Tuesday, 26 February 2008
In simplicity we begin
As promised I return to painting and undercoating.
I must confess that in my time I have used many different colours as undercoat. In the eighties I haunted the racks of car paint in Halfords. Back in those day's British Leyland used to paint their cars in some truly horrible colours,( who really wanted to buy a sh*t coloured car?) but the shades of brown and beige were ideal for undercoats. I painted a whole army of Fuzzy Wuzzies by spraying them Simca Beige and then washing them with Indian Ink.
I am less adventurous these days but still have cans of black, grey and white in my garage. I use Black the least, but still I do use it for dark uniforms such as rifles and Prussians or when I want to increase the bulk of the figure, eg my French Cuirassier. I do not use a technique of leaving a black edge because I find it too slow. I also find black to be harder to see and am often jamming the brush point against the figure.
I use a grey undercoat which I then wet brush heavily with white. This is a quick technique for mainly white clad figures such as Austrians, but I mainly use it when I intend to do a good deal of the rest of the figure with inks or paint washes. It gives a fairly subdued effect when using bright colours that I think works sometimes.
The main reason for using white is that it gives a clean pure palate to work on. I also remember an article on Russian Icon painting which dealt with the physics of light. Building up colours from a white base coat meant that light was reflected back and not absorbed giving greater depth and warmth to the image. Now that may well be nonsense, but I like to think that enables me to use a more subtle palette of colours as a result.
Which raises another objection to black undercoat. In that style contrast is everything, the figures may not necessarily be as brightly coloured as Micky Mouse but the aim is the same as the cartoonist. Bright, rich, heavily pigmented colours with highly contrasting shades and divisions. Muted colours are not possible nor are they wanted. The result is a completely artificial effect, which is the opposite of our daily experience of the way light works.
If we are kind we can say that these painters are following in the steps of the Pre Raphaelite school or the Japanese miniaturists. A less kind view would be that they are completely obsessed with the way the figures look when photographed and are in danger of disappearing up their own 3 colour system.
Take a figure and stand at the window, hold it at arms length and try and find someone in the street who is sufficiently far away to seem the same size as the figure. Now take a good look at them, Interesting isn't it, the way the pupils of the eyes stand out and each knuckle catches the sun?
The fact is that colour fades as distance increases. I would never use black on a figure of 25mm or less. I would either heavily dry brush it with medium grey or dark earth, or simply use a dark grey instead. When using rich and vivid tones I always mix them with a little pale grey first. These effects work best on a white undercoat, simple as that.
Of course the choice is always open to simply paint the figure with no lining, highlighting or shadowing at all. This is a technique which screams out TOY but I will share secret on a big table with lots of units, this looks better than any other type of painting. There I've said it, the fragmentation of light caused by the myriad of different shading and highlighting colours makes the figures look dark and muddy when viewed from six feet or so. The simple figures look clear and attractive, still that's enough of such heresy I don’t want a visit from the painting inquisition.
And finally we return to simplicity