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The Colors of War

July 3, 2017

It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of miniature painting. I can make plenty of excuses for why I’m not, but the main one is that I’m bad at it. The painted models never look as good as they do in my head when put the brushes down. The process itself is incredibly frustrating, especially when I just can’t get my brush to do what I want it to. Disheartened, I usually give up mere minutes into the painting session and consign myself to the drab grey hell that are unpainted models. Of course, the more experienced hobbyists out there will be able to spot my problem immediately; I don’t practice, so I never get any better. Time to put a stop to that…

Normally I have an inkling of what I want to paint and how, but this time I want to go in with a very clear idea of what paints will be on the palette. Luckily, I have plenty of paint choices from my myriad failed hobby projects, so I should be able to put together a decent selection without spending a dime. That means the main limitation historical accuracy.

I set to work with some research. I found that most clothing was made from dyed wool and leather. Furs and pelts were also worn, but were expensive and comparatively rare. Viking age clothing dyes were plant based, and heavily favored greens, browns, and yellows. Reds and blues also existed in some quantity, but were finer and more expensive. Whites and greys were available as undyed wool, but a true black was practically impossible. A very dark blue reminiscent of raven feathers used in its stead. Leather could be different shades based on the tanning process and type animal hide used. Paint pigments were similar, but allowed for stronger colors and charcoal could be used as black.

As for metal, iron was almost ubiquitous, but the highest quality swords and spearheads were forged from steel. Helmets and chainmail were also composed of iron, and would have been very expensive. In rare cases, a Jarl or King would have a sword or helmet chased with gold or brass to show his status. The horned helmets of Victorian opera are entirely fictional. Wood for weapon hafts and spear shafts varied based on location of construction, but were often ash or elm. Shields were often composed of fir and spruce, but could be made of lighter linden wood as well.

Viking shields were famous for being painted with bright designs and intricate patterns. It also seems that many warriors decorated their own shields with whatever colors or patterns they liked, making a shield wall a vibrant mass of erratic designs and colors. While I liked the personal touches warriors added to their gear, I hoped for something with a bit more uniformity. I wanted it to be easy to see that my warband all belong to the same force, but still retain their somewhat eclectic appearance. Enter Rule #4. To this end, I designated a few unifying colors that could be distributed sparingly throughout the entire band. While not totally historically accurate, I think that it will look great on the table and still give the appearance of a rampaging Viking raiding party.

After sifting through the research and looking at what I had available, I painted a quick palette for reference.


With just a few exceptions, these are the only shades that I will be using for the project. While limiting the number of colors will lead to a more crudely painted force, I’ve already established that I’m no Bob Ross, let alone a Rembrandt. Keeping the shades concise will allow me to focus on actually painting rather than agonizing over virtuosity. It is worth noting that all my paints are from the Citadel range.


Since most of the colors will be some form of earth tone, I tried to keep my selection of browns to five or six shades. I can use most of these for hair and beard colors as well.


The greens were the hardest to pare down. I decided to just stick with the drab edge of the spectrum, and leave out the more vibrant greens.


The tan and bone colors were also difficult to give up. Still, I’m confident that I kept the vital shades.


After trying out a few different combinations, I decided to go with red and yellow for the warband’s signature colors. As I mentioned before, most of the colors will be earth tones, but I will be using these to add character as I see fit. Shields are the exception to this; all shields will be dark red, goldenrod yellow, charcoal gray, khaki tan, or some combination of the four. I’ve also decided that one in three of the warriors will have a red or yellow article of clothing as well.


Finally, we have the metallics, grays, and skin tone. I was a bit stingy with the metallic paints because most are from the increasingly rare early 2000s Citadel line. I’ve always liked the consistency of those and am loathe to use them without cause. I will also be using a few technical paints that aren’t pictured here. Washes, inks, and varnishes don’t test well on a palette, so I left them off. I’ll be sure and point them out when they crop up though. Now I just need to base and prime the models and then I can get on to painting them in earnest…

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