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Black/White/Grey Spectrum

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Alright, it's time for Miss Melons terrible explanation process. Who will understand what I'm saying today?! 


I as looking at Rhonda Bender's wonderful Noir Paint work. I'm probably pretty easy to please, but I think it was pretty awesome. For the longest I have been poking my brain on how to paint something and realized that I had yet to see it done this way specifically.) I don't mean Noir style, but it's in that general direction. 


I'm talking about painting black and white but to still have depth to it, much like the Noir Paint work. Typically with...lets say really old silent movie black and whites, the color black is never quite that dark and the whites are never white. (Remember, you're talking to someone that honestly, I don't use grey much or silver or light grey or even dark grey so this is hard for me to picture) I don't understand what I would use as a base for skin color, how to differentiate that between a dress or a cloak. How would jewelry be painted in a case like this but still able to reflect a 'sparkle'.


Originally I was thinking to not venture into the spectrum of Black and white, but to take a light grey-ish white as my brightest color (not including a highlight which would be white) then take it to a grey, grey with brown, then brown to black, then a charcoal black with black as my darkest. 


This way, I probably won't struggle as much because I'll have color to relate to. @[email protected] At the same time, that either A: Won't work or B: Will be me taking the easy way out and I won't grow. My NMM is pretty mediocre because if it isn't black or it isn't white, then transitioning is hard. 


Anyways....for the TLDR: Do any of you have experience in painting black and white? (I also don't mean statue-like but that will possibly help me get an idea on how to do it) 


I'm possibly just over thinking this and may need to take a seat, whip out the charcoal black or invest in some noir black and go from the bottom and work my way up instead of thinking about the middle and branching outwards. 


I'm nut's aren't I? It's okay, you can tell me. @[email protected] 

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Different colors make it easier to see different parts of a tiny miniature, but there's no reason why you couldn't use black and white.


If I understand you, you're worried that there won't be enough contrast, that areas will be undifferentiated?


May I suggest you look closely at some of those old black and white silent films, or even better, publicity stills for them. The cinematographers had to use every trick they could to make sure that things were visible, that there was sufficient contrast. Most of them, I've noticed, have a kind of silvery luminosity which suggests a palette skewed towards lighter greys. Also note tricks like lining the actors' eyes with black to make them stand out more.

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Every individual "colour" is equal to a specific value. So yellow paint is of lighter value than red paint, while magenta is lighter value than blue paint, etc.

Meaning, skin tone, an orangey colour is a lighter value than a mid tone blue of any hue.

So imagine your character in colour first, after selecting those colours, paint them on a white plate or piece of paper if you want. Then photograph them and use some software, iphoto, photoshop or whatever tool to change it to black and white.

Older paint job of mine to illustrate;



You will instantly see your values. Controlling value is equally important in colour rendering as it is when working in black and white. (if not more so because colours get messy fast)

"This [where] system is colorblind, has high contrast sensitivity, operates quickly, and has a slightly lower acuity than the “What†system. The “What†system provides us with the ability to identify objects, faces and color."- This system is what identifies objects as existing"Oh no there's a red ball shaped object on the ground!". the "What" system of vision is more like "ohhhh its an apple not just a red object!". And you will notice this process more when working from peripheral vision which is exclusively black and white, you do not see colour in your peripheral at all.

So the best thing to do is to take a bunch of pics, photographs, photos of painted minis, and so on, and turn them black and white. The miniatures that read the best have strong value control, the ones that dont do not.

This will not only help you look at colour differently, but better understand what black and white really is, and how to work with it.

I will suggest, avoiding true whites and blacks, the blacks usually have a bit more blue and the lights a bit more yellow(so redish/orangey, yellowish) a good example is this set:


You dont have to add the blue, it just helps make the darks feel darker when next to the light tones. And the reverse is true as well

Edited by Minx Studio
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I usually take black and white pics of my paint bottles or test swatches to test if my actual "color" scheme has enough value contrast. 


However, when we say Value, we are usually talking about the general white to black quality of an specific color. So be careful, because red or yellow or blue can go from near white to near black, and thus Value can be any "number" in a scale of 0 to 10 (0 being white, 10 being pure black). Nightshade Purple is a very high value Purple; Linen white is a very low value red (I think... it is so desaturated it is hard to tell!).


If you find an interesting image of nature you want to emulate, you can convert it to white and black and analyze it. 

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Ahhh I see. My worry was also in color contamination. Thus why I was going to mix pure black And white to create my spectrum. I cannot just pick up a Rainy Grey or Concrete paint or Solid Stone and use it in my palette. I understand this much. Concrete and rainy grey seem to have blue in it.


My inspiration actually came from a silent movie and I know the art style well. Its just the application. I will experiment by taking my old mini pictures and turning them black and white, then making small test palettes.


Thanks for the ideas and advice.


Edit: ah yes scale 75, so we meet again. You have what I need but alas I have not the funds. That spectrum though gives me a good idea on how to not 'monotone' it maybe as that cream yellow is clearly used as a skin highlight.

Edited by MissMelons
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It is my understanding that a lot of "monochrome" B&W painting play off the hues, very desaturated hues, to help out. I know that I would probably do that, because a warm near black or cold near black (like brown liner or red liner, or nightshade purple) at first glance would look like black or near so, and yet provide some more variation.


But if you want to do pure white and black, as Pingo says, you need tricks (tricks I don't know, so share them when you develop them!). Usually we all paint with "contrast" in all three caracteristics of color (Hue, Value and Saturation/Chroma). You don't realize as much until you miss two of them! Looking forward to your thoughts on this!

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I really only know pure black and white, I may be able to take a light bone color to mimic scale 75s spectrum but I'll have to experiment. I've only just started using corporeas black but it can be more blue or brown and probably won't settle well on a black and white spectrum. I'll let you know what I come up with.

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Just eyeballing it for some quick MSP similarities...



Linen/Leather White

Polished Bone

Rainy Grey

Weathered Stone

Stormy Grey

Shadowed Stone

Grey Liner


Of course, some of this could just be differences with my screen/eyeballs.

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I've got some stuff I need to get done, but I will try to pop back into this conversation and comment on how I painted the Deadlands Noir figures, and some thoughts about monochrome painting in general. From a quick skim it looks like Minx covered a lot of what I might mention, but it can be helpful to get explanations from different POVs. Also as I was matching art that looked straight B&W to me, I did in fact mix from Black (the new Kickstarter black, though, which I think is more of an artist's black), Pure White and Stormy, Cloudy, Rainy and Misty Greys. It is my understanding those are true neutrals, whereas the stone grays and a few others do tint slightly brown, blue, etc.

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A few years back I was fortunate enough to be able to take a class on monochromatic painting with Derek Schubert, and it was very helpful when painting the Deadlands Noir figures. I recommend it if you have the opportunity. If you look through his artist gallery on the main Reaper site, you’ll see he’s done monochromatic paint jobs in sepia tones, spectral greens and a few other colours, so this technique is not limited to black and white. You could use almost any really dark colour in mixes with almost any very light colour to great a spectrum of monochromatic mixes.


Generally when painting black items I try to avoid straight neutrals. I’ll paint something like Blue Liner into the shadows and highlight up with a skin colour (Dusky triad, Dark Elf triad or Tanned triad are all ones I like), or the Twilight blues for a shiny blue-black. Nonalla 3667 is an example of both – the cloak is highlighted with Tanned Skin and has Blue Liner in the shadows. The hair is highlighted up with the Twilight Blues up to white.




The Noir figures were painted to match artwork that was true B&W. (The touches of colour also came from the artwork.) If you do a Google image search for ‘Deadlands Noir’ it should turn up most of the artwork I was working from. I started by making a mix of nine gradations from black to white, using Stormy, Cloudy, Rainy, Misty Grays, Solid Black (the Kickstarter 2 black) and Pure White. I painted stripes of each on to a piece of paper, so I had a comparison to match against when it came time to mix fresh batches.


I numbered each stripe from 1 (black) through to 9 (white). Since I was painting 5 figures over a span of days (Stone was painted later), this was very helpful for my reference while painting. I noted down which number I used as a basecoat for each area, so I could see at a glance where to start with shading and highlighting areas, and also to match areas that were supposed to be the same between the figures. (I created the bases with the idea that some of the figures were on the same street or in the same room with others.) I'll add one of the Noir figures here for the benefit of those who haven't seen them. (To see the rest search for noir on the main Reaper site.)




So I definitely did not start with the entire figure painted black or gray and then just highlighted/shaded the whole thing. One of the things monochromatic painting can help with is the importance of using differing values over a figure. (Value refers to how light or dark a colour is.) Because of their small size, miniatures are much more accessible to the viewer if you use value contrasts to separate one area from another. For example, if the skin is pale, the dress a midtone and the hair very dark, each area has a different value to the other two areas it touches, and the viewer can easily see which parts are which. It’s pretty easy to see if you’re getting this right with a monochromatic colour scheme (pale grey skin, gray dress, black hair), but colour can muddy the issue. For many years I had a bad habit of starting with basecoats that were too close together in value for best effect. You can test this in your own work by taking a picture of a few of your figures and converting it to black and white, either through using a B&W camera setting or by desaturating the colours in image editing software.


After settling on those main colours, I also mixed half-steps between some of the mixes, so I was actually working with 13 or so gradations of paint for doing the blending part of the painting. I find that pure neutrals can be challenging to layer smoothly, and more steps makes it easier. I placed damp sponges on top of my ceramic palette when I wasn’t painting, and was able to use the same mixes over a period of days, so I only had to mix up paint a couple of times to complete the figures.


So that was the mechanics of painting them, but I’ll also mention some of the theory behind painting in this style. Monochrome painting challenges your ability to truly visualize the varying appearance of different textures, and also challenges your ability to paint in such a way that recreates those different textures. This is actually at the heart of the best painting, period, but it becomes more of an issue in monochromatic painting because colour is removed from the equation.


I don’t think I’m explaining that as well as I’d like, so I’ll try to give some examples. Much of the time we interpret the material of an area of the figure based on the shape and texture of the sculpt – we can figure out that long strings on hanging from the top of the head are hair regardless of the colour or the skill with which it is painted. Something like a jacket can be more ambiguous. If it’s blue or green, you’ll probably decide it’s a cloth jacket. If it’s brown or black, you’re likely to think of it as a leather jacket.


But what happens when the figure is monochromatic? Then your brain uses other cues to interpret the materials and textures. If the jacket is matte with smooth transitions from shadow to highlight, it’s likely a matte cloth. If it’s matte but has lots of scratches and faded areas, it could be worn leather. If there’s a strong contrast from the midtone to the highlights but with deeper shading, it might be new leather. Silk or satin will be mostly dark with abrupt bright highlights on the folds. Take a look at some B&W photos or watch an old movie – your brain is pretty good at interpreting the material of all the items you see based on all the years you’ve spent unconsciously observing how light reacts to various surfaces and textures.


While your brain is pretty automatic about interpreting the texture of something you’re viewing, it’s a whole other ball game when you start trying to create and reproduce the textures with paint. The first hurdle is to really see something consciously. It’s like when you ask someone to draw a house. Everyone draws the house with the four paned windows and the steep A roof. How many of us really live in a house that looks like that? If you really want to draw YOUR house, you need to be able to see it, rather than the placeholder symbol your brain has filed away under the term ‘house’.


The second part of the challenge is the mechanical effort of reproducing what you really see. It’s challenging to do a smooth blend, period. It gets even more challenging if you’re trying to do the sharp sudden transitions of something shiny. Or to paint the really tiny strokes you might need to add subtle textures to something (like the worn leather example above.)  When you remove the element of colour, you remove one of the cues the viewer uses to interpret things, and it really puts the spotlight on your skill in reproducing various textures.


Non-metallic metal is a good example of this. A lot of times people will paint a NMM weapon and get feedback that it looks more like stone than metal. They haven’t painted dark enough shadows or bright enough spot highlights, so it’s a lot of gray that looks more like a matte surface like stone than a shiny one like metal. The illusion of shine requires being able to blend from near white to black over a small area, as well as proper placement of where those brightest and darkest parts are. So the problem may be failing to observe (or research) where to put highlights and shadows, or not yet being skilled enough to do the kind of blending required, or both.


I don’t think that means only a very skilled and experienced painter should even try painting in a monochromatic colour scheme! It’s a very useful exercise in learning more about the importance of value contrast, and a way to push yourself to better reproduce various textures. I would instead say to not be too hard on yourself and expect perfect straight out of the gate. I know I certainly didn’t get it all right with the figures I painted.


As a finale note, one of the things that was challenging about this project for me is that I’ve spent the past few years trying to use colour in more complex and interesting ways. Working purples and greens into shadows, doing subtle glazes to make skin look more natural, stuff like that. All of that went right out the window with this project, and I felt a little lost at times without my glazes!

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This was a fantastic explanation, thank you Wren! I had just gotten into the habit of working other colors into shadows and got the brilliant idea of trying a monochromatic scheme. I'm a bit more confident about attempting it after reading this though, thank you!

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