Unearthed Mundana: Painting Your Miniatures – Introduction to Colour Theory

Unearthed Mundana: Painting Your Miniatures – Introduction to Colour Theory

This article was first broadcast in Episode One Hundred Three on 15th January 2020.

Ryu: I’m sorry, you want me to what?
Lennon: Break me into the workshop.
Ryu: And these buckets of paint are for?
Lennon: It’s helping you too, actually.
Ryu: Oh no, you are not dragging me into whatever insanity this is.
Lennon: No, look; I know you’re always complaining about how ROSTRO is imposing and disturbing so I figured a quick paint job…
Ryu: My issues with ROSTRO are not about how it looks. I mean, okay, that doesn’t help, but neither will painting sunflowers on it.
Ostron: Hey guys, are we painting something?
Lennon: What? No…yes! actually yes! Miniatures. We hear you do that, right?
Ostron: Oh, yeah, all the time.m

A very popular pastime along with playing DnD is creating a physical avatar for a player character or to represent the hordes of foes the players will face.  While it is possible to purchase or make paper minis, a lot of people opt for fully three dimensional representations. While pre-painted versions of those miniatures abound, many players and DMs alike enjoy creating custom painted miniatures.  Several members of the Heroes Rise community and staff enjoy painting miniatures, so we’ll pass along some general advice about getting started, along with some common pitfalls to avoid.

Before we get started, we do need to note that painting miniatures can be a bit pricey, so be sure to do your research and budgeting before diving in.

First of all, you’ll need to pick your paints.  Most miniature painting is done with water-based acrylic paints. Those paints are available from a number of paint companies out there, but we recommend Reaper Paints, Army Painter, and Citadel Paints.  Paints are generally sold by the ounce (or by the milliliter if you’re, you know, sensible) and come in a wide array of colors – sometimes it’s an overwhelming amount, so starting with simple, base colors is a good way to start. Reaper has two Learn to Paint kits that run about $40 each and will get you several paints along with 3 minis, instructions, and brushes to get you started. Most other paint companies have similar “starting sets” with basic colors, a mini or two, and some brushes.

Speaking of which, brushes are going to be your next most important purchase.  Generally you will want to purchase sable brushes, though grabbing a few cheaper ones while determining if this is a hobby you want to get into could be worth it. Brands here are not as important as brush type, so when you’re getting started just focus on getting one or two brushes to work on smaller minis. It’s usually a good idea to have one brush with a wider top so you can cover a lot of area with a color, and then a second brush that comes to a fine point to work on details.

Before you begin, be sure to wash your miniature lightly with soap and water, as it helps remove any residue from the molding process, allowing the paints to stick better.  Once you have all the necessary equipment, now you have to pick what colors will go where and actually paint the miniature. A few notes here:

First, yellows and oranges are the hardest colors to work with.  For whatever reason, they require either several coats or very thick coats to cover up the underlying base color.  We do not recommend using yellows or oranges for your first attempt at painting.

Second, it’s usually a good idea to do one coat of a solid color on the miniature to begin. This helps with balancing colors and getting them to stay in the part of the model you want; painting on pure plastic or metal can be tricky. Make sure to choose an appropriate base color for the mini.  If you want a mini that has a lighter color scheme, you may want to re-base the miniature with a matte white spray paint found at your local hardware store. If you’re going for a darker color scheme, you may want to apply the same matte spray paint, only in a black or dark gray.

When it comes to actual colors, there are some basic concepts from color theory that will come into play.  First, are the types of colors. Cool colors, such as blues, greens, purples, and some grays will contrast nicely with warm colors, such as reds, yellows, and oranges, along with a few browns.  Neutral colors, such as most grays, beige, or tans, provide good border colors, allowing more sharp outlines or accents.

Second are color schemes. While there are many color schemes to choose from, there are three primary ones that are great to start with: Monochromatic, Analogous, and Complimentary.

Monochromatic color schemes are largely centered around shades of the same color; for example, if you have a woodlands creature, a large number of browns, tans, and grays will help evoke that nature-y feeling; likewise, for a more aquatic creature, shades of blue will help display their natural camouflage.

Analogous color schemes apply to one area of the color wheel. Blues, purples, and greens are all fairly close, so work fairly well together. This often comes into play when you’re dealing with sea creatures or swampy monsters. Trolls tend to be varying shades of green or blue with some gray, and Sahuagin are often portrayed as being mostly green, as are lizardmen. Blue and purple are very common colors when portraying mindflayers.

Finally, complimenting color schemes provide high contrast, sometimes very high contrast. Placing reds and blues next to each other will create strong contrasts, and at times can appear almost chaotic. These are great when you want a creature or character to really stand out or appear magical or unnatural.

Most importantly when painting, and especially when learning, is to not worry about mistakes. It can take many, many layers before the details of a miniature becomes obscured, so any spillovers are easily fixed with some touch-up and very small brushes. Also, don’t feel like you have to paint everything that’s on a miniature; many of them have levels of detail that will be beyond a beginner’s skill level to paint. The good news is that it usually doesn’t matter; these minis are probably going to be sitting on a table under standard household lighting; they’ll still look great even if you only put one color on it rather than using four layers of shading.

There are many, many guides available online or in physical form ranging from free to paid classes if you find yourself interested in painting and want more assistance. Wizards of the Coast also stream a miniature painting series on their Twitch Channel called “Nolzur’s Marvellous Miniatures”; and as mentioned, even some of the Heroes Rise staff are into it and can give some tips and pointers if you need them.

However you choose to do it, we’re sure your mini will look awesome.


Ostron: I will say, though, you have waaay too much paint. I mean, it’ll work, but dipping your brush into those buckets will get awkward.
Ryu: Yeah, I was just explaining to him how silly his idea was.
Lennon: Wha? but … oh fine, I’ll go put these away. Traitor.
Ostron: Problem?
Ryu: No, everything’s fine. Except the time, darn it. Come on, the scrying pool awaits.