Monday, 12 September 2016

Seeing red

I've been painting the red armour on my Megaboss this week and this has given me cause to consider my approach to painting this particular colour.

Red is the colour of passion, danger and excitement! The eye will pick out a flash of red among other colours making it an excellent accent colour. And we all know that if you paint something red it will go faster!

In a nutshell, red is a very useful colour to have in your palette but, it has to be said, it’s also a potentially tricky one.

The big problem with red is that it can be a very difficult colour to successfully highlight. Once you start to lighten red it can become another colour. Sometimes orange but most commonly pink. This is one situation where simply adding white to a colour to lighten it really won’t work!

My own tendency to over highlight makes this a problem I’m all too familiar with. To overcome this I use a mixture of approaches when highlighting my reds.

It’s very easy to think only in terms of lighter colours when highlighting, however, a slight shift in attitude can provide a solution. Rather than lighter, think brighter! Using a brighter more saturated shade of red for highlights will help to avoid the curse of chalkiness, desaturation and pink highlights.

Instead of building your highlights up from a dark base, try using a bright saturated red as your base colour and shade down from this. A light to dark style of painting can be very effective when used on reds as it gives a rich saturated quality to your colours. I used this approach to paint the jacket on my Uncle John bust.

You will probably need to use a lighter colour in your final highlights, so pick your highlight colour with care. The type of surface you are trying to represent, and how reflective it is, will also affect your colour choices; but save white for the final extreme highlights. For my reds, I like to use gold/peach colours in my highlights. In the case of my Megaboss I'm using  Scalecolour Golden Skin.

Whatever colour you are using it’s important to keep the lightest highlights to the absolute minimum possible. If you go a bit too far with the highlighting (and I often do), not all is lost! Glazing over the red areas can work wonders. A carefully glazed layer of bright-saturated red/orange can restore the mid-tones and boost saturation. You can do this with dilute paint, but ink is really ideal as it is both translucent and saturated. I dilute the ink and work with several subtle layers to control the effect. I glazed over the highlighted reds on my Hellion with orange/red tones to create a saturated fiery red.

I’ve focused on highlighting red because that’s where things often go wrong, but it is also important to think about the shadows. You can mix red with black or dark brown to shade quite successfully, but the finished effect can be a bit flat and uninteresting. The use of a contrasting colour in the shadows can make a big difference. Dark blue or purple are good choices and I’ve even seen green used!

For my Dark Eldar Scourge I've created a 'cool' red by using strong blue tones in the shadows and slightly pink highlights.


  1. Some great tips there, I'm going to have some experiments with some cooler, blue shadows in my reds. Beautiful work as always and thanks for sharing your advice!

  2. As always, I appreciate your excellent advice and beautiful images! As an undead player, (player of undead?) I'm very excited to see how the dragon skull turns out.

  3. This blog post is quite timely for me, as I have also been working on red NMM armor for a unit I'm painting. I think your glazing tip is really the key.

    "If you go a bit too far with the highlighting (and I often do), not all is lost! Glazing over the red areas can work wonders. A carefully glazed layer of bright-saturated red/orange can restore the mid-tones and boost saturation."

    I have found that you can get a color which is both lighter and more saturated by glazing red over white than you ever can by mixing red and white, so ideally with red you should ALWAYS over-highlight, and use red glazes to increase saturation in the highlights.

    Also, I've found that if I make sure the midtones are bright red and keep the midtone areas relatively large, I can go as light as I want, through colors which are clearly pink and ending at pure titanium white, and the result will still be perceived as a shiny red and not as pink.

  4. Glazes are the way to go to get good reds for sure!

    You raise a really important point about the perception of a colour and how it can vary depending on what other colours it is used with! This is a fascinating topic and fertile ground for experimentation.

  5. Heya David
    Do you take commission painting?


  6. Hi Gerald, no I don't take commissions but thanks for asking.