Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Back in Black

Up until recently I have shied away from using black as main color on my figures (my Ravenwing being the exception of course). I was dissatisfied with how black looked. It either looked overly grey or that I had made a pathetic attempt at highlighting. After a lot of internet searching and discussion with my professional painting friends, here is what I leaned.

Most of us who paint on an intermediate level understand the idea behind shadow, base color, and highlight. GW’s paints are designed to capitalize on this idea as are the figure paints of other paint companies. This subject alone can spawn pages of discussion on color theory and paint mixing. On a basic level the idea is about properly rendering color in three dimensions through using rough proportions of 25% of the painted area being a shadow tone, 50% base color, and 25% highlight. I admit those proportions are terribly scientific and not representative of a painting style. However, those proportions are helpful when thinking about painting black. Black’s shadow and base color is black, which means once you have applied a solid layer of black all you will be doing is bringing up the highlights. This can be quickly observed on any model painted by GW’s Heavy Metal painters, and is obvious on chaos warriors or marines in black power armor.

The next concept in painting black is that black isn’t really black, at least not on cloth. Black is achieved in cloth through mixing dyes. This can be most easily observed in men’s dress socks. The color of black on the sock may be brown, blue, red, green, violet, and rarely grey. This knowledge can help us paint our highlights naturally. Armed with these two concepts, we turn to color selection.

Many painters, including myself at one point, will highlight black through the additive process. This means that we start with black and build our highlights by adding white to the mix. This is an acceptable way to highlight black, but I began to notice on my figures that these grayscale highlights looked flat and lacked life. This is when I discovered the paint color “Payne’s Grey”.

This wonderful near black color can be mixed using black, blue, and a dark brown. Alternatively you can get this pre-mixed. GW’s version is Necron Abyss, which is not as near black as I would like, but could easily be made closer by adding Chaos Black to it. Reaper Miniatures makes a color called Blue Liner that I feel is spot on, and it is what I use.

I start by applying my first highlight of pure Blue Liner where I want the highlights to start and paint towards the brightest point of the highlight. After this is done I will start adding an off-white color to the mix and repeat. It is important to note that I add these highlights where the paint is thinned about 50/50 with water, and I add very little white at a time because white can quickly lighten up the color, which can spoil some of your transitions.

It is important to note that using an off-white color is preferred. I suggest this because pure white can bring up the color too fast, and make your work look chalky. If you’re using GW colors I would suggest for your off-white using Bleached Bone, Dheneb Stone, or Astranomicon Grey mixed with some Skull White. I use a set of three off-white colors from Reaper. They are Linen White, Leather White, and Ghost White. Using any of these off-white colors will produce some really great effects when used with Payne’s Gray.

The wolf that used in my opening image uses a lot of these not black concepts and when you look at it you begin to see that working outside of grayscale gives the wolf's pelt depth and yet it still looks black.

Here is an example of my work using Payne’s Grey. I utilized Ghost White on this model. I’ll admit it is far from perfect, but I do like the depth that the blue in the Payne’s Grey gives to the highlights. (This figure is far from done.)

How do you highlight black? Have you used these colors before? Tell us how these concepts work for you.


Spanky Harrison on October 5, 2009 at 12:45 PM said...

Good article!

It reminds me of back when I used to play Neverwinter Nights online a bunch. Lots of people would use the "Super solid black" hidden color on the palate, and it looked awful, even though it was a true black.It just sucked all the detail out of the texture.

For us lazy people who just want something fast that looks ok from 3 feet away, do you think basing the model in a dark grey and then doing a heavy black wash would work at all? Maybe with a lighter grey highlight?

GW's badab black wash darkens even the highlights pretty significantly.

Psyberwolfe on October 7, 2009 at 5:02 AM said...

It will still look grey. I would paint black and highlight the edges with a 50/50 mix of shadow grey and black and then hit the brightest highlights with shadow grey. after that i might tone it all down with badab black.

RealGenius on October 7, 2009 at 6:43 AM said...

Very nicely done! I'd be interested to see how it works on something non-organic, like Ravenwing Marine armor.

CrusherJoe on October 18, 2009 at 8:40 AM said...

First thing: HOLY CRAP A NEW ACT OF BLOGGERY! It's good to see you posting again!

All of Reaper's Liners are incredible, I think I find a new use for them pretty much every time I open a bottle. On my latest project (the damnable, time-consuming god-I-don't-want-to-paint-any-more-marines-please-make-it-stop Star Phantoms) I've had to figure out something to do with black's bastard step-child: dark gray. I started out doing a LOT of cheating with Tamiya's Gunship Gray in the rattle-can, but at this stage of the game I've found (for the marines themselves, anyway) that Krylon gray primer makes a great base, then I hit it with multiple washes (thought technically I suppose it would be a "glaze") of a mix of 3:2:10 Gray Liner:Blue Liner:Glazing Medium, with a 1:1 mix of Gray Liner:Stormcover Gray for touch-ups. For highlighting I've been doing mostly edges, and so there's really not much in the way of transitions...and Ghost White has been working pretty well. I've done a little bit of highlighting/color variance by adding Ghost White to a 3:2 mix of Gray Liner:Blue Liner and that's worked pretty well, too. Shoulder pad rims get a 2:1 mix of Icy Gray:Ghost White with minimal Icy Gray highlights. For shading/blacklining I've found that black (as in RMS Black Primer) is just -too- black, but certain mixes of Gray and Brown liner (sometimes with Blue Liner added in) makes for a nice, almost-but-not-quite-black that I'm more-or-less OK with.

The trick, I think, is remembering that "true" black is pretty unnatural-looking, but dark grays with deep blues and browns mixed in give much better color that your eyes will still "read" as black.

Thanks for a great article. You made me remember that I actually have Linen White and I'm going to do some 'sperimentin' with it and see how that goes. :)


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