We Don’t Need Color Theory!

We Don't Need Color Theory

I’ve had a busy week, but it’s not an excuse to avoid writing a small blurb on a great hobby! In between painting commissions, I try to experiment with different techniques and ideas for making my models “pop” from the tabletop, while of course trying to maintain subtlety.

I’ve recently acquired a Retribution of Scyrah Army and have been trying to decide a color scheme for them.

Wheel o' color
A Color Wheel

The search for an appropriate and “cool” color scheme for an entire faction is extremely difficult when the enormity of what it means hits you.

There are over a hundred model pieces that will obtain this particular palette and if you’re not in love with it by the first few models, you either have to suck it up and paint the entire faction or go back to the drawing board (strip the models you’ve painted).

So, how does one decide what colors to paint their models when starting from scratch?

Three Ways to Decide What Colors to Paint

  1. Use the studio colors (use the original box art)
  2. Copy somebody else
  3. Apply color theory

Obviously, using the studio scheme or copying someone else’s color palette are the easiest to do. But, come on! This is your army, and if you want to be an original you should find a set of colors that you like.

For many of us, the models we put on the table are a small extension of ourselves. Unlike chess or a board game, a painted army incorporates your time and efforts, and therefore has a bit more of “you” in them.

Okay, to the point.

The last option is to apply a theory of how color works together to produce an aesthetically pleasing construct. We all know the color wheel. But, how do I use this thing? Complimentary or tertiary colors? Should I use opposing colors for contrast? Hmm….  I’m already confused. Well, here’s my advice on color theory. Throw it out. It’s science. Science has no place here.  It’s a tool and we don’t want a tool. We want inspiration. 

Hence, the fourth option.

Color by Inspiration

A color wheel (or theory) doesn’t inspire.

So, when it comes to inspiration, I’ll tell you I think we are all experts when it comes to knowing what inspires.

We know beauty when we see it. We don’t need theories, or people with PhDs to tell us what is nice to look at.

When it comes to choosing colors that are pleasing to us, we need only be observers of what is already beautiful and awesome.


In a photo of a Sunset, there are a multitude of colors. The orange and yellows take center stage and fill the view with warmth, heat. There are subtle blue tones on the the periphery.

Together, the natural warmth and coolness come together. The colors harmonizes to form a mood or experience of a Sunset.

How can I capture a Sunset feeling and mood on a model?

Well, this is where painting and technique come into play; But we’ve already surmounted the hardest step, when it comes to deciding on what colors to put on a model. Its right there in front of us.

I realize in a manner of speaking that we are indeed “copying” colors. However, at least we’re going to an original. In the end, this is my advice on choosing new color schemes. Go out into the World and find something that inspires, surprises, and captivates. Are you awestruck? If so, try to capture that feeling through the martial art of applying color.

Phoenix Retribution Oil Painted

Let Technique Be Secondary

Who cares if you messed up the lines, or your paint is applied too thick. If you truly captured that original beauty from your mind, to hand, to medium (e.g., a pewter model) and others know a sense of what you were trying to do, then you have done your job well.

Final Thought

I’d say that we don’t need color theory because in reality, all we need to achieve success is courage and hope that we can make something great. It all starts with faith, a knowledge of something real but can’t see until we work it out.

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