How to talk about colo(u)r

Over the last couple of years, I have gotten much more serious about painting. This blog really charts my progress and some of the revelations I've had along the way. much of my focus has been around technique and tools (helloooo Airbrush!).

Having some moments of introspection of the last couple of weeks however I realized how much stronger my grasp of theory has become. This is, I think, something that comes naturally as you become more critical in how miniatures look - particularly when you obsess over it as much as I do. The realization for me was largely driven by questioning why I was loving some pics on Instagram and not others. Why does this Imperial Fist Primaris pop and not that one? Why does that cool custom Ork battlewagon look a bit flat?

These are really good questions to ask yourself, they can help identify where some black lining may be helpful, or an edge highlight... but they can also lead to learnings on composition and colour theory.

SDub aka Miniac has a couple of good videos on this side of the hobby and some great demonstrations of these things at various points (his critiques of viewer's works also call out some of this).

I am not an expert, I stopped studying Art at 14 when it stopped being about throwing paint around and started looking scarily similar to a real academic subject... and so I've kind of been muddling along on my own with this subject through this whole process. The result is that my insights may not be new to anyone, probably aren't entirely correct and are undoubtedly the wrong way to go about thinking of these things but I'm going to share them with you anyway.


The first big thing to address is the language you use to describe things. We need terms that will make things clear to ourselves and to others. There is a funny thing about naming something that gives it form. Sure brown is brown is brown, but if I told you picture oak brown - is that any different to picturing fur brown - are either of those the same as the image when I first mentioned brown earlier in this increasingly overlong sentence?

Sometimes to clearly see a colour, we need to consider more than just the most basic label that can be applied to it. For instance:

Primary Colour

Strictly speaking we should limit ourselves to Red, Blue and Yellow here, but I am also going to include Green, Orange, Purple, Brown, Grey, Black & White, oh and Cream. These are the colour words that I can apply to pretty much every paint I look at (Metallics & Colourshifts can f-off for this conversation).
These are the key one word answers I will use when I see something: That Ork? He's Green with Yellow armour and a Red stripe on his helmet.

Secondary influence

So a primary colour gives us a starting point but how is that Goblin flesh different to that Ork flesh? Great question! We clearly need to get more specific. At this point I will usually add in a secondary influence - another colour from the list above. My goblin is a yellow-green where as my Ork is a 'pure' green (one with no clear secondary influence). All of a sudden we are able to get much more nuanced in our colour selection. We are not just looking at a one size fits all brown that can go on trees, fur, boots, belts, bows and the rest - we start seeing the reddish brown of leather versus the yellow-brown of an archer's bow...


The step I am currently wrestling with is another aspect of colours - saturation (or as I call it in my head - poppiness). This is a pretty tough one to describe in abstract. A saturated colour is very vibrant. The easiest way to visualise this is to compare a 'duck-egg' or pastel blue to an ultramarine blue - the former are very desaturated, the ultramarine very vibrant.
The thing with saturation is that it is very easy to mistake for 'lighter' or 'pale' however it's not quite completely equivalent. An electric blue is lighter than ultramarine blue but is (if anything) more saturated.

- Raggy, signing out