The Science of Oil Paints with Kyle Kolbe

Do you trust your paints? Do you want your miniature masterpieces to not fade or darken with time and light exposure? To mix color reliably and paint permanently you must know your pigments contained in your paint.

I delve deep into the properties of an elite palette of pigments that will let you mix the right color and save your work from exposure to time and light in a chapter of the oil painting book. You will learn the unique strengths of each chosen oil color and how the colors interact with each other.

Find out more about paint science and how picking the right pigments leads to intelligent color mixing and beautiful work in my forthcoming book, Artist’s Oil Colors Miniature Painting Handbook.

Please enjoy this preview excerpt that covers the basics of mixing oil paint colors.

Mix Oil Colors

Learn the essential oil colors needed for a full spectrum color mixing palette. Explore unique paint and color properties that guaranteed the chosen colors’ elite status. Economically mix the exact target color from the right cool and warm biased primaries, earth colors, and neutrals, plus some bonus colors suited for fantasy painting.

Witnessing an art supply store’s aisles of paint for the first time horrifies most new artists. First, pick a media: oils. Then pick a brand: Gamblin. Choose between their marketing jargon for student (lower quality) and artist colors: Artist’s Color (not 1980). Then select a balanced palette of colors. Then see the varying price tags for colors: what’s the difference between Cerulean Blue Hue and Cerulean Blue other than $30? You hit a wall of confusion and cannot rationalize the risk of buying the wrong tube of paint for $10, $20, $30 or more dollars. Where do you go from here?

Just as you would not blindly buy a new car, television, camera, smartphone, or dishwasher uninformed, you cannot invest in oil paints without some knowledge of how they are organized and how they work. Read on to discover the colorful world of oil paints.

Buy Your First Palette of Oil Colors

Unless you have thousands of dollars, you cannot buy a whole manufacturer’s line of oil colors. You must select the best colors. You should buy the highest quality artist colors you can afford. You need enough versatility in your palette so you can arrive at any color by mixing an elite set of pure pigments, neutrals, and earth colors. Read on to gain the knowledge needed to make informed paint purchasing decisions.

More than a Tube

You may be shocked to find that not all artist paint colors are priced simply by the volume of paint like you may be used to with hobby paints. Beyond volume, pigment and vehicle quality determines the price. Manufactures separate artist quality paints into different “series” (depending on manufacturer, series 1-7 or A-G). Paint producers price the lowest series number or letter cheaper than the highest series designation, ranging from under $10 to over $30 for a 37ml tube.

In addition to series, you may also find some colors with “hue” appending their name (e.g., Cerulean Blue Hue), these colors are made from a cocktail of cheaper pigments to achieve a similar color to the purer expensive pigment, but you may find color mixes turn out dirtier and you cannot mix as high a chroma final color. Sometimes a hue paint has added opacifiers (or simply titanium white) to a transparent pigment that you may find beneficial for applications that need good coverage.

False Economies

Do not compromise on quality when first presented with artist color pricing and fall into the false economy trap of buying cheaper student colors. The student colors will dissatisfy you with their more economic pigment hue mixtures, filler, and lower quality binders and have to replace them with new artist colors. When I first jumped into oil painting, I made this mistake and I have replaced my remaining student colors with artist colors. I upgraded my colors at great expense, but the quality, purity, and reliability of artist colors prove their worth.

A self-portrait by Anders Zorn revealing his limited palette.

A self-portrait by Anders Zorn revealing his limited palette.

The Zorn Mini Palette

If you are on a tight budget, then limit the quantity not the quality of colors. You can still start out with a small but highly versatile palette of colors. The Zorn palette—named after painter Anders Zorn—contains colors that are included in the larger basic palette. The palette only features four colors: Titanium White, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Light (or Medium depending on manufacturer), and Ivory Black. When you are ready you can expand the Zorn palette with the additional colors below.

The Full Biased Mixing Palette

A full mixing palette contains warm and cool biased primaries, earth colors, opaque and transparent neutrals, and some convenience colors best suited for fantasy miniatures. I list the colors here and full color profiles follow in a later section.

Color Mixing Possibilities

Color Mixing Possiblities

  • Biased Primaries
    Required: 
    • Green-Yellow: Hansa Yellow Light
    • Yellow-Red: Cadmium Yellow Medium
    • Blue-Green: Cerulean Blue
    • Purple-Blue: Ultramarine Blue
    • Red-Purple: Quinacridone Magenta
    • Red-Yellow: Cadmium Red Light
    Optional:
    • Blue-Green: Phthalo Blue
    Earth Colors
    • Yellow Ochre
    • Raw Umber
    • Burnt Sienna
  • Neutrals
    Required:
    • Ivory Black
    • Titanium White
    Optional:
    • Titanium-Zinc White or just Zinc White
    • Grey Light, Medium, and Deep
    • Warm and Cool White
    • Warm and Cool Gray and Titanium Buff
    • Mars Black
    • Chromatic Black
    Convenience Colors
    • Phthalo Green
    • Gold Ochre
    • Payne’s Grey

Understand Paint Properties

Paints are more than just liquid color. Many interactive properties define artists’ colors including: pigment type (inorganic or organic), pigments, vehicle, opacity, tinting strength, lightfastness, and gloss. You will learn to make informed paint color selections based on these properties.

Paint is Paint, Right?

The simple answer is no. If you are buying paint that is the same price across all colors, then some of those colors are grossly homogenized by incorporating a cocktail of cheap pigment and fillers in place of the proper portion of pure pigment that would drastically increase the price. If your paint manufacturer of choice is more concerned about trademarking the names of their colors, then you need to find a new paint manufacturer. Hobby paint manufacturers hide the pigment mix of their paints primarily to protect their intellectual property, but also because the list of ingredients might not fit on the bottle. The homogenized paint lines force you into buying a large selection of premixed colors, like a box of crayons because they know you will become frustrated trying to mix new colors from their crippled, multi-pigment, and who knows what else, colors.

Why Are Artist Colors Better?

Artist colors are priced according to the pigments that end up in the tube. Many inorganic pigments are natural resource commodities whose prices are set by the market, while organic pigments are priced by their cost of development and manufacture in labs. You can easily spend more than $30 on a small tube of Cadmium Red Light or Cerulean Blue because their inorganic pigments are ground from rare earth materials. Buying these expensive pigments will guarantee you more predictable color mixing and permanence. Working with artists colors also expands your color mixing gamut well beyond the limitations of hobby paints (held back by their inferior or diluted pigments and fillers).

So I can just buy any Artists Color and get great results?

Unfortunately, no. Artist color manufacturers make many superfluous paint colors for historical reasons (like Alizarin Crimson, a poor, fading red-purple used by impressionists and other old masters because they had nothing better at the time, and it is still suggested for most beginning palettes), or with convenience colors that can be easily mixed from superior pigments. While these manufacturers name artists colors more consistently than hobby manufacturers, you cannot solely invest in a color based on its name. “Yellow Ochre” from one manufacturer may use different pigments than another.

You need to be informed and selective when shopping for artist color paint. Always read the paint’s ingredients listed on the tube and any other properties the manufacturer publishes. If you cannot find documentation for the ingredients or properties listed in the color profiles, then avoid that manufacturer.

To help you make the best buying decisions, study the color profiles at the end of this chapter.

Mix Colors Smarter

Cut to the chase: Colors can be defined and identified by their hue, value, and chroma. All paint hues contain biases to a neighboring color hue, meaning that no paint can represent a pure “primary” color like red, blue, and yellow to mix all other colors. By recognizing the biases we can intelligently mix new bright, middling, or dull colors by combining the right pure pigment paint colors.

Understand Munsell Color Notation

One of the limitations you may find frustrating with hobby acrylics is the lack of high saturation color, or chroma. To understand this limitation and how you can overcome it with your investment in artist colors, you need a brief primer on color notation as devised by Munsell.

The Munsell color system categorizes colors by value (lightness from black (0), grey (1-10), and white (11)), hue (position on the spectrum moving through red, yellow-red, yellow, green-yellow, green, blue-green, blue, purple-blue, purple, and red-purple), and chroma (intensity of color saturation from grey (0) stepping in twos up to 16 or 18 (though most computer screen gamuts can only show up to 12 or 14 depending on the hue).

When you view a single hue’s mapping of chroma and value, you will find a swatch where both chroma and value max out, this is the hue’s maximum brightness. The major hues reach maximum brightness at different points on the value scale.

You will find Munsell notations on each of the color profiles. For example, Ultramarine Blue’s Munsell hue, value, chroma notation reads: 7.5PB[hue, a blue-leaning purple-blue]-2[value, very dark, remember 0 is black]-10[chroma, strong saturation].

Munsell Color Wheel with Biased Primaries and Earth colors placed at their proper hue, chroma, and value.

Munsell Color Wheel with Biased Primaries and Earth colors placed at their proper hue, chroma, and value.

Do you want to learn to mix any color predictably from a limited palette?

Does mixing paint terrify you? Is it rare that you get the color you need to match or had imagined? In this section, we will explore the concepts and tools needed to overcome your fear of mixing colors and enter a world of predictable color.

Your childhood art instructors lied to you about red, blue, and yellow. They oversimplified mixing primary colors. Your teachers and parents presented a simple to follow path from three primaries to three secondaries to six tertiaries. They should have started at the end with the tertiaries and instilled the concept of color bias. If they taught you about color bias, then you would have been mixing predictable colors from a young age. Now you can leave those years of frustration with muddy over-mixed palettes of wasted paint behind you.

Know Your Color’s Bias

Instead of naming primary and secondary hues simply, like: blue, red, yellow, orange, green, and violet, we can introduce their bias into the naming like Munsell intermediary hues: yellow-red, green-yellow, blue-green, purple-blue, red-purple. If we introduce the principle Munsell hues of Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple, then we can easily find color complements by name matching opposite principle and intermediary hues: red complements blue-green, yellow complements purple-blue, green complements red-purple, blue complements yellow-red, and purple complements green-yellow.

To understand color bias in paint colors, you must know your destination color, the destination color’s hue complement, and the absence or presence of that complement color in your mixing colors. When the destination color’s hue complement is present in one or both of the mixing colors, the resulting chroma will be minimized (gray, dull, dim, lifeless). When the complement is absent from both of the mixing colors, you will maximize the resulting chroma (colorful, saturated, bright, vibrant). The following examples will make this clear.

Pick a bright (nexus of maximum chroma and lightest value) purple. We know that red and blue mix to purple, but we don’t have a pure red or blue (because they don’t exist), so what paint tubes do we reach for? Well, we know our destination hue of purple but now we need to know its complement, green-yellow, so we can avoid it in our mixing colors. The name green-yellow tells us the two colors we don’t want dirtying our mixes, we don’t want any green in our blue and yellow in our red. So now we can make a predictable bright purple from a blue biased away from green and toward purple and a red biased away from yellow and toward purple. You could make a the destination purple from ultramarine blue and magenta. If we need to dull the purple we can swap one of the mixing colors with a color that contains green or yellow, like a cyan or a cadmium red.

Now, let’s mix a bright yellow-red, or orange. Mixing yellow and red makes orange, but we know it’s not that simple. You need to know yellow-red’s complement: blue-green. So we need to pick a red with no blue, cadmium red light, and a yellow with no green bias, cadmium yellow medium. Mix these two colors for bright and opaque oranges.

Lastly, mix a bright green from yellow-green and blue-green. A bright green complement is a warm red containing orange and a little purple. When you mix hansa yellow light with cerulean blue you will get a bright green.

All color mixes can be dulled by mixing with colors that move away from a common bias. For example, if you mix quinacridone magenta and cerulean blue you will still get a purple but it will be greyed by the complements present in each pigment as they cancel out light reflectance.

Refer to the oil color profiles for lists of mixes and visual examples on the palette.

Manipulate Paint Properties

To achieve a pleasing finish in a timely manner you must condition the paint and cure the paint on the model in a controlled environment. Follow these tips to get full control of your paints and avoid nasty surprises.

Control the Cure and Reduce Shine

As a miniature painter, you work under the pressure of deadlines. You may need to finish a single miniature, a skirmish crew or an army for a client in the next week. Maybe you need to have your combat group painted for a tournament this weekend. Deadlines frighten the artist into taking shortcuts and relying on instant dry acrylics. Oils seem counter-intuitive to deadlines. If not properly handled, some colors can take days or weeks to cure (notice the absence of the term “dry,” oil colors cure through the oxidation of the color’s vehicle, usually linseed oil). Some colors come out in an oil slick like Cadmium Red Medium and need a long leaching period while others like Raw Umber exit the tube stiff and require no leaching at all. We can mitigate the threat of deadlines through some simple preparation, mediums, and baking.

Follow the tips below to take control of your curing time:

Leach: Avoid squeezing an oily blob of paint straight from the tube onto your palette. Instead, expel the colors onto a scrap of brown craft paper or paper grocery bag. A small stain of oil will radiate and absorb into the paper leaving you with a stiffer color pile resulting in a less glossy finish and reduced curing times. Most colors will properly leach in 15–20 minutes. Once most of the oil coating transfers from the paint to paper, scrape up the paint pile and transfer it to your mixing palette.

Thin: Oil colors are meant to be applied at full strength and spread thinly on the surface of the mini. The leaner we make colors with solvents (Gamsol or Odorless White Spirit) the less gloss of the fat oil remains. Solvents can be too harsh though and we can use oil mediums (a special cocktail of oils, solvents, and dryers) for better results. Unfortunately, most commercial mediums’ first feature reads “increases gloss.” How do we get a pleasing matte surface? Our options are limited to one pre-mixed medium: Grumbacher Oil Painting Medium I. This medium leaves a matte finish while improving the flow of paints. Perfect.

Bake: When all blending is finalized and you need a dry surface for the next phase of painting, place the piece in a drying box. See the recipe to build your own box in the studio set up section. The simple light bulb in a box both heats the paint layer (metal and resin figures can withstand the heat from the bulb, but test plastics against the heat) and exposes it to UV light curing most colors within 24 hours and finishing a matte surface.

Now that you know how to manipulate the curing time of your masterworks, those deadlines don’t seem so scary.

Expect Color Sinking

When I first applied a bright white edge highlight to a sword, I was disappointed the next day to find the white had gone dull and it looked like I needed another layer. This dulling change is called “color sinking.” As oil colors cure they lose some of their opacity and sink into the underlying paint color. The effect is subtle and sometimes a benefit for very subtle shifts in color modulation. You can combat sinking by applying the right value underpainting beneath the top color. You can even bump up the value a level to get brighter highlights. When you paint your final highlights you can avoid some color sinking by skipping the drying hot box and letting the paint cure longer under room temperature conditions. Color sinking can be surprising and disappointing when first experienced, but now that you understand what’s happening between paint layers, you can lessen the impact on the finished figure.

Set Up a Biased Palette

A successful painting session with oils depends on the preparation of your palette of colors. An oil palette and acrylic palette differ in a few ways. You don’t need a palette that accommodates water colors or thinned acrylics with many wells or a wet palette that keep the paint piles moist. For oils, you need a large, flat, smooth, nonabsorbent surface like a piece of glass or acrylic. I use gray palette paper secured to a clipboard as an easily disposable option. You need a flat surface so you can easily cut, pick up, and mix target colors with a palette knife. Once you obtain a suitable palette, you need to get some paint onto it.

After you’ve leached some of the oil out of each paint pile, scrape it off the craft paper and deposit it on the top and left perimeter of the palette following the same order and grouping of the color profiles (if you’re left handed set the piles along the right side). Start at the top right with a white pile, then yellows, then blues, then reds, then earths, and finally neutrals ending at the bottom left corner. The middle of the palette is reserved for your various mixes. Depending on your subject, you may not need every color on the palette but it may take some time and experience to be able to predict the base colors you will need to mix every target color accurately.

Now you need to decide if you want an open or closed palette. An open palette lets you improvise and mix colors on the fly as you need them while you paint. A closed palette forces you to premix color strings, a stepped tint and shade value range of a target hue for all of your major target colors. You may prefer a closed palette if you are used to a wide range of convenience colors with prescribed tints and shades for each color, like WarColours or Reaper MSP HD. Once you gain some experience, you may find that a partially open palette with some premixed colors leads you to the best results.

Setting up your palette consistently every session will avoid unforeseen difficulties that arise from a sloppy set up.

Know Your Color Profiles

Listed below are the main properties of paint you need to research before buying denoted with a $ along with an explanation of each color profile’s attributes:

  • Common Name: The marketing name most commonly used by paint manufacturers displayed predominantly on the tube.
  • $ Pigment: Not all pigments are created equally. All colors suggested in this book will list their pigment so you are not tricked by a manufacturer’s color name. If you venture out to new colors, then do your research using the resources listed below.
  • Pigment Family: Pure pigments fall into two families: Organic/Modern (pigments are created chemically in a lab) and Inorganic/Mineral (pigments are ground from rocks and bones).
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: The color’s Munsell notation. The values can be useful when figuring out different color schemes and successfully mixing to your intended target color.
  • $ Lightfastness: Do not compromise lightfastness. All colors on your palette should pass an ATSM I rating of excellent lightfastness. Otherwise, your poorly rated colors will fade or darken in a few years, ruining your finely crafted miniature. I see examples of this around my house everyday in framed family photos that were printed on an inkjet that used a non-lightfast yellow pigment in its ink. I watch my family slowly fade into freakish pink aliens.
  • $ Opacity: A color’s opaque, semi-transparent, or transparent property depends on the pigment. Microscopic rocks make up opaque pigments that light does not pass through, while transparent particles like shards of stained glass comprise transparent pigments. Opaque pigments can be made transparent through dilution but will not reflect back the same luminous light as a true transparent pigment.
  • $ Gloss: Pigments naturally determine a gloss or matte finish as varied as their opacity. Miniature artists prefer a matte finish to their models, and the gloss of some colors can be reduced by mixing with matte colors, matte mediums, and speeding drying time through a hot box. Finally, a matte varnish may be applied as a finishing step.
  • $ Tinting Strength: Adding white to a color tints it. Colors with a high tinting strength will retain their high chroma longer than colors with a low tinting strength when adding the same amount of white. You may have a harder time mixing with high chroma and tinting strength colors because they will dominate a mix with just a small addition of paint, while low tinting strength colors give you more room to play in your mix.
  • Why it’s in the palette: An editorial explanation of the color’s strengths and relationships with other colors in the palette.
  • Bright Mixes: A list of single color mixes where each color shares a strong bias without any contaminating complements
  • Middle Mixes: A list of single color mixes where one color is strongly biased toward the target and the other contains a contaminating complement
  • Dull Mixes: A list of single color mixes where both colors share more complements than biases
  • Complement: Within the included colors, the color’s complementary hue that mixes to a darker neutral (brown, gray, or black)
  • Undercoat Value: A suggested value of neutral undercoat to best support the color’s native value and transparency.
  • Tint: Suggested white for tinting
  • Shade: Suggested blacks and biased warm and cool colors to darken the color

Biased Primary Profiles

Green-Yellow

Hansa Yellow Light Mixes

Hansa Yellow Light Mixes

  • Common Name: Hansa Yellow Light
  • Pigment: Arylide yellow (PY3)
  • Pigment Family: Organic/Modern
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 7.5Y-8.5-12
  • Lightfastness: II
  • Opacity: Semi-transparent
  • Gloss: Glossy
  • Tinting Strength: High
  • Why it’s in the palette: Green-biased yellow that mixes very bright greens and enhances warmer yellows
  • Bright Mixes: Cerulean Blue, Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green, Cadmium Yellow Medium
  • Middle Mixes: Cadmium Red Light, Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine Blue
  • Dull Mixes: Quinacridone Magenta
  • Complement: Ultramarine Blue+Quinacridone Magenta
  • Undercoat Value: 9
  • Tint: Titanium White
  • Shade: Chromatic Black+Burnt Sienna

Yellow-Red

Cadmium Yellow Medium Mixes

Cadmium Yellow Medium Mixes

  • Common Name: Cadmium Yellow Medium
  • Pigment: Concentrated Cadmium Sulfide (PY37)
  • Pigment Family: Inorganic/Mineral
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 2.5Y-8-14
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Opaque
  • Gloss: Matte
  • Tinting Strength: Good
  • Why it’s in the palette: Red biased yellow with opaque hiding power, mixes bright oranges
  • Bright Mixes: Cadmium Red Light, Hansa Yellow Light
  • Middle Mixes: Cerulean Blue, Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green, Quinacridone Magenta
  • Dull Mixes: Ultramarine Blue, Payne’s Grey
  • Complement: Ultramarine Blue
  • Undercoat Value: 8
  • Tint: Titanium White
  • Shade: Raw Umber+Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue

Blue-Green

Cerulean Blue Mixes

Cerulean Blue Mixes

  • Common Name: Cerulean Blue
  • Pigment: Oxides of cobalt and tin (PB35)
  • Pigment Family: Inorganic/Mineral
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 5PB-4-12
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Opaque
  • Gloss: Matte
  • Tinting Strength: Low
  • Why it’s in the palette: Cold, atmospheric, opaque blue-green that is a good companion to Ultramarine Blue and can mix a wide range of greens
  • Bright Mixes: Hansa Yellow Light
  • Middle Mixes: Cadmium Yellow Medium
  • Dull Mixes: Cadmium Red Light, Yellow Ochre, Quinacridone Magenta
  • Complement: Cadmium Red Light
  • Undercoat Value: 6
  • Tint: Titanium-Zinc White
  • Shade: Phthalo Blue, Ultramarine+Burnt Sienna, Chromatic Black

Purple-Blue

Ultramarine Blue Mixes

Ultramarine Blue Mixes

  • Common Name: Ultramarine Blue
  • Pigment: Complex silicate of sodium and aluminum with sulfur (PB29)
  • Pigment Family: Inorganic/Mineral
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 7.5PB-2-10
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Transparent
  • Gloss: Semi-Gloss
  • Tinting Strength: Moderate to High
  • Why it’s in the palette: Warm blue that mixes well with magenta to create bright purples. One of the few colors that increases in chromacity when you add a little white (up to a 3-4 value). Mix with raw umber for a neutral black darker than most tubed blacks. Increases in chroma with a 1 or 2 value up tint.
  • Bright Mixes: Quinacridone Magenta
  • Middle Mixes: Hansa Yellow Light,
  • Dull Mixes: Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Red Light
  • Complement: Cadmium Yellow Medium+Cadmium Red Light
  • Undercoat Value: 9 if transparent, 5 if tinted
  • Tint: Titanium-Zinc White
  • Shade: Ivory Black, Chromatic Black, Burnt Sienna

Red-Purple

Quinacridone Magenta Mixes

Quinacridone Magenta Mixes

  • Common Name: Quinacridone Magenta
  • Pigment: Quinacridone y (PR122)
  • Pigment Family: Organic/Modern
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 5RP-3-10
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Transparent
  • Gloss: Glossy
  • Tinting Strength: High
  • Why it’s in the palette: Strong red-purples that mixes bright purples. Mixes with complement phthalo green to make transparent black. Bright Reds mixed with Cadmium Red Light
  • Bright Mixes: Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Red Light
  • Middle Mixes: Cerulean Blue, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Phthalo Blue
  • Dull Mixes: Hansa Yellow Light, Phthalo Green
  • Complement: Phthalo Green+Hansa Yellow Light
  • Undercoat Value: 7 if transparent, 4 if tinted
  • Tint: Titanium-Zinc White
  • Shade: Phthalo Green+Hansa Yellow Light, Chromatic Black

Red-Yellow

Cadmium Red Light Mixes

Cadmium Red Light Mixes

  • Common Name: Cadmium Red Light
  • Pigment: Concentrated cadmium sulfo-selenide (PR108)
  • Pigment Family: Inorganic/Mineral
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 7.5R-5-16
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Opaque
  • Gloss: Matte
  • Tinting Strength: Medium
  • Why it’s in the palette: High chroma red-yellow that can mix opaque, bright oranges with Cadmium Yellow. Mix with Quinacridone Magenta for a “primary” red.
  • Bright Mixes: Cadmium Yellow Medium, Quinacridone Magenta
  • Middle Mixes: Hansa Yellow Light, Ultramarine Blue
  • Dull Mixes: Cerulean Blue
  • Complement: Phthalo Blue+Phthalo Green
  • Undercoat Value: 8
  • Tint: Titanium White+Yellow Ochre
  • Shade: Raw Umber, Chromatic Black+Burnt Sienna

Earth Profiles

Earth Yellow

Yellow Ochre Mixes

Yellow Ochre Mixes

  • Common Name: Yellow Ochre
  • Pigment: Natural hydrated iron oxide (PY43)
  • Pigment Family: Inorganic/Mineral
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 10YR-5-10
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Semi-transparent
  • Gloss: Matte
  • Tinting Strength: Low
  • Why it’s in the palette: A muted yellow-red that can be used to tint Cadmium Red, and mixes a good range of military dull greens with Payne’s Grey and Ultramarine Blue. Can be used in flesh mixes but may grey at highest tints, golden ochre tints better in flesh.
  • Bright Mixes: Cadmium Red Light
  • Middle Mixes: Cadmium Yellow Medium, Hansa Yellow Light
  • Dull Mixes: Quinacridone Magenta, Payne’s Grey
  • Complement: Ultramarine Blue
  • Undercoat Value: 7
  • Tint: Titanium White
  • Shade: Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber

Green-Brown

Raw Umber Mixes

Raw Umber Mixes

  • Common Name: Raw Umber
  • Pigment: Natural iron oxide containing manganese (PBr7)
  • Pigment Family: Inorganic/Mineral
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 10YR-2-2
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Semi-transparent
  • Gloss: Matte
  • Tinting Strength: Low
  • Why it’s in the palette: A low value and saturation brown that can be mixed with ultramarine blue to produce darker black than you can buy in a tube. Mix with yellow ochre and burnt sienna for a range of leathery browns
  • Bright Mixes: Yellow Ochre
  • Middle Mixes: Burnt Sienna
  • Dull Mixes: Ultramarine Blue
  • Complement: Cerulean Blue
  • Undercoat Value: 2
  • Tint: Titanium White+Yellow Ochre
  • Shade: Ultramarine Blue

Red-Brown

Burnt Sienna Mixes

Burnt Sienna Mixes

  • Common Name: Burnt Sienna
  • Pigment: Calcined natural iron oxide (PBr7)
  • Pigment Family: Inorganic/Mineral
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 10R-3-4
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Semi-transparent
  • Gloss: Matte
  • Tinting Strength: Medium
  • Why it’s in the palette: A muted red that is essential to flesh mixes and for shading warm reds. Mix with other earths for a warm range of leathery browns
  • Bright Mixes: Cadmium Red Light, Gold Ochre
  • Middle Mixes: Quinacridone Magenta, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Yellow Ochre
  • Dull Mixes: Ultramarine Blue, Raw Umber, Hansa Yellow Light
  • Complement: Ultramarine Blue
  • Undercoat Value: 5
  • Tint: Titanium-Zinc White+Yellow Ochre
  • Shade: Ivory Black, Raw Umber, Ultramarine Blue

Neutral Profiles

Cool Black

Ivory Black Mixes

Ivory Black Mixes

  • Common Name: Ivory Black
  • Pigment: Bone Black (PBk28)
  • Pigment Family: Organic/Modern
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 0N-1-0
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Semi-transparent
  • Gloss: Glossy
  • Tinting Strength: Medium
  • Why it’s in the palette: Good all-around mixing black to neutrally shade cool colors. Can be used in limited Zorn palette as cool black that mixes as a muted blue with Cadmium Red Light and Yellow Ochre.
  • Bright Mixes: NA
  • Middle Mixes: NA
  • Dull Mixes: NA
  • Complement: Raw Umber
  • Undercoat Value: 1
  • Tint: Titanium White
  • Shade: Raw Umber+Ultramarine Blue

Opaque White

Titanium White Mixes

Titanium White Mixes

  • Common Name: Titanium White
  • Pigment: Titanium Dioxide (PW6)
  • Pigment Family: Inorganic/Mineral
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 0N-10-0
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Opaque
  • Gloss: Matte
  • Tinting Strength: High
  • Why it’s in the palette: An opaque, slightly warm white that can tint all colors and neutrals. Will increase the chroma of ultramarine blue with a single value tint bump.
  • Bright Mixes: Ultramarine Blue
  • Middle Mixes: NA
  • Dull Mixes: NA
  • Complement: NA
  • Undercoat Value: 5
  • Tint: NA
  • Shade: Ivory Black+Raw Umber

Tinting White

Titanium-Zinc White Mixes

Titanium-Zinc White Mixes

  • Common Name: Titanium-Zinc White
  • Pigment: Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide (PW6, PW4), vehicle: safflower oil
  • Pigment Family: Inorganic/Mineral
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 0N-10-0
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Semi-opaque
  • Gloss: Semi-Matte
  • Tinting Strength: Medium High
  • Why it’s in the palette: A smooth textured, semi-opaque, neutral white that can tint semi-transparent colors in a more controlled mix than Titanium White.
  • Bright Mixes: NA
  • Middle Mixes: NA
  • Dull Mixes: NA
  • Complement: NA
  • Undercoat Value: 3
  • Tint: NA
  • Shade: Ivory Black+Raw Umber, Chromatic Black

Greys

Grey Mixes

Grey Mixes

  • Common Name: Grey Light, Medium, and Deep
  • Pigment: Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, iron oxide, synthetic black iron oxide (PW6, PW4, PBr7, PBk11)
  • Pigment Family: Inorganic/Mineral
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 0N-8 (Light), 6 (Medium), 4 (Deep)-0
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Opaque
  • Gloss: Matte
  • Tinting Strength: NA
  • Why it’s in the palette: Use these Munsell valued neutral greys to normalize values between two mixing colors for a more predictable target color. Also featured on this swatch are cool and warm white for tinting cool and warm hues and titanium buff, cool and warm gray for low saturation hue hints.
  • Bright Mixes: NA
  • Middle Mixes: NA
  • Dull Mixes: NA
  • Complement: NA
  • Undercoat Value: Varies
  • Tint: Titanium White
  • Shade: Mars Black

Opaque Black

Mars Black Mixes

Mars Black Mixes

  • Common Name: Mars Black
  • Pigment: Synthetic black iron oxide (PBk11)
  • Pigment Family: Inorganic/Mineral
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 0N-1-0
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Opaque
  • Gloss: Matte
  • Tinting Strength: NA
  • Why it’s in the palette: Opaque black used to shade opaque neutrals and a great covering black used as a base for black materials
  • Bright Mixes: NA
  • Middle Mixes: NA
  • Dull Mixes: NA
  • Complement: NA
  • Undercoat Value: 1
  • Tint: Titanium White
  • Shade: Ultramarine Blue+Raw Umber

Shading Black

Chromatic Black Mixes

Chromatic Black Mixes

  • Common Name: Chromatic Black
  • Pigment: Chlorinated and brominated phthalocyanine, quinacridone redb (PG36, PV19)
  • Pigment Family: Organic/Modern
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 0N-1-0
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Transparent
  • Gloss: Glossy
  • Tinting Strength: NA
  • Why it’s in the palette: Black mixed from perfect transparent red and green complements that can shade many hues without shifting.
  • Bright Mixes: NA
  • Middle Mixes: NA
  • Dull Mixes: NA
  • Complement: NA
  • Undercoat Value: 1
  • Tint: Titanium Zinc White
  • Shade: NA

Convenience Profiles

Transparent Blue

Phthalo Blue Mixes

Phthalo Blue Mixes

  • Common Name: Phthalo Blue
  • Pigment: Copper phthalocyanine (PB15)
  • Pigment Family: Organic/Modern
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 5PB-2-10
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Transparent
  • Gloss: Glossy
  • Tinting Strength: High
  • Why it’s in the palette: Transparent blue-green to mix with other transparent colors
  • Bright Mixes: Hansa Yellow Light, Phthalo Green
  • Middle Mixes: Cadmium Yellow Medium, Quinacridone Magenta
  • Dull Mixes: Cadmium Red Light
  • Complement: Cadmium Red Light
  • Undercoat Value: 7 if transparent, 4 if tinted
  • Tint: Zinc White
  • Shade: Chromatic Black

Transparent Green

Phthalo Green Mixes

Phthalo Green Mixes

  • Common Name: Phthalo Green
  • Pigment: Chlorinated copper phthalocyanine (PG7)
  • Pigment Family: Organic/Modern
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 5BG-2-6
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Transparent
  • Gloss: Glossy
  • Tinting Strength: High
  • Why it’s in the palette: Use to mix bright and clean yellow greens and green blues
  • Bright Mixes: Hansa Yellow Light, Cerulean Blue
  • Middle Mixes: Phthalo Blue, Cadmium Yellow Light, Ultramarine Blue
  • Dull Mixes: Quinacridone Magenta
  • Complement: Cadmium Red Light+Quinacridone Magenta
  • Undercoat Value: 4
  • Tint: Zinc White
  • Shade: Chromatic Black

Flesh’s Secret

Gold Ochre Mixes

Gold Ochre Mixes

  • Common Name: Gold Ochre
  • Pigment: Yellow Iron Oxide (PY42)
  • Pigment Family: Inorganic/Mineral
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 10YR-6-12
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Opaque
  • Gloss: Matte
  • Tinting Strength: Medium
  • Why it’s in the palette: Exclusively used as a replacement for yellow ochre (PY43) for caucasian flesh mixes to produce clean tints (PY43 has a slight black element that can grey tints).
  • Bright Mixes: Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Yellow Medium
  • Middle Mixes: Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Quinacridone Magenta
  • Dull Mixes: Cerulean Blue, Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green
  • Complement: Phthalo Blue
  • Undercoat Value: 5
  • Tint: Titanium White
  • Shade: Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Ultramarine Blue

A Bluer-Black

Payne's Grey Mixes

Payne’s Grey Mixes

  • Common Name: Payne’s Grey
  • Pigment: Complex silicate of sodium and aluminum with sulfur, bone black, synthetic iron oxide (PB29, PBk9, PY42)
  • Pigment Family: Inorganic/Mineral
  • Munsell Hue-Value-Chroma: 4PB-1-1
  • Lightfastness: I
  • Opacity: Transparent
  • Gloss: Semi-Matte
  • Tinting Strength: Low
  • Why it’s in the palette: Use this blue-black as an ivory black substitute in a Zorn palette for stronger blues. Color is used heavily in fantasy and sci-fi miniature concept art and also mixes commonly used dull military greens with yellow ochre
  • Bright Mixes: NA
  • Middle Mixes: Quinacridone Magenta
  • Dull Mixes: Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Light
  • Complement: NA
  • Undercoat Value: 5
  • Tint: Titanium-Zinc White
  • Shade: Raw Umber, Chromatic Black

Excited for More?

Now that you know more about the guts of your paint, you may be curious to learn more tips and techniques when using oil paints on your miniatures and figures. All this and more can be found in Kyle Kolbe’s forthcoming book Artist’s Oil Color Miniature Painting Handbook. The book will be released in an interactive ebook format and print on demand by the end of 2017. The table of contents preview below reveals all the book’s informative sections.

To stay up to date on the book’s progress please visit and follow my Facebook artist page: https://www.facebook.com/gkwfm/. You can also sign up for an email newsletter for special updates and offers leading up to the book’s release here: https://www.facebook.com/gkwfm/app/100265896690345/.

Kyle Kolbe

Since age 6, Kyle Kolbe created artistic souvenirs related to his fantasy fandom. Fantasy miniatures suffered from a child's brush. Now, Kyle researches paint chemistry and adapts classical painting and composition methods to figure arts. He keeps finding new tools that will help other painters with their figure works.

Comments

  1. Johan Kees

    Higly interesting! I myself studied many articles on colour theories, pigments and such and I saw a lot confirmed here. Look forward to the book!

  2. Marc Mussat

    a great review on oil painting !thanks !
    any chance of finding this “Grumbacher Oil Painting Medium I ” somewhere else than in the States ? looks interesting for getting a good matt finish …

    1. Author
      Kyle Kolbe

      Thanks for your kind words. I’ve contacted Grumbacher about their international availability and will update you when I hear back. I’ve also had success mixing my own medium with Windsor & Newton’s Lyquin/Distilled Turps 5:1 ratio, this will also promote a matte finish and faster drying.

      1. Author
        Kyle Kolbe

        I heard back from Grumbacher and their medium is only tested for North America, they don’t ship it internationally. You will still have good results with the WN Lyquin mix I described above.

  3. Johan Kees

    Following on this subject I thought it could be interesting or useful to share the palette of oil colours one uses.

    I myself use a basic palette of 12 (Talens) Rembrandt range oil paints based on pigment and colour bias. Most of them are single pigment paints.

    Here goes:

    Cadmium lemon (PY35 – green yellow – opaque)
    Cadmium yellow medium (PY35 – red yellow – opaque)
    Cadmium orange (PO20/PY35 – yellow orange – opaque)
    Vermillion ( PO73 – red orange – semi-opaque)
    Cadmium red medium (PR108 – orange red – opaque)
    Permanent madder deep (PR264 – blue red – semi-transparent)
    Quinacridone rose (PV19 – red violet – transparent)
    Ultramarine violet (PV15 – blue violet – transparent)
    Ultramarine blue deep (PB29 – violet blue – transparent)
    Phtalo blue GS (PB15 – green blue – transparent)
    Phtalo green (PG7 – blue green – transparent)
    Chromium oxide green (PG17 – yellow green – opaque)

    Added are also a few earth colours:
    Yellow ochre (PY42 – opaque)
    Venetian red (PR101 – opaque)
    Burnt siena (PR101 – semi-transparent)
    Burnt umber from W&N (PBr7 – transparent)
    Raw umber from W&N (PBr7 – semi-transparent)

    Of course I have also a few blacks and whites:
    Titanium white (PW6-PW4 – opaque)
    Transparent white used in glazing mixed when needed (PW6 – PW4 – transparent)
    Ivory black (PBk9-PB29 – semi-opaque)
    Black oxide only used for the blackest black areas (PBk11 – opaque)

    Lately I also started using some pre-mixed cold and warm grays in my mixes to desaturize colours that are too vibrant. I know it is easy to mix these grays yourself, but I feel comfortable with these pre-mixed grays.

    On top of that I use also a few convenient colours when I am in a lazy mood and depending on the project.

    Cheers

    Johan

    1. Author
      Kyle Kolbe

      It’s always a joy to see other’s palettes. Your expanded biased palette is a good example of colors artists can invest in when they’re ready and it fits their style. Some of your colors are a little close in hue for me, like the orange-reds, but that’s great if it helps you. I’m interested in the opaque cad green yellow to add to my collection, but it looks like you could use a transparent yellow-green. Thanks for your informative comment.

      1. Johan Kees

        Thanks Kyle.
        You’re right about the orange reds, especially the vermillion. I seldomly use the colour indeed, relying on the cadmium red and cadmium orange to mix a red orange, adjusting chroma with one of the pre-mixed greys I have on my palette. This idea I have picked up from US landscape painter Don Finkeldei (http://www.finkeldeistudio.com/how-to-articles/oil-acrylic-painting/19-using-grays-on-your-palette-in-oil-painting), although he mixes his greys himself, my method thus being less sophisticated.
        All the best!

  4. Felix Leung

    Congratulations! Very informative on painting with artist oil paint.
    I started painted my figures in artist oil back in the early eighties. Here are some of my personal experiences with artist oil.

    QUICK DRYERS (24 hr.)
    BURNT UMBER
    BURNT SIENNA
    RAW UMBER
    RAW UMBER
    PRUSSIAN BLUE

    MEDIUM DRYERS (2-3 days)
    YELLOW OCHRE
    INDIAN RED
    OXIDE OF CHORMIUM
    LEMON YELLOW
    VIRIDIAN
    NAPLES YELLOW
    COBALT BLUE

    SLOW DRYERS (3-7 days)
    CADMIUM YELLOW
    CADMIUM RED
    ALIZARIAN CRIMSON
    FRENCH ULTRAMARINE
    IVORY BLACK
    MAGENTA
    WHITE

    ACCELERATION OF OIL PAINT DRYING

    In order to speed up of slow drying colors, we can use the following methods:

    1. Safest way – Mix a touch of quick drying color to slow drying color. For example, add a touch of Umber to Cadmium Red, this will speed up the drying time considerably without changing much of the tone at all.

    2. By adding Windsor & Newton Liquin, especially when painting with white.

    3. By means of siccative, such metallic-salt compounds as cobalt dryer. In practical use, this amounts to one drop of the siccative added to a teaspoonful of the paint thinner or painting medium used or one drop to about one inch of the paint as it comes from the tube.

    4. By heat source, such as a radiator, electric heater, or inside a box with a light bulb as a heating element. Temperature should be around 100-102 degrees F. A thin paint film should dry the next day. Artificially dried oil paint has a tendency to crack in time. There is no guarantee that this will happen.

    My light box is made out of 1/2 inch particle board and lined with aluminum foil with an adjustable shelf. I use a 40 watt light bulb as a heat source. The size is 16L x 16Wx 25H inches. There is a 3/4 inch vent hole at the top left corner and a magnetic hinge for the door.
    http://i280.photobucket.com/albums/kk175/yellowcat08/lighbox1_zps3qg7qysi.jpg
    http://i280.photobucket.com/albums/kk175/yellowcat08/lightbox2_zps3ly9zckv.jpg

    HOW TO BEAT HIGH GLOSS

    1. Mix your paint with Dorland’s Wax Medium

    2. Mix your paint with Grumbacher Oil painting Medium 1

    3. Use a small fan brush. Fan brush is used by landscape and portrait artist to blend the oil colour on canvas. http://i280.photobucket.com/albums/kk175/yellowcat08/paint%20003_zpsx04gejm2.jpg

    Here is the procedure that I used to paint my figures without using any matt medium.
    After laying down the oil paint on the figure your usual way, use the fan brush very lightly and gently go over the painted area in an up and down and diagonal brushing motion to pick up the excessive paint.
    Transfer the excessive paint on the brush onto a piece of paper or on your palette. Go over the area once more so that it only leaves a very thin layer of paint on the surface.
    Because of the up and down and diagonal brushing, this will break up and diffuse the light reflection on the surface eliminating the slick smooth glossy surface of oil. It should dry up to a complete natural velvet finish without any brush mark showing at all.

    Cheers!

    Felix

  5. Sonia

    Super interesting.. going to have to take a long study to get all this into my head but… thanks a million Kyle!

  6. mussat marc

    thanks Kyle !
    the lefranc Bourgeois mat painting medium ( for oil paint) can also come in handy , if used sparingly, to achieve a mat finish .
    I’ll try to get the Grumbacher Oil Painting Medium I from my parents who live in the US because I like trying out new stuff !

  7. Rob wolfe

    Great article. The best I have read. Will your upcoming book cover busts as well . And how can I find out when it is available? Thanks for taking time to do the article in way I can even understand Lol . Rob

    1. Author
      Kyle Kolbe

      I will cover a bust in addition to war gaming scale and 75mm figures.

  8. Chris Bumgarner

    I don’t know why scientists consider titanium white to be opaque. They have obviously never tried using it to paint a mini. I think mini painters use paint in such thin coats that their properties differ significantly from thicker coatings that artists use.
    By the way, PY42 is synthetic. It is a synthetic version of PY43, whose natural origin causes many impurities. They are chemically the same iron(III)oxide. Not all synthetic pigments are organic.

    1. Author
      Kyle Kolbe

      Oops, you’re right about py42 being synthetic. I have some more editing to do before the book is finished. Most colors vary greatly between their mass tone and undertone. In figure painting we’re always painting with a thinned undertone, so opaque never means one coat. It’s more about how the light reflects off the paint layer or penetrates it.

  9. Donald

    Great article Kyle!

    What is your opinion of water soluble oil paints for art in general and miniature painting in particular?

    1. Author
      Kyle Kolbe

      I’ve never used water soluable oils. If you’re worried about solvents and their toxicity, you can use Gamsol and safflower oil to clean your brushes and thin paint.

  10. Pete Watson

    Really informative article, look forward to the book, I’ve used oils for over twenty five years and still learning about them, I use a heat box with a sixty watt bulb which does the trick, keep the oils thin on the figure which greatly helps with matting down and drying, also found that using a quality spirit especially low odour, seems to help with the drying time. Really like the mixes you suggest huge food for thoughts, good luck with the book.

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