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Painting Reds
Highlights and Shadows
by Lou Masses

Red seems to be one of the most daunting colors in the entire spectrum for painters of military miniatures. Others include the ever dreaded White, which for fear of scaring myself half to death we wonít even get into here, and Blue, but Red seems to really put a shudder into some people.

Just like anything else when painting, all you have to do is find a solution that works for you and that you'll become comfortable with. Not being technically versed, I canít get into the details of specific color matches for the various Napoleonic Reds. This article will focus on only the basics of painting the color Red.

This is the technique I use and it works for me. My goal is always to achieve a very vivid and powerful Red and a good, strong contrast between the highlights and the shadows. Of course, having seen the uniforms of the Napoleonic and Victorian periods, they donít look as vivid, but I will take a scientific leap here and say that I am sure being 100-200 years old has a tendency to fade and mute uniform colors a bit. Itís up to you to fade or tone down the colors as you see fit.

Part I - The Basics

One thing that I notice a lot when seeing a figure painted in Red is that the Red areas seem to be either too uniform (overblended), too muddy (brown with reddish highlights), or too pink (when using flesh as a highlight you have to be very careful with the colors used to create that flesh tone because if you use mostly white, you can easily end up with pink). Of course sometimes the muddiness or pinktone (to show fade) is a desired effect, but if you want a Red uniform to really "pop", it is necessary to be vivid.

To start, a darker Red needs to be used as the base color. While I paint in oils, this technique can be used with acrylics as well since many of the colors translate well to the Vallejo and Andrea colors. I generally follow up with acrylics or gouache once the oils are dry anyway. Below are the colors I use as my basic mixes for Reds.


Base: Winsor and Newton Cadmium Red Dark
Shadow: Cadmium Red Dark + Grumbacher Prussian Blue (about 50/50)
Highlight: Cadmium Red
High Highlight: Cadmium Scarlet
Peaks: Cadmium Scarlet and a touch of Cadmium Orange

When dry, sometimes Vallejo Scarlet mixed with Orange is "touched" onto the very highest points on the figure.


Base: Winsor and Newton Cadmium Red Dark
Shadow: Cadmium Red Dark + Grumbacher Prussian Blue (about 50/50)
Highlight: Cadmium Red
High Highlight: Vermillion
Peaks: Vermillion + a touch of Winsor and Newton Jaune Brilliant

The key to getting a convincing Red color is in the application and understanding the effects of light. Like white (and Blue for that matter), the base color on the figure itself should never be the mid-range color, but instead a variation of the shadow color. In other words, the highlight should be the actual color coming out of the tube. Anything below the highlight should be a shadow with more or less of the desired final color added to it. This tricks the eye into believing the whole figure is red and makes the highlights really stand out (i.e., "pop"). If most of your figure is Cadmium Red for example, then when finished it will look Orange because you will have to add more yellow to the figure to make the highlights stand out. If you look at your shirt, the highlights on your shirt are the real color of the shirt, not a lightened version of it. The shadows, on the other hand, look like a darker color.

The same applies to White. The only color (hue) you can highlight White with is, well, White. Should you base color be a pure White, then you canít have highlights of White because you wonít be able to differentiate between the highlights and the base color. You'll end up with something that offers no contrast.

Once this concept becomes a habit for you, youíll find it much easier to paint the difficult colors in the spectrum.

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