Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reader Email: Exodite Eldar Colors

by SandWyrm

Korona Writes:
Hey Sand,

Korona here, I'm in a bit of a mess with some painting, hopefully you're not too busy and can give a few pointers? I have some "Exodite Eldar" I've been kitbashing from Wood Elf and Dark Eldar bits.

The idea was to give regular Eldar a creepy "just crawled out of the woods" type of vibe:

I also really liked this colour scheme:

So I was thinking 'perfect' - blue ties with reddish browns and green ties with purple.  I'll do a 4 way colour scheme.  I followed the rules and tried to break up the colours across the model rather than just blocking them in one place.

While the result's not awful, it's not good either...

I'm kind of stuck where to go from here.  I can see it's not working but it seems much wiser to ask the guru rather than keep on going in circles.

One thing I do really do like is this BTP figure:

I like how they took an almost monochrome scheme and made it come alive with the lighting.  It also makes it look dead creepy.  Maybe some orange lighting on the water and gun would be a better way to balance the blue rather than the abortive brown boots/gloves?

I dunno, it's tough to know exactly where to go when you can't really work out what's not working.

Any help would be really great,

A world of t(h)anks!

Simon / Korona

SandWyrm's Reply:

Great question Korona! This is going to be pretty interesting for folks to read.

Yeah, your colors are a mess. From a strictly technical standpoint, here's what you have when I map them out. It's not a Tetrad, as you seem to be going for. Rather it's more of an unfocused Triad.

If you remember my article on the standard color harmonies, I warned that while Triads and Tetrads allow for a lot of hue variation, that variation comes at the expense of control. Meaning that it will be very difficult to convey a distinct emotion using that scheme. Because the only tool you have left to emphasize certain elements over others is value (light and dark variations).

You say that you want to convey "creepiness", but trying to do that with anything other than an Analogous or Split-Complement is like trying to win a tournament with Chaos Marines. In theory, it should be possible. But in reality you're just pushing boulders uphill when you don't need to. :)

Looking at your BTP pic again:

He's using a straight-up Split-Complement:

Most of the model is painted in a yellow-green to green analogous scheme, where parts of the model look brighter because the rest is painted more darkly. The complementary accents on the head are painted using a blue-magenta (purple) hue.

Remember that even within a single hue (like the yellow-green above) you have a whole range of possible tones that are created by mixing the pure hue with white and black. The BTP example is using that entire range.

So save the Triads and the Tetrads for Daemons. The oddness works for them. That bat girl pic screams DAEMON to me more than it does "Hi-Tech Elf Farmer".

So What Would SandWyrm Do Instead?

The creepy theme can work, like the Elf/Thallid art for the green cards in Magic: The Gathering, but in the 40K universe, that's more Nurgle than Wood Elf.  At least to me.

In the fluff, the Exodites are the ones who left the rest of their race before the fall. They're puritans (or possibly Mormons/Amish) who revel in their righteousness and connection to the land. Presumably they still have a lot of tech laying around, but they don't flaunt it.

Where else do we see this Space Amish theme in Fantasy/Sci-Fi?

The 'Nox' in Stargate run around like primitive hunters/farmers. But they can hide whole cities from view with the wave of their hands. Primitive my arse. :)

The trope is older than that though, and goes back to the idea of "Arcadia". Or the gentle life of the countryside. Which is a basic desire of city folk to have all the peace of country life combined with the perks of industry and technology.

You can also think of Tolkin's Wood Elves as imagined by Peter Jackson:

So what are the appropriate colors for this theme?

Basically we get oranges and blues to work with. The colors of land and sky. The exact harmony we choose will have an effect on the viewer though. The image above shows 3 possible color harmonies. Two Split-Complements and a Double-Split Complement.

The first harmony, on the left uses a range of blues contrasted with orange. This would allow you to emphasize the Exodite's hi-tech abilities and contrast that with a splash of earth-tones to connect them to the land.

The second harmony, in the middle, uses a range of Orange to Yellow-Green to emphasize the Exodite's connection to the land. But you could use some blues here and there to show that there's a bit of hi-tech to these farmers.

The third harmony uses a range of blues contrasted with a range of earth tones so that you can have it both ways. But you'll lose some ability to emphasize certain things. In this harmony it's more about being pretty than communicating things with the hue contrast.

Even within this restricted hue range though, there are ways of making certain models, or entire armies feel dark. 

Think Edward, above, who's colored using the 2nd harmony. If he was pure of heart, he would be dressed in near-whites. But we know there's something pretty dark inside because he's dressed in near-blacks. He still has a connection to the land though, thanks to that brown (desaturated yellow-orange) belt that he wears.

Winry's connection to the land is more pronounced, though the near-black shirt does hint at something. Put her in a near-white shirt though, and she'd be a pure-as-snow country girl.

So if you want not-so-friendly Exodites, I'd go with harmony #1 and push the value contrast. Such that things don't look to bright and happy.

Or you can add in some lighter values for a more approachable, but still off-putting, look.

While certain models could have saturated blood-reds to set them apart thematically.

I'll leave it there. I hope everyone reading this makes it this far. :)

If none of this made any sense, you probably need to read my prior articles on Color Theory.

Comments Please! Feel free to post additional questions!


  1. Hey, first off thanks for the detailed feedback!

    Second, wow I really messed up that tetrad!

    I spent the evening working on the model. Here's my thoughts after reading your feedback:

    I'd wanted to see how a fixed tetrad would work out before throwing it out entirely.

    Basically I knocked out the lightness and saturation of the colours. Then used orange OSL as a lighting effect to bring in some variation and mood. I'm not experienced with OSL but it's fun to try new techniques.

    Using lighting to make the model more sinister really paid off.


    Still, it's not right. It's a million miles from where it was, I feel like I'm actually progressing towards something I like now but still, it's not working right.

    Right now I've got two main issues:

    Is the lighting a good idea? Looking at it under the harsh light of the flash it seems like I need to add more orange to the extremities but I've been staring at it for a long time now.
    I'm new to this technique so any pointers to improve it would be really welcome.

    I like the split harmonies a lot and even after fixing the colour balance I'm not sold on the tetrad, which is too bad because purple is a nice colour.

    Still, how exactly to deploy it?
    Using blues with a range of orange/greens is probably the best here. It means I can leave the techy bits like the armour and guns different shades of blue while the natural cloth and cape can be green/brown. It also means I can still use green for my grass, which is more natural than blue.

    The issue is with the clothes. I'm feeling that I need to go lighter to make them stand out against the cloak - something either like Winry's dress or maybe even lighter - like the Elves from LotR. BUT - if went for pale clothes am I going to screw my newly found "moody lighting" idea? Also, any ideas how to stop the whole outfit looking like a jump-suit?

    And as a parting shot - great call with that Princess Mononoke picture. I wanted to add in bits of detail like scarves and sashes and blood red would really stand out. They may be from the woods but they're still Eldar and they need some swagger.

    Fluff-wise I imagine them out looking for bits of lost Elder archo-tech. If you're unlucky enough to have something they want, they're little more than pirates. They can't look too friendly!

    Thanks again for the help I think it's really helped.

  2. The model looks loads better. But it's still not a Tetrad. You've just bent one leg of the Triad. :)

    You can use purple if you rotate the split complement around. Purple (Magenta) is the opposite hue of green. That would give you a harmony very similar to the BTP pic and in-line with MTG's elves/thallids.

    If you use the harmonies I outlined DO NOT use green. You can use a slightly greenish yellow (think dry grass in summer), but that's it or you're breaking the harmony.

    You can do moody lighting with the bright scheme, just darken down the "whites" to a mid-tone greyish blue. Then you can paint in the lighting on top.

    The easiest way to do it is to paint your basic colors at full "brightness", hit the whole thing with a blue and then a black wash. Then paint your original colors back on top of it. That's how a lot of comic illustrators do shadows.

    Good luck!

  3. Hey thanks for the wash tip that worked out great.

    I went for the harmony and it worked out really nicely. The pictures are a bit dark, I don't really know why. When I used the flash the colours just washed out totally but it's really a fair bit brighter than it looks here:


    I really like the scheme, I think it looks very nice.

    The final issue is the lighting.

    I was hoping to use a really dramatic lighting effect like in this awesome diorama:


    But I'm not getting it. For whatever reason my lighting looks wrong.

    I'm also worried that, to get it right, I'd need to drown the model in shadows and the only lit areas would need an orange tint, essentially ruining the nice colour scheme we've worked out.

    So option #2 is to scale it all down and go for a much more subtle approach, e.g:

    This would let me make my cloth a few steps lighter and I could go back to a more saturated orange for the light sources. It also removes the problem of drowning out all the colours in shadow or tinted light.

    Any thoughts about which approach is better for this kind of model or ideas about what I'm doing wrong to capture the candlelit diorama's look would be really awesome.

    Also, if anyone else wants to give some ideas, that would be really welcome. Now is defiantly the time to be fixing the scheme.

    Again, many thanks.

  4. Oh man, source-lighting is a post in itself. And while I can offer theories gleaned from my 3D Graphics experience, I've haven't actually tried them in paint yet.

    But it's probably done with a mix of washes and glazes over the base colors.

  5. ...Now I need to start painting...I'll probably experiment on my Tau first, since I'll be replacing at least my Crisis suits. Who know, maybe a miracle will happen and I'll have my DE painted by end of year. And by end of year, I of course mean the end of NEXT year...

    ...A consequence of the experimenting, though, is my Tau might get painted first.

  6. I don't have any glazes but I watered down my paints to be really thin and went back in. Using the reference image to get hints about lightness values really helped.

    I also bent the glowing plant towards the fig's leg so the AOE of the light didn't need to be so huge. Shrinking the area let me be less gratuitous. It gives the other colours room to breathe but I did resort to boosting the shadows too.

    Anyway I'm pretty happy with the result so I'm going to call it a day:


    Taking these shots really taught me how ambient lighting has a huge impact on how a model looks. Here's the same shot with my painting lamp on:
    Too bad it's the light and not my own skills.

    I'm still open to suggestions and tweaks but I think we've nailed most of the themes and even used most the colours from the "inspiration" pictures so that's great!

    Looking back on how things started out I think I owe you a huge thanks.
    Thank you Sand!


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