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Painting White, Black & Red

By Anthony Karl Erdelji


Painting White

White has to be the hardest color to work with. Its important to start with a clean light colored surface. I start with a strong basecoat of white thinned only slightly, 1:1 usually. Depending on what, if any, color you are painting over its should take about two coats. Don't paint anymore layers otherwise your surface will get too marred with paint. Start painting with white thinned to about 1:3 and slowly build up until the area is completely white with no other colors showing up from underneath. The 1:1 mixture will cover better, but the 1:5 mixture will prevent the surface from getting too marred with thick coats of paint. A combo of both works the best.

For shade, you first have to decide on if you want your white to be warm or cool. Warm colors are shaded with browns and cools are shaded with gray.

For warm white, create a very thin wash using flesh or chestnut ink, around a 1:8 ratio works well. You can wash the entire area with the wash, but if possible, try to use it only in the recesses where you need shade. You may want to apply additional washes to get the desired effect. Don't go overboard though. remember you want white, not brown. Finish by reapplying white to the raised areas or if its a rough surface, like feathered wings, a drybrush of white will work.

Cool white is painted the same way, but substitute  gray for the flesh wash. Take a light gray paint and thin it to about 1:8, or more, depending on the thickness of the paint. Brush it on just like a wash, repeats if necessary. Follow up by reapplying white.

Remember that you don't highlight white like other colors. Your base color is white and your highlight color is white. I've seen lots of people who think that they have to highlight white so they basecoat with gray so they can highlight with white. If you do that, you just painted gray, not white!

Painting Black

Painting black can also be difficult, but you can also get some interesting effects by highlighting it with different colors. you may of just read how you do not highlight white. Well, with black, don't shade it. You can't get darker than black. Knowing that lets start with the two basic ways to highlight black; blue or gray.

When I want black to appear very dark, like an assassin  might wear or when painting a black dragon, I use blue. Basecoat with black thinned to 1:2. The first set of highlights with a mix of dark blue with black, thinned to 1:5. This is applied sparingly to just the top highlights. Then I use a pale blue thinned to 1:2 and brush this only on edges or the tops of very tight folds.

Sometimes I use gray to highlight black instead of blue. If you use gray you black will end up looking worn. I highlight with gray on my undead and for creating salt-and-pepper hair. After basecoating witch black I highlight with a very dark gray diluted to 1:5. Then I highlight with a very light gray on the edges and tight folds. This works very well when painting torn clothing like undead tend to wear.

Blue and gray are mainly what you'll use for your highlights, but you can get some great effects by highlighting black with different color such as red or green. Try starting with a very dark color thinned to about 1:10 and slowly build up the highlights. Don't go overboard, though. Remember that you still want black, just with a hint of color added to it.

I highlighted my vampire's dragon with dark maroon. Its very subtle and difficult to see in this photo, but the effect is noticeable if you look around his nose and eyes. The end result is a faint aura of red, but overall he's still black.

Painting Red

Highlighting and shading red is no harder than any other color, you just have to use the right color. I highlight red by adding orange to the red. Don't over do it by adding to much orange, we want red, not orange. Never use straight orange to highlight, even on the top highlights.

Shading is done with a mix of red and brown or chestnut ink. 

This Blood Angel was basecoated with flat red, given a red-chestnut ink wash, then highlighted with flat red and light orange. Only two highlight steps were done, adding a bit more orange each time. Normally, when painting non-red subjects I typically apply three or four highlighting steps.