Befreiungskriege 1813-14

Painting and modelling 28mm Napoleonic wargaming miniatures

Blue is the colour

Posted by Martin on February 19, 2012

The Andrea Blue Set in all its glory.

The Andrea Blue Set in all its glory.

My involvement in the La Bricole painting competition was, in part, intended as an opportunity to experiment and one of the areas I wanted to investigate further was how to achieve the most pleasing result for the blue of French infantry uniforms. My existing palette for Prussian blue has served well over the last couple of years: Vallejo Dark Prussian Blue (VMC889), Vallejo Prussian Blue (VMC965) and Vallejo Medium Blue (VMC963). But when I tried to adapt the same palette for French uniforms, I found it unsatisfactory.

The main problem is that the blue of French uniforms is actually rather dark. And that means that you need a really dark blue basecoat for highlight layers to show up clearly enough without them making the whole effect too light. After a lot of consideration, I reached the conclusion that Vallejo Dark Prussian Blue isn’t dark enough a starting point.

The secondary problem is with Vallejo Medium Blue as a final highlight. It seems too bright and, to my eyes, to contain too much green whereas I was looking for a greyer blue. I’ve tried various other blues in the Vallejo range as a replacement and none of them quite hit the mark. Plus, with both its fellows under scrutiny, I has also started to wonder about Vallejo Prussian Blue’s suitability.

So what was to be done? Answer: time to experiment outside the Vallejo range. When I previously had problems with my white palette I ultimately found the solution in the form of the Andrea White Paint Set – or at least with some of the colours from that set. So the logical step was to try the Andrea Blue Paint Set, not least because I’d seen Sascha Herm’s success with it. Like other sets in the same range, the Andrea Blue Paint Set comprises six shades: a basecoat, two shadows and three highlights. Visual inspection of the bottles suggests that the change in shade from one colour to the next is subtle to say the least until you get to what appears to be quite a jump from the second highlight to the third highlight.

Further, three of the colours seem very close to the Vallejo shades mentioned above. In certain lights, the basecoat colour is close to Vallejo Dark Prussian Blue and there’s a marked similarity between the second highlight and Vallejo Prussian Blue. In particular, the third highlight looks very similar to Vallejo Medium Blue. So I was initially a little disheartened about the prospects of finding a solution with this set. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. So I decided to take the plunge.

New blue palette on French officer's habit-veste.

New blue palette on French officer's habit-veste.

I started out by applying a basecoat using the second shadow (i.e. the darkest colour in the set). Experience has taught me that Andrea colours work best with two thin coats for the basecoat and, in doing this, it became instantly clear that this was a colour to be reckoned with. It really is a deep black blue with an exceptionally matt finish that flows smoothly on to the figure. Of course, some of the mattness may be down to the inclusion of Tamiya X-21 Flat Base in my new mix for diluting paints (more of that experiment in a future posting) but I suspect that is only a modest factor in the case of this particular paint.

Next I tried the the second highlight as a first highlight (I know, confusing isn’t it?) on the basis that my test application of many blues on some white card showed this to be sufficiently lighter to show up as a highlight and rather similar to the Vallejo Prussian Blue that I know so well. This wasn’t so successful because this paint didn’t seem to have quite enough covering power to complete with the dark base coat. To be fair, I did skip several of the intermediate colours in the set and perhaps if I had layered up through them, that might have made a difference. So I switched to the Vallejo Prussian Blue as a first highlight instead – bingo! A most pleasing effect: clearly visible highlights without being too light or drifting tonally to green.

Emboldened by this success, I moved on to a second highlight using the third highlight colour (i.e. the lightest colour in the Andrea set). Now I was worried about how similar this would be to Vallejo Medium Blue but I was reassured by a comparison of the two on my white test card. I think my initial impression must have been skewed by the fact that the bottles are not completely transparent and therefore give a slightly false idea of the actual paint colour. This colour also seems to lack totally solid covering power but, in this instance, that turns out to be an advantage because if it did provide too effective coverage it would be too bright a shade. In reality, a degree of transparency to let the previous layer show through slightly helps provide a more subtle final highlight and means that I can control how intense I want it to be by painting on additional brush strokes of the colour if needed.

In terms of finding a new palette to use for French blue, I think this has been a successful experiment but I need to use it on more figures to really understand the properties of these Andrea colours and how they interact with the Vallejo Prussian Blue. On the downside, as it stands, I’ll only be using two colours out of a set of six paints, so it hardly qualifies as the most cost-effective solution. Still, I live in hope that the other four colours will one day come in useful for something!


12 Responses to “Blue is the colour”

  1. Hi Martin have you tried Vallejo Oxford Blue?

    • Martin said

      Hi Peter – good to hear form you. Yes, I’ve got a bottle of Vallejo Oxford Blue but it doesn’t seem to work for me. I know other people use it for their French quite happily so I suppose it’s a question of personal taste,

  2. Rob said

    What do you prime your figures in?

    For blues (or grays), I have found there is a world of difference between a black prime (or black coat over primer) under the blue and putting the blue right on a brighter prime.

    So for my blues I do black then Vallejo Dark Prussian Blue, Vallejo Imperial Blue for the main shade, and then Vallejo Prussian Blue for the highlight. I’m quite satisfied with it as a blue for dark blue uniforms.

  3. Giles said

    Rob is quite right – I use what would otherwise be a pretty light set of blues (Foundry “Deep Blue”) over a black undercoat and the undercoat darkens the colours quite nicely. The end result is still probably too bright, but then that’s a “look” that I feel is more suitable for model soldiers. If you are going for as close to authenticity as you can, then many Napoleonic blues and greens would be almost black.

  4. Martin said

    Rob, Giles: that’s definitely a factor. I’ve recently switch from priming in black to priming in grey. The reason for doing so is to help with lighter colours (especially white) so it’s clearly causing a change for darker colours too.

  5. Burkhard said

    I can understand you pain here. When I started with my french I followed the advise on a number of fora to go for Valejos Prussian colours or Oxford blue and did not like the results. In the end I use a dark blue artists paint and mixed some black and white in (essentially mixing in a grey), which gave the colour a greyish hue and I am more then happy with it?
    Also did a faded version with more white for the old hands within a regiment.

  6. Blancard said

    It’s true that the French uniform must be painted fairly dark. I’ll try to share my experience:

    I’m using Vallejo paints only. I’m priming my French in black, then for the uniform I use Dark Prussian Blue, and a single highlight in Prussian Blue.

    follow link for illustration:

    I’m not sure if I’m totally happy with the Prussian Blue highlight, but it’s better than any other in the Model Color range (I’ve tried them all: all too bright for me). Reading the comments, I’m now tempted to try the Imperial blue (didn’t notice it before: it’s in the Game Color range…)

    When it comes to white, I stick with a black primer, adding a layer of Sky Grey where needed (typically cuffs, gloves, belts). For white trousers I also like using Buff under white (rather than grey).

    Anyway, great painting Martin as always, thanks for sharing your tips!

  7. aphilla said

    The Andrea blue paint set is the best paint i’ve used without exception. I’m glad you’re getting good use from it. I wish they’d do a sky blue set also.

    I’m not as keen on the white set but I do use it quite a bit. I’ve just about given up on the red set.

    • Burkhard said

      Strange… I quiet like the red set. Recently bought the flesh set which proved a bit annoying. Buying a 6-paint set for a 6-step technique tha requires you to mix at least two to three paints for most of the steps kind of defeats the logic of such a set.
      For whites I am quite happy with the greys and white that come with Coat D’arms horse tone set (plus two homegrown shades).

    • Martin said

      What with painting mostly Prussians and French, I don’t have too much call for painting lots of red, so the Andrea red set isn’t one that I’ve tried.

      If you’re looking for a good palette of paints for sky blue, the Vallejo range has it covered. I use Medium Blue (VMC963), Deep Sky Blue (VMC844) and Sky Blue (VMC961). You can just glimpse this combination in the officer’s pompom in the photo in this posting.

  8. aphilla said

    I have the sky blues covered pretty well with Foundry, but if Andrea made a set, I’d be all over it. The blue set is that good.

    I agree about the flesh set being more trouble than it’s worth.

    The trouble I have with red is that I find it nearly impossible to figure out what the right consistency is. It’s too thick (thin it), too thick (thin it), too thick (thin it), then all of a sudden, it’s way too thin. Shades are nice though.

    • Burkhard said

      That is always the problem with reds (and yellows). The red or yellow pigments in nature that are not transparent in an acrylic medium (which is transparent by itself) are too expensive for the paints we use. So companies need to mix other stuff to make them reflect light. Usually it is white pigments, but these make the colours look faded. Or you can mix in other mediums (can not remember which ones) that lessen transparency, but also thicken up the paint. If you thin that down to normal levels it becomes at least semi transparent and you need more coats for a red or yellow to cover properly.
      This is why it is so hard to find a good red or yellow for a decent price that does not look faded or is not semitransparent.

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