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Colour choices...a point of view

Discussion in 'Painting Techniques' started by fogie, Aug 5, 2019.

  1. fogie A Fixture

    In this hobby we are a bit fixated with colour - so many of us have sought to buy paint of a certain shade
    or tint that purports to, or at least we believe will, reproduce an authentic version of the very colour we
    need. I have no idea why we should do this, for before the 1860's and the advent of chemical annaline
    dyes, textiles were coloured with dyes produced from plants ( with sometimes an additional pinch of
    minerals like zinc or iron ), and the resultant colours were often only half the value of today's modern
    equivalents. So...what makes us think that a modern paint made, in all likelihood, with synthetic pigments,
    could possibly match cloth that was originally dyed many decades or indeed centuries ago, by a wholly
    different organic process ?

    Of course we can point to fabulously ornate and richly coloured clothing still preserved in any number
    of museums, but these were garments made for, and worn by, only the very wealthiest in society who
    could afford such things. The rest - the social strata in which our interest tends to inhabit - wore more
    humble garments, and their's was a less colourful and plainer world. When we go further back in history
    those differences become more marked.

    At the moment I happen to be working on a medieval highlander - so I"ll use him, if I may, as an example.
    Around the time of, say, Bannockburn, textiles were commonly woven from wool, flax, hemp, or even
    nettles. Hanks of spun yarn of this material were immersed for several days in stale urine - the mordant
    of choice that made the yarn more receptive to the chosen dye ( As this was usually a family affair. a wife
    or child would routinely step into the vat and paddle up and down to ensure a good soak, often adding
    to the contents as they worked...I mean...Yuk ! ...or what ? ). The yarn was then rinsed and submerged
    in pots of boiling dye, constantly stirred until the required colour was reached. The dye itself, gathered
    from seasonal local plants was boiled down to create a concentration ( different plants and combinations
    created different colours - Gorse Bark and Cow weed, for example, produced a sort of mid green ).The
    yarn was rinsed and dried, and eventually woven into cloth on a simple tablet loom - again usually by
    a wife (...as if she had nothing else to do).

    The pictures - showing a generic tartan that's not particularly relevant to my current project - indicate some
    comparisons. The first shows a modern version of the tartan available today, the second another modern
    version but this time an 'ancient' variation of the same thing. The final picture shows fairly accurately how
    the tartan might have been rendered in medieval times.

    In the end, as always, it's down to us - we look at the options and make our colour choice accordingly.


    kincaid modern.jpg kincaid.jpg kincaidish.jpg
  2. Scotty Well-Known Member

    Correct, if you've ever stood in a platoon wearing the same combat uniform and seen the variation in colours even using modern dyes, imagine the variations of Victorian troops who wore one uniform day in day out in all weathers sometimes until it fell off their back. If it looks ok to you then it's ok.
    DaddyO, harrytheheid and fogie like this.
  3. billyturnip A Fixture

    I remember when we were issued our No.1 and 2 uniforms it took nearly all morning to match up everyone's jackets with their trousers there was such a variation in shades. That was 1981.
    That's why I don't take a great deal of notice of self appointed experts.
  4. chailey Active Member

    That's the problem with our hobby as it is now in a nutshell!
    Far too many available colours, I have been sucked into this now after decades of working with a dozen or so humbrols and a few oil's, I have now accumulated racks of different shades of every colour imaginable and I'm no closer to being even a half decent painter!
    Oh for the good old days of simplicity (but preferably without everyone smelling of wee...)

    Scotty and fogie like this.
  5. billyturnip A Fixture

    Sounds like model club night.
    chailey likes this.
  6. hypertex Active Member

    The problem isn't the original process. It's that we don't have authenticated historical samples. Even if we had a sample of genuine tartan, there is no guarantee that the color of the sample hasn't changed since it was originally made. Colorants degrade over time, whether or not they are exposed to light. If we know the chemical make up of the colorant, we can take an educated guess if we understand how the colorant changes over time.

    Note that the OP said the final image shows "how the tartan might have been rendered." Key word is "might." There is not certainty in this. Not to mention that the image will be rendered differently depending on each person's monitor and software settings, etc.

    As one color scientist has said "It is rare that a color reproduction actually matches an original object." Principles of Color Technology, 3rd ed, Roy S. Berns, John Wiley & Sons (2000), p. 29.

    So how do we know if we have our colors right? Even if it was right, we couldn't prove it.
    Scotty and DaddyO like this.
  7. fogie A Fixture

    Made even worse of course by the variabilities of each batch of dyed threads. the temperature, the climate and its effect on the plant materials, the lanolin
    levels in the raw wool, not forgetting the acidity of the mordant ............bugger..........the only thing we can do is run !
    Scotty and harrytheheid like this.
  8. billyturnip A Fixture

    No, the only thing we can do as figure painters is the best we can with the available information, let those that worry about such things and pontificate on the internet stress themselves for no reason while the rest of us enjoy our hobby.
  9. harrytheheid PlanetFigure Supporter

    Nope, neither do I.
    Unfortunately, there's always those who want to bang the drum for their favorite agenda whether it's paint colors or anything else they've got a bee in their bonnet about this week - it'll be something else next week.
    Best ignored of course.

    Hear, hear.
    The self-appointed internet bores remind me of the guy in the pub that drones on and on, not realizing that no-one's the slightest bit interested.
    Scotty, billyturnip and DaddyO like this.
  10. DaddyO A Fixture

    Excellent discussion on one of my favourite topics (y)

    Good points made by all so far. I'll add that a friend works at a local museum which spends a lot of time with the 'helpers' making or reproducing things using available technology (It's the Ancient Technology Centre in Dorset if anyone fancies a day out - they hold regular weekend events which are well worth a trip)
    Anyway back to the main point which was to say that they've found that quite striking colours can be made using plant and mineral dyes (much brighter than I would have imagined), but as Mike has already said those colours are very fugitive and quickly fade to much less vivid versions. (If anyone makes raspberry ice-cream at home they'll know the fabulous startling pink colour looks completely artificial even though it's just the juice of the fruit adding the colour)
    Scotty and harrytheheid like this.
  11. valiant A Fixture

    Im of the " if it looks right, then it is right" school of thought.... (y)
    Scotty, harrytheheid and billyturnip like this.
  12. billyturnip A Fixture

    Absolutely Steve. In all genres of modelling, figures aircraft and AFV's etc. you usually find the internet experts very really post their 100% accurate work.... I wonder why?
    Don't get me wrong I find discussion on uniform/clothing etc. interesting, it's the way some people go about it that gets my back up.
    valiant and harrytheheid like this.
  13. harrytheheid PlanetFigure Supporter

    Almost as soon as something leaves the factory, be it uniforms, AVF's, or whatever - colors start changing due to the weather and other local conditions. Even the ambient light, or angle of the light striking an object, can change colors dramatically.
    No-one's saying a late-WW2 Kingtiger tank, or a Napoleonic grenadier should be painted pink with bright yellow spots, but the entire subject of exactly what colors we should use for the entire range of items we paint just takes a bit of common sense.
    DaddyO and billyturnip like this.
  14. valiant A Fixture

    ...just dont get me started on weathering on AFVs, especially rust!!(y)
  15. Viking Bob PlanetFigure Supporter


    Variations of blue, all the sack coats (with exceptions of the officer) are made with the same dyes but some of these have weathered, some are new. No two men were dressed the same.
    The army issue blankets are different shade's too ,as are the trousers (pants)
    Great thread.
    Scotty, DaddyO and harrytheheid like this.
  16. billyturnip A Fixture

    Why Steve, what's wrong with that? :troll:
    valiant likes this.
  17. valiant A Fixture

    ...I said, dont get me started, Rog!!(y)
    billyturnip likes this.
  18. billyturnip A Fixture

  19. valiant A Fixture

    ships, fine - the more rust the better! Unless, its like the guy at our club who did a 1/35 landing craft with loads of rust on it, only to find they were made of plywood......:sneaky:
  20. billyturnip A Fixture


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