Dr. DDevil: Painting Cool Black Without Fear

Hello fellow hobbyists and miniature aficionados! 

Dr. D here with a article on how to paint one of the best colors, technically not found, on the color wheel, Black. The people who are reading this that paid for very fancy art school may know that Black is actually all of the colors the human eye can recognize being absorbed into the paint. This means that its an excellent accent color to any other color since it is technically all other colors at the same time.

Fun fact, this is why black objects that sit in the sun tend to get hotter and stay hotter longer. It has to do with energy retention. So now you can absorb all the excited energy that people are going to shoot at your models when they are looking at them.

Trivia knowledge aside, this is important to know for the painting process since it will determine the kind of black that you are going to paint. Most people think of black as just black, but there are many different ways you can paint black. Thankfully, after reading this article, you will know how to paint my favorite kind of black. Cool black is always impressive when done properly, and I’m constantly getting complimented on my black paint jobs since they are the perfect side dish to every other color. After you learn how to do this, you are going to have to wear sunglasses indoors with how cool you will look.

The issue with black is that you can’t go any darker, so the key to getting a good black is knowing how to highlight it. For a cool black you are going to use primarily blues or greens. Blue is my favorite color, so it made the decision easy for me, and I think it works better anyway. For this tutorial, these are the paints I used. It would not be difficult to replace them with your own favorite versions of these colors, but I do strongly recommend that you get the transparent colors from Monument Hobbies since they are actually amazing.

Monument Hobbies Coal Black

Monument Hobbies Blue Black

Citadel Lothern Blue

Monument Hobbies Titanium White

Monument Hobbies Transparent Black

These are just some of my personal favorites, but the best part of this painting technique is that you can modify it with whatever colors you think would get the effect you are after. As long as the color is on the cool side of the color wheel spectrum, then you can get a more sheen or supple looking black. I will talk about it in another article, but it truely comes down to the texture of whatever it is you are painting on the model. I have included some things I have painted in the past that are great examples of a cool black.

This is a perfect example of how you can use a cool and a warm black to help distinguish different textures on the model.

This is a good example of using a cool black with a bright, hot color very close by to make it really stand out

This one has a glossy finish to it, which gives it a different texture for the same colors.

Obviously, you need a model to paint for a PAINTING guide so I decided on Corvus Glaive from MCP due to the Black Order’s love for Goth outfits. For painting black, moody models you are going to want to start with a black primer. If you are feeling particularly frisky, you can zenithal spray the model with a white or grey paint or primer to know where your highlights are going to land. I find them especially helpful since I am never able to fully finish a model in one sitting. This is especially useful if you want to use inks or do some real fancy stuff, but we can go over that kind of stuff in the future.

One of the most important things to consider when painting a model with a black primer, is that the black primer is not always a good basecoat to work off of since it could potentially be uneven in distribution. So the first step is to actually go over all the areas you want black with the basecoat black you want as your baseline black. This prevents the issue of making a mistake while painting and not actually owning a black paint that is the same sheen or color as your primer black. For Corvus Glaive I used some black airbrush primer to get it ready for painting, and Coal Black all over the model after the primer dried. For anyone who does not have access to an airbrush, you can easily do this with an aerosol can of black primer and going over that with your baseline black with a brush.  

So very menacing

The Cape is an important element of the model, but we will get to that in the next article.

I like using Monument Hobbies Coal Black since its not a very “dark” black. It already contains a slight amount of blue, and is just great to work with when you want to be able to control where the darkest parts of the model will be. I have been told I am a madman due to my love of a non pitch black as a basecoat, but just wait until we get to the end. It is easier to get contrast if you can modify the paint to get darker at the end.

Next, we are going to use Monument Hobbies Black Blue to start working up the highlights. This highlight is mostly to remind us where the darkest shadows are going to be when we get to the end of painting the black. You may be tempted to get the most perfect of blends as you work up. I would honestly say don’t worry about that too much at this step, and just sketch in where you want the colors to go up and where you want them to go down. Whatever you don’t hit with this color is going to get darker when we get to the last few steps. I just took one of my more used brushes and slapped some color where I wanted it. My rule of thumb is put it where you think the light source will hit the model, or where you can push the colors to the center of the model or up towards the face. I have always believed that the face and chest are the most important part of most models, and should attract the eye the most. This is why characters like Captain America and Superman have huge white stars or symbols on their chests with fancy bright masks in comics.

First highlight done. Looks very rough and that’s OK!

Next, we are going to add some Lothern Blue onto the pallet. This blue is an amazing saturated bright blue that is just amazing at bringing up colors without desaturating the mix. Understanding saturation of your paints is very important to understand why some colors do not look right when they start to get highlighted. This is why you should never highlight a black with pure white until the very end. If you highlight a black with a pure white, you are going to lose the illusion of your paint still being a black and turn it into a dirty grey. Now you are going to want to make sure the mix between the Blue Black, Lothern Blue, and water is approximately 30:30:30. Don’t measure it too precisely, you just want the paint to flow and not chunk up while you are putting it on the model. The water is going to allow the paint to be more transparent when it dries and help it go on more smoothly. Just remember, you must paint without fear. If this is your first attempt a more complex black, then just do this knowing that you are going to be very uncomfortable with how bright you are going to make this black. It sounds cliché, but you must embrace the fear and see it through to the end so that you can learn what works and what does not work. If you are having fun and enjoying it, then you will understand the true point of this hobby.

The three colors we have used so far.

Starting to really notice the changing color at this point. Don’t let it scare you!

Next, you are going to add more Lothern blue to the mix. This is going to make it very blue, but it maintains the illusion of being black if you leave enough of the black in the recesses. It is important to make sure you are putting more water into the mix and the paint is right at the end of turning into some kind of messy wash, but just maintains the integrity of being paint. This is a difficult thing to understand or see when you are just getting started, and practice is the best way to find this sweet spot. Make sure you cover less and less surface area of the model as you put this color on the model. The highlights should be placed where light is hitting, or towards the center of of the model.

Gradually adding more and more Lothern Blue.

Starting to really come together!

Now you COULD stop here if you have pushed the envelope beyond your comfort zone, but I am a contrast addict. I love the colors on my models to be real real bright so the human eye gets to enjoy looking at large variety of color. Now its time to start adding very, very small amounts of white to the mix to push the highlights. The most important thing to remember with white is that it is VERY powerful, and will quickly overpower whatever color you are working with. This goes back to the previous desaturation comment. If you don’t know what that means, its ok. I will write an article about it later, but for now just take my word for it.

I truly recommended Monument Hobbies Titanium White for this due to the true quality of this paint. Many whites that you will find from the major paint companies will be very chalky, chunky, or practically be water. Titanium White is in that perfect sweet spot. It is an excellent idea to know that it is best to start with small amounts of white paint to make sure it does not ruin your black. Start by dipping just the tip of your mixing brush into the white and mix it into your paint mix. Keep adding white until you find what you are looking for, and then add enough water to make sure it is smooth and transparent. With a fine brush, grab some paint, wipe off any extra on the brush, and start putting the color where you want it to the be the brightest on the model. This is a perfect example of less is more.

The white mixture at the bottom is very thin and transparent. You can see exactly what is under that paint. You want the paint to do that on the model.

Again, if you are past the point of comfort then I think you could stop here and be very happy with your work. I am in fact insane, and am unable to understand fear while painting. I start throwing some very watered down PURE white to the tippy tips of the highlights. You could use a white ink or even Monument Hobbies Transparent White here, but I already had the white out and didn’t want it to go to waste.

The next step is to start putting black back into the model. This is going to be the point where it stops looking blue, and comes back down to a black if done correctly. I use Monument Hobby’s transparent black since it is very transparent when it fully dries and is easy to use. I tend to thin it down even more so that I can use it to smooth out the transitions all the way into the darkest points of the model. Make sure you pull the paint to the deepest point and only take your brush off the model after you have dragged it all the way into the darkest spot to prevent it from coffee staining your wonderful highlights. After you do that, clean the brush in your water and poke and pull any harsh edges left by the black before it fully dries. If you poke these areas with a damp brush it will prevent it from leaving a harsh transition area.

It is beyond important to know that this color is NOT a WASH. If you use it like a wash, it is going to ruin your highlight work and just stain it. You must be careful when doing this. If there was any point where you want to stop and just be done with doing a paint job, do not do it at the very end and ruin all the hard work you just put into the paint job.

Some of the transitions on the arm are a little rough, but it is something I wanted to keep to illustrate something you do when the model is almost finished in a future article.

After you have the model where you like it, I always try and put some other colors on the model. Due to the way the human eye works, if you only have a single color on a model it is very difficult to properly judge the color on its own. I know the area on the chest is going to be gold so I carefully paint it in to help take the full picture of the model in. If you see any areas you are not totally happy with, its fine. Just leave it as it is and then come back to it once everything else is painted. One of the best pieces of advice you can have as an aspiring higher level model painter is that you should always aim for the model to be 95% finished. Bob Ross would say that you can always “fiddle a painting to death” if you let yourself. I could not think of any better advice when it comes to painting models. Especially some of the amazing character models that AMG is pumping out. If you let small details constantly distract you from finishing the model you are going to just get frustrated and not finish the model. Its important to remember that painting the model shoulder be fun.

Don’t forget the point of the hobby. It’s supposed to be FUN!

After you paint everything else up, it is much easier to go back and see the areas that actually need to be touched up. I was happy with where I ended up, so I have decided I will come back and smooth out the blends if they are still painful to look at once everything around it is done. It always better to have a finished model for playing on a table then to have a grey piece of plastic.

All finished for now. I wonder if we will ever see Corvus again?

Thank you for reading this article to the end! I am excited to show you more tips and tricks in the very near future. Thankfully Corvus here will be very helpful for a few of the more commonly asked questions I get when it comes to painting difficult colors. I hope you got something out of this and apply it to your own models! The war on grey never ends, and until next time guys.

Keep it popping!

17 thoughts on “Dr. DDevil: Painting Cool Black Without Fear

Add yours

    1. Thank you sir. You continue to be my biggest fan! I always appreciate what you do for me!

  1. Wow, that’s an impressive piece of work for an insane contrast addict! Really helpful to walk through everything step by step. Thanks!

    1. You know what you have to do for that blender…..and more specialized painting……tips…..

  2. I’ll go back to work on my Punisher, so his black dress can finally shine like his golden heart. Thanks for the tips!

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