiful. Realism is Ugly
> Do not paint every detail on the model!!!!!!!!!
> This may seem totally contrary to what one might expect. But it is true.
> Every color variation you put on a model can be seen at a distance. What
> seemed like a good idea in painting a belt sack and dagger a variety of
> colours at 2 inches away, looks like utter CRAP from 4 feet away. All you
> see are blotches of colour because the detail is lost at that distance.
> Certain models in the GW line are overloaded with detail. Stick to the
> three main colours, and slight deviation into the neutral colours stated
> above. (And you should repeat the same neutral colours too)

This started out well and went astray. You could have given a
simple example of the "to much detail is bad" idea and made the point
better - but the stuff about Abstraction verse realism is utter crap.
First of all, all painting (and most 2 dimensional Art) is Abstraction!
No matter how realistic a painting I do of an apple, I can't eat the
painting and get the nourishment of an apple from it. If I take a
photograph of an apple that's visually exact in every detail, I still
can't eat it and gain the nourishment of an apple. Bottom line, all art
is abstraction - it's not the real thing itself that the art is speaking
of, but rather a representation of it or in other words an "abstraction"
of the real thing itself. (Sorry if I rant a bit here, but I'm sick to
death of hearing twits at college - the so called educated type - argue
about abstraction verse realism. All static visual arts {ie drawing,
painting, and some sculpture} are dead things! They are ALL ABSTRACTIONS
of real things. The only life and emotion they have are those given to
them by the viewer.)

> Just as important.. Dont fall into the trap of painting everything
> realistically. Realism is ugly. Dont believe me? look around! When was
> the last time you were standing in surroundings or clothes that were so
> beautiful that they should have been in a painting?

I take it you don't get out to Art museums much, or study a lot of
art history? It's loaded with examples of both places and objects that
sparked the artist's imagination to the point of HAVING to do an image or
work, because the idea won't stop bugging the artist. I have a huge
collection of art books with literally thousands of still lifes of house
hold items that the artist captured in such a way as to give you a sense
of the person who's objects the artist painted without ever showing you
the person. All your statement says is that you personally have never
seen something ordinary in an extraordinary way. Again, you make
personal statements into generalizations and apply them to everybody.
Not good. Here's an "I" statement. I have a painting in my home that
attracts a lot of attention. It's a black field with white patches on
it. It has a lot that attracts and keeps the eye interested. It usually
takes the viewers a while to figure out that the white patches are
actually a skewed number 4. The painting was done from an old black
jersey type shirt with a large iron-on transfer of the number 4 on the
back. After years of wear and repeated washings, the iron-on transfer
cracked and many parts peeled away leaving a very interesting pattern,
but if you look at all the shapes you can still recognize the number 4.
Funny how those ordinary things can provoke some amazing works of art.
Now is it abstract, or is it realism? After all, it is a faithful
representation of the white patches from the back of a black jerseyy.

> DO NOT paint every weapon shaft brown and every axehead silver.

This is simply a case of "to much detail is bad" and has NOTHING
to do with the amount of "realism" that the painted mini has. Here's a
simple example. If I have a page of text, and I highlight a single
sentence or paragraph, it stands out. However, if I highlight the entire
page - nothing stands out. It all has equal emphasis. This goes right
back to the discussion earlier about the brain lending emphasis or
importance to objects with more value range and greater color intensity.
If you want something to stand out, emphasize a few details, not the
entire area. The same is true with minis. If you want them to stand out
from their surroundings, give them a greater range of values and brighter
colors than your terrain. A good example of the "to much detail"

>Do not
> paint every belt and shoe tan. Use Vibrant colours.. Look at Anime for
> example. Why
> do so many characters have blue or green hair, instead of brown or black?

To be honest, the reason for the differences in hair color in
anime characters has a lot more to do with psychology than with visual
appeal. If you notice, Japanese comics and anime are often way ahead of
their American counterparts in terms of visual psychology. If you look
at just black & white comics, you'll note that the villains often have
highly detail faces while the hero's and main character's face are often
very general and stylized. This is done purposely to allow the viewer to
more easily fantasize and more their own face into that of the main
character. It makes for a stronger identification with the main
character and their emotions. If you look at color anime, for example
the Robotech/Macross series, you'll note a similar approach. Rick Hunter
and Lisa Hayes, two of the main characters have normal human hair colors
(so do all the other main human characters in fact.) While some of the
subplots have human and alien characters with blue & green hair - like
Max and Muria. If you want a great look at this check out the following
book: "Understanding Comics" by Scott McCloud. It has tons of detail and
insight on visual arts and psychology in comics. I highly recommend it
to anyone interested in any of those subjects.

> I had a mummy unit that was straight grey and white for the wrappings.. but
> for the axes and maces, I painted the shafts turquoise blue, (with highlight
> of course) and the metal blades of the axes and balls of the maces were a
> reddish brown with light bronze highlighting. Also crowns, armor bits or
> other knick knacks were also painted reddish brown, but with gold
> highlights. Came out looking very nice.

Congratulations, you have just broke your own 3 color rule and
pointed out that a unit with a lot of variation in value even if it's the
same color can look good, and that by conservative use of bright chroma
colors for highlights and emphasis (Note - not white highlights) that the
unit came out looking good.

> My friend with the goblins painted all his wooden shafts red. Why? because
> red is the complement of green, and it looked good in contrast. Why was the
> wood red? Who Cares.

Again, while this follows with color theory just fine, it doesn't
follow your "mix white with everything" suggestion.

> I have another friend, a very good painter who philosophy is to paint every
> single detail of a model, and to always paint it realistic colours. From 2
> inches away his models look perfect, if not a little boring. From 3-4 feet
> they look TERRIBLE. In fact I never even pick up any of his models unless
> he specifically points out one. I hate when he asks me if I like it cuz I
> know he just spent the last 3 hours painting it, so I lie to him. I just
> never have the desire to look at his models because they are all dark and
> all so many details done with varying colours. Eech.

Understandable. Like I said - if you emphasize everything,
nothing stands out. For an on-line example, New Wave Hobby recently
posted a "Legion of the Damned" army for 40K. It was nicely done, but
the owner went from emphasis to overkill on his converting and painting.
He used putty to model flames, and bones on a variety of figures and
vehicles. Unfortunately he put way to much detail by way of flames and
bones (particularly the bones) on every figure. Nothing stands out above
the rest, and with all the detail, there isn't any place for the eye to
stop and admire. This generally results in the eye getting tired and the
brain loosing interest rather quickly.

> 4) Do what you just did 10 times more
> If you cant do it 20 more times, dont even start. Figure out quick ways to
> get the right colour on a model. Can a model be drybrushed? then put a
> darker shade on it then drybrush to the lighter correct shade (dont forget
> to give strong highlights!) then ink any parts that need it, lay down any
>flat colours and highlight. Don't forget that the first level of
>highlighting will be the color the model actually appears to be for flat
>colours, while the second highlighting will just appear to be
>I personally do each step on ALL the models in a
>unit before I go to the next stage.. (normally I do one model as an
>example, then copy that) If you dont feel you can reliably copy a
>consistently throughtout the entire army, settle for a less complex
>Often the less complex schemes look better anyway.
>Nothing looks worse than having 5 character models blacklined and
>highlighted and then the rest of the army just primary coloured.
>Instead of
>showing how well you painted those five, it shows how little work you
>did on
>the other 100.

Basically you make some fine points, but you miss a few as well.
Depth perception is based on (again) value range and color intensity. It
doesn't take much effort to create units with a fair amount of value
range and colors ranging from neutral to bright. By doing so you make
the otherwise shallow looking detail on a small mini look a lot more 3
dimensional. You're working with an optical illusion based on the
psychology of the human brain/eye combo. You contradict yourself several
times from your "use white with everything" for highlighting stance in
the course of your article. Ideally one will start out with a strategy
based on using a wide range of values and varying color intensity to
create an appealing overall effect. You can achieve this in a variety of
ways, the methods you list are rather very limited. I agree that the
beginner should use the KISS (Keep it simple student!) method to start
with, but painting in such a limited formulaic manor will never improve
beyond a basic level of proficiency. I don't argue the fact that the 3
color rule is a good one, but don't be limited by it. The problem with
many beginners in hobby or fine arts painting is that they NEVER learn
the basic rules in the first place. You have to master the rules before
you can go beyond them in original ways.
If someone is going to use the 3 color rule (and it is a good
strategy to use) just remember the psychology of color too. For example,
if I want my command unit to be in keeping with the rest of my army, but
still the visual centerpiece, I can do it without excessive use of white
for highlighting, or excessive amounts of detail. If my main units are
painted medium ultramarine blue, medium cadmium yellow, and white, then I
can paint my command unit bright ultramarine blue, bright cadmium yellow,
and white. It will still fit with the rest of my army, require no more
or less values or detailing than other units, but by virtue of it's
higher chroma value still have visual emphasis.
In short, your process determines your outcome. If you use a good
strategy, decent paints and tools, and you have even moderate painting
skills, your army will come out looking very nice. Its determining a
good painting strategy that's really the difficult part (that and knowing
how color and the eye work together.)

>5) Base and Flock all models. Then Highlight the bases!!!
>Dont complain! Just do it!
>My friends Goblin army was completely blacklined, boldly highlighted
>vibrant colours, and completely based and flocked with highlighting
>to the base AND flock. Did I mention this was the best army I had ever

Yea, bases are an important overall part of the figure, and can
make or break an otherwise great paint job. It does sound like you're
assuming that we all use the glue some sand onto the base and paint it
method of basing. Your highlighting suggests are appropriate in that
case, but I for one use regular flocking and static grass, and I don't
paint it. It blends in fine with my table, which is what it's meant to

Overall, it's a nice post, but you generalize to much in parts (including
some inaccurate generalizations) and leave out a lot of important
details. Hope this helps with the painting. I do like your points that
minis with a good range of values, a good (and simple is good) color
strategy (I can't emphasis enough here planning and forethought before
you start painting) and careful use of detail for emphasis make an
ordinary army into an EXTRAORDINARY ARMY! No plan of action every
survives contact with the enemy completely intact, but beyond a shadow of
a doubt, those that plan well succeed far far more often than those that
plan little or not at all.

Myrmidon - the occasionally long winded.