It’s Mini Monday, where I share customizing, scratch building, kitbashing, and miniature painting projects for your roleplaying and tabletop gaming. This week we’ll talk about how to pick colours for mini painting with colour theory.
Pick colours for your mini painting projects thoughtfully, because it’ll give you a better end result, and, like painting, it’s a skill you can improve on. Build some understanding of the theory, then use that to inform your choices and achieve the results you’re looking for.
Colour theory might seem like a deep rabbit hole, which may seem intimidating, but I highly recommend you dive in. Colour theory opens up the language of colour, an understanding of how colours work together, and an understanding of the emotional responses that colours can create.
Here’s a quick look:
The colour wheel below shows the primary colours (red, blue, and yellow) and the secondary colours (orange, purple, and green). You can make the secondary colours by mixing the two primary colours nearest to the secondary colour you want to make (and that’ll cost GW some sales).
Analogous colours sit side-by-side on the colour wheel. They give you a simple range of colours for creating rich monochromatic (single colour) colour schemes.
Complementary colours sit opposite each other on the colour wheel, but still work well when paired together. As you can see, there’s more to the “red wunz go fasta” thing when painting Orks.
This is just scratching the surface of colour theory, and I encourage you to seek out more information.
3 Tips to Using Colour Theory
Like any theory, you need to put colour theory into practice to get a real understanding of it and make it stick. Here are three ways to help yourself implement colour theory in your miniature painting.
Limited Your Colour Scheme
I painted the mini below with two reds, two browns, black, white (mixed to make grey), and metallic paint. It is a simple mini, but restricting your range of colours forces you to get more creative. Using analogous colours for this type of painting will also give you a base colour, shading colour, and a highlight that compliments each other.
Another way to think of it is to drop a primary colour or two. Forbid yourself from using it, and see how your colour scheme becomes much tighter.
Clash Your Colours with Purpose
If colours are not analogous or complimentary, then there’s no colour harmony; they are contrasting colours. That doesn’t mean you can’t use purple and green together, you just have to know why you’re pairing them. Think of the green Hulk with his purple shorts, or Superman with his red and blue spandex, they stand out. And sometimes standing out is exactly what you want.
A World in Black and White
Of course, real life is full of colour, but to really understand and successfully pick colours for your minis you could do worse than follow Frank Miller’s example in Sin City. Frank’s masterpiece is a master class in light and shadow, with pages in black and white and only occasional splashes of colour. You can explore this with nothing more than paper and a black pen.
As an example, here’s the cover of The Grimdark Pamphlet, which I thought was a good colour choice for a book of game options that challenges the often black and white world of most adventurers, where the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. Or was it that I didn’t want colour so I could push the idea of the colourless, grim aesthetic most associated with grimdark settings?
Now, I’m not saying you need to paint a mini only black and white, but there are plenty of great paint schemes that focus on black and white, such as drow with their white hair and black armour, the Black Templars, the Blood Angels Death Company, and Goff Orks. Notice how these schemes often use a third colour to accentuate items such as weapons.
You can take this idea further to explore light, as Miniac did in his Color is for CHUMPS video. Check it out and tell him I sent you.
The Rising Phoenix Games dude.
Rodney is a writer and editor of tabletop RPGs and a painter of Orks. He is worryingly fond of mill decks in Magic: the Gathering and a self-confessed Japanophile.