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Lightening and Darkening Colors

by Chuck Theidel 

Over the years I have had numerous conversations with other figure painters concerning shading and highlighting. The majority of us feel that the three hardest colors to shade and highlight are Red, Blue and Black. Here are a few tips that should help you when you’re working with these three colors.

As far as the primary colors red, blue, and yellow just add lighter or darker shades of the original color to acquire the color you need. Using black or white is fine for changing shades of colors but if you want to keep your colors bright, always use a color that is part of the original.

Lightening and Darkening Colors

To darken red, stay within the red spectrum. Use a color like maroon or even a tad bit of brown. Do not use black to darken red – it will give the color a muddy look. To lighten red I suggest using colors such as orange or light tan. Stay away from white for this will bleach out the color.

When it comes to blue, to darken use black or darker shades of blue. To lighten, use lighter shades of blue; again stay away from white. Most times you can get nice effects with blue if you just shade it and not try to highlight it. Remember that subtle color changes are far more interesting than drastic ones.

As for black, I know you will say: “That’s easy. To make it lighter, just add white! Right?” Wrong. Try using light tan or maybe even a deck tan, somewhere in that range. This idea was brought to my attention when award-winning modeler David Clarke showed me some of his panzer crew figures. The results were impressive!

So, in answer to the question: “What color do I use to lighten a certain color, or what color do I use to darken a color?”

My general rule of thumb is to stay in the spectrum of the color you want to change.

Another example: To lighten a dark green use yellow; to make it even darker use a dark blue. The reason being is that blue and yellow make green, so by adding these colors you will not be changing the original intensity of the color.