Friday, 22 July 2011

What is Colour Theory?

Colour theory is the practical guidance and study of how colours interact with one another, and how they affect us. When understood and put into practice we can make objects stand out or make them recede, we can make colours appear brighter or duller: colour theory can even help us sell products to people

Written evidence of this study first found in the writings of Leone Battista Alberti, the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, and speculated upon by Sir Isac Newton.

The Practical Application of Colour Theory.

The Colour Wheel

The colour wheel is constructed of the primary colours (red, yellow and blue), the corresponding secondary colours (green, orange and violet) then all the tertiary colours in between (red–orange, red–violet, yellow–orange, yellow–green, blue–violet and blue–green). It is a representation of the colour spectrum that is present in light. We can use the colour wheel to create dynamic colour schemes, helping us choose effective colour combinations to achieve the best results.

Primary Colours

All colours are made up from three primary colours - red, blue and yellow. The tertiary colours can be created by blending the primary colours together. For example, to create brown we would mix equal parts green and red. 

Complimentary Colours

A complimentary colour refers to the colours that are on opposite sides of the colour wheel (red and green for example). When mixed together, these colours will cancel each other out, creating a dull greyish colour. However, complimentary colours can be used to shade their counterpart on the opposite side of the spectrum. Green can therefore be shaded with red (and vice versa). By shading a colour with its complimentary counterpart, you will ensure that your model maintains a vibrant appearance, whereas shading with black or grey will kill this.

Analogous Colours

Analogous colours are those found neighbouring any chosen colour on the colour wheel (for example, the analogous colours of red are purple and orange). You can use these colours to build an atmosphere, or use them on objects that you do not wish to draw attention to on the model.

By limiting your palette you can create a model that has many areas of visual interest that are nevertheless tied together. Because these colours are close to each other on the colour wheel, they do not distract the eye form the main focus of the miniature.
Warm colours vs. cool colours.

Colours have been given emotive resonance: Why so blue? Green with envy, and so on. Understanding a little of the psychology behind colours can help us create a mood or evoke an atmosphere for our models. The colour combinations we pick can act as a dialogue between the artist and viewer, even if the viewer knows nothing about the history associated with the miniature.

For my dark elder I chose a green tinted turquoise complimented by a highly saturated purple. Turquoise is an ambiguous colour, one that is easy to misinterpret. Green can have associations with deceit, sickness and duplicity. I was mindful of this emotional resonance when designing the scheme.

Warm colours are associated with daylight: Warm colors are often said to be hues from red through yellow, browns and tans included.

Cool colours are associated with grey overcast skies. Cool colors are often said to be the hues from blue green through blue violet, most greys included.

When thinking about warm colours versus cool when planning your scheme. Remember: Warm colours excite the viewer and appear more active in a painting, whereas cool colours tend to recede into the background.
Mid-Tone, Shading and Highlighting.

Once we have chosen our main colour, we have to devise a method of shading and highlighting it. It is very easy to spoil our original intended colour with over zealous highlighting or shading. Blood Angels can easily become a muddy brown colour, or bright pink unless we plan ahead. By painting the miniature in a flat mid tone colour (GW’s Blood Red for example), we can ensure that the highlights (GW’s Blazing Orange) and shades (GW’s Scab Red) are controlled precisely.

We are taught in school that there are three primary colours: Red, Green and Blue (or more accurately, violet blue, more on this later) and are used to create other colours. But each colour also has a masstone and undertone.

The masstone of the paint is the primary pigment used. Blue pigment for regal blue.

The undertone is the secondary pigment used to make the generic blue into regal blue. In this case, green.

To shade regal blue I could therefore use a dark green.

If we take a look at Warlock Purple and compare it on our colour wheel we can guess that this has a masstone of blue and an undertone of red.

To shade Warlock Purple I would therefore use red. However, some colours will be harder to place than others as they contain different quantities of pigment.

Liche Purple for example, contains both blue and red pigments. This colour can be shaded using either a dark red or a blue depending on the effect you wish to achieve.

To highlight a model, simply add bleached bone, VMC ivory (my preferred choice) or pure white to your chosen mid tone. I would advise against highlighting to pure white in most scenarios, as you will rarely see a surface that reflects a pure white (lacquered or metallic surfaces are an exception).

Using Colour theory to construct a colour scheme.

To create a colour scheme first we have to choose a colour. This mid-tone will determine which complimentary and analogous colours will be used to enhance it. ‘Eavy Metal painters will often choose three contrasting colours to build the scheme around (more on this later under ‘Spot Colours’).

Well known colour combinations:

Red – Green (be careful with this combination as these colours are synonymous with Christmas)
Green- white – (substitute white for a bright silver)
White – Black
Blue – orange (substitute orange for gold)
Yellow – Purple
You can also find more information on colour combinations through the internet. - great website for pleasing colour combinations.

And if you are lucky enough to own a smart phone that is enabled to download apps, I would highly recommend downloading peppermint, the interactive colour wheel. I've downloaded the free version and I upgraded to the paid within half an hour of using it.

Creating your own Scheme

Armed with this knowledge, how can we create our own visually striking paint schemes?

For a strong colour scheme, use a primary colour as the main colour of you miniature.

Ultramarines are a great example of an appealing colour combination.

For evil races, choose cool colours such as green or purple, and use a limited palette of analogous colours to maintain the mood of the piece. For good races, use bright, clean, bold colours like red, yellow or blue with a strong complimentary colour to contrast with it.

Of course this advice can be reversed to confound the expectations of the viewer. Heroes are all the more compelling for having questionable moral complexities; which can be reflected in the colour scheme you choose to create, or the sigils and fetishes you choose to adorn your miniatures with. And sometimes the bad guys can really turn out to be the good guys in disguise. Armies such as the Dark Eldar, or Dark Elves have an amazing range of intricate and detailed miniatures; details that can become lost with a dark colour scheme.

Spot colour

‘Eavy Metal painters refer the the third complimentary colour used on a miniature as the ‘spot colour’. Although there are many exceptions to this rule, it is a useful way of breaking up a miniature when you are thinking about creating a colour scheme.

The spot colour on this Empire warrior priest is Dwarf flesh, complimenting the main colours of red and white (silver in this case). They suggest that when you plan a model, you should look at the front profile and draw an imaginary triangle, or diamond in your minds eye. The points of this shape should determine where you should consider placing the spot colour. This will help give the model definition and balance when it is first viewed.

Be Creative and Try it Yourself

This is by no means an exhaustive guide. There are many exceptions to the points I have discussed here, and some of the pointers will not be applicable to a few of the miniatures you may paint in the future. One point I would like to stress that has only been hinted at so far is the balance within a composition.

Many painters will wax lyrical about the composition of a painting on a page, and how colour plays a part in creating a scene. As miniature painters, we seldom get the opportunity to compose our own ‘canvass’ and we must create solutions to the problem that a primed miniature presents us with. Very few miniatures will afford us with the opportunity for colour balance, but we can overcome this with a few creative touches.

On a normal man sized figure, the head will form the focal point of the miniature. By adding a colour that resonates with any used on the head on the arms, or legs of the miniature, you are building the imaginary triangle mentioned in the spot colour section. Try to balance colours out across the model (say, by using a purple plume and mirroring the colour in the loin cloth of an avatar) and you should have a well-prepared, clear composition.



Origins of the Modern Palette


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