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Darkmessiah's Guide to Contrast

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  • Darkmessiah's Guide to Contrast - Part 1

    Hello everyone, my name is John, most people will know me as Darkmessiah, for the last 3 years I have been attending many competitions and workshops around Europe, I have been learning many new skills, techniques and ideas from some of the best painters in the world, this has drastically improved my hobby skills. This article will take you through an in depth look at the seven different types of contrast that I have learnt about on my travels!

    Before I start, just a quick note, this is not meant to be the definitive guide to contrast, the hobby of painting miniatures has a huge collection of very talented people, the majority of my knowledge has come from such people, however, there is still so much more for me to learn, use this guide as a starting point to improve you painting skills but realise there is always more to learn and there will always be new ideas, new interpretations of old ideas, new materials and mediums, make sure you keep an open mind, never let someone tell you something is impossible and PRACTISE, PRACTISE, PRACTISE! Reading about an idea or technique is no substitute for sitting down and actually trying it a few times!

    There are 7 forms of contrast that I am aware of, some types of contrast you will use be able to use quite often, some are a little bit more specific, what they all have in common is that if you use them correctly, the contrast on your model will increase. I will explain the idea behind each type of contrast and then give you an example of a model where it has been used.

    1. Light and Dark Contrast

    Light and dark contrast is the most widely known form of contrast, when painters talk about a model lacking contrast on a miniature forum, this is usually the contrast theyre referring too. The idea is if you place a light colour next to a dark colour the difference between the two colours will create contrast. You'll see this contrast really exploited in NMM, zenithal lighting, directional lighting and object source lighting.

    Pretty much everyone uses this when they paint highlights and shadows, you can stretch the contrast by adding pure white and black into ur shadows, be careful though, as a dark blue can look darker than a heavy black shadow. Another way it can be used is actually a much simpler way of using it and thats actually just placing a dark colour next to a light colour and vica versa.
    In this example you can actually see a step by step of a fully NMM Iron Man bust, from the initial 'sketch' in white/black/grey to the final image where white and black are used heavily.


    Here is an example of a light/dark contrast used in zenithal/directional lighting, the face has alot of white and black in it, the contrast on the face really helps make it the focal point, especially as large parts of the model are muted.
    Here is an example of light/dark contrast being used by placing a dark part of the model next to a light part of the model, the darkness of the armour has been placed next to a very bright tunic and cape, the lightness of the face is surround by quite a dark lining where the face meets the skull cap, the contrast is further exaggerated with the use of strong highlights and shadows on his face and tunic. The tunic itself goes from white at the top to a very dark brown at the bottom, the shades in the folds of the tunic are also a dark blue.

    2. Colour

    Colour contrast and colour theory pretty much go hand in hand, colour contrast is a corner stone of colour theory. Now, whilst colour theory can be made to be very complicated and challenging, colour contrast can be made to be very simple!

    So below is a colour wheel, colour contrast is about picking two complimentary and using them on your model. A complimentary colour is the colour opposite the colour you have chosen, if I wanted to use red, green would be the complementary colour, with purple its yellow, with blue its orange etc, etc.


    If you want something a little more refined and interactive Id recommend you have a look at this site, Colour Scheme Designer, their you can choose complementary from the menu, pick a colour and it will show you its complementary colour and that complementary colour's and lighter/darker variation, picking your colours is no more difficult than that.


    Once you have your colours chosen you have the more complicated task of choosing how to use your colours. The following examples are either common ways Ive seen complimentary colours applied or an applications Ive found interesting, colour in itself is infinitely variable, please dont get tied down to using colours how they are in the examples, play with your colour choices try new things, try mad things, try crazy things!

    Using them your as main colours, but as separate colours
    This is Martin Footits UK Open gold winning model from 2011 and it uses complementary colours (red and green) in a simple but very effective way.


    Here is another example of the same use of complimentary colour, but its blue and orange.


    another example from Darren Latham using purple and yellow

    The 2nd example is
    Mixing your complimentary colour into your chosen colour to create a highlight or shadow
    This idea is used quite a lot by intermediate to high level painters, it can be a very subtle effect but its a very effective because it can add a lot of depth and complexity to your colours.

    The 3rd is
    Using both your complimentary colour and you chosen colour to make highlights/shadows of each other
    If your struggling to get ur head around this idea I dont blame you! its the most complicated use of complimentary colour and requires a good understanding of the colours your using.

    In this example Chris used purple and yellow as his complimentary colours, he used the purple to shade the yellow and used yellow to shade the purple.



    3. Temperature
    Temperature contrast relies on the temperature properties we associate with certain colours, whether we think a colour is warm or cold. Temperature can be a very powerful tool to create atmosphere because the viewer can quickly see the story the model is trying to tell.
    As stated temperature contrast is spilt into hot and cold colours, cold colours are your violets, blues and teals, where you warm colours are yellows, reds and greens
    In the example below you can see Isidro has used largely warm colours to give the impression that the farseer is standing under a warm sun on an alien planet.



    In this example Artur has used a combination of cold colours to place this terminator in an icy wasteland.


    A step up from using just cold colour or just warm colours is using them together to further enhance features or details.
    The example blow is a bust painted by Diego Esteban. its a fantastic example of how a combination of cold and warm colours creates a powerful atmosphere and story. As soon as you look at the bust a story starts to unfold, the touches of snow on his cloak, the way his hands and face are starting to turn blue shows he is obviously in a frozen, bitterly cold environment, the vivid slashes of blood red and mud smears, shows he must have been in some kind of battle or struggle, maybe he was ambushed by wolves whilst hunting, fighting a local tribe over land or maybe he is escaping from an encounter with a Roman Legionnaire. What makes this bust work so well is a clever combination of colour, the focus of the bust is the face and his hand, both warm colours surrounded by the cold colours of his cloak, Diego has then combined a blue shadow and mid tone with the warmth of the face to really show how much the warrior is struggling.


    Another example of combining cold and warm colours to create atmosphere is this bust by Isidro Moux, it is a much more subtle paint job, but for me it is no less dramatic. Isidro has combined subtle blues and warm orangey browns to create a bust of a Spartan travelling through the night. One component that really helps sell the night scene is the direction of light from left to right, the colours subtly shift from warm and neutral to cold colours. This colour shift is most obvious across his chest, if u compare the arm on the left, which is mostly warm colours shifting to neutral to the arm on the right, which is entirely cold, mostly blue in fact. This shift in colour is evident on all the components of the model, on this neck and face, his cloak and helmet.


    isid spart.jpg
    Isidro Moux - Spartan

    And here are 2 examples of miniatures with a similar combination of cold and warm colours.
    Seb use mostly cold colours on this model, however a subtle use of red in the skin really helps add life.


    Anakin vs Obi Wan by Alfonso Giraldes, the heat of the lava evident on Obi Wans back and the cold light of his light sabre makes for a fantastic combination of light and temperature.

    One last example is from Bohun, he uses temperature in a very interesting way, before I go through the examples, I need to explain that any colour can be made to be hot or cold, if you take a warm red and add a cold blue, the red shifts towards a colder purpley red, if you take a cold blue and add a warm green, you take the blue towards a warmer teal, this is something Bohun uses heavily.
    When Bohun paints a model he will have 3 different variations of the main colour, a cold version, a warm version and a neutral version (the cold and warm version mixed in equal amounts), he places them close to each other in almost a random way. He uses this combination of colours to create very high contrast paintjobs

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