5 Ways to Achieve Contrast in Your Painting

The great John Margiotta, aka BloodASmedium, visits ToadChapel to explore the concepts in contrast which have led him to countless major awards, including Golden Demon, Crystal Brush, and more over his career as a mini painter.

A grotesque nurgle figure from Games Workshop's Age of Sigmar

BaM first learned these concepts from Meg Maples of Arcane Paintworks, and has been refining them ever since.  Thanks to John for this great article, and to Meg for giving her blessing.


A while back I took a class with Meg Maples. I found “EVERYTHING” she said was on target regarding what to do to make one a better miniature painter. Later on I found an article on her website, ARCANE PAINTWORKS, that was called The 5 Layers of Contrast. Mark Soley and Meg Maples are the originators of these 5 ways to get Simultaneous contrast. I am merely going into my own explanations why I feel it’s such an important rule to include when one selects colors and sits down to paint their miniatures.

Let’s start with the actual ways one can achieve more contrast in painting their models. I will give the layer and an example of it on one of my models.

The first is the most basic.


Put a light color near a dark color or shade a really dark color onto a brightly painted model- when doing this you get contrast… a lot of contrast !!!

Here are examples of painting a model with light and dark colors.

Arena Rex gladiator minis.

-Arena Rex gladiators-

Large scale Baak figure from Dark Sword Miniatures. Based upon the painting by Larry Elmore.


Here you can see brightly colored skin next to darker clothes and armor making parts of the model highly readable. For every dark color alternate a light one.

A hand that moves into a vambrace or a bracelet- light skin and directly next to it the bracelet or forearm guard gets the darker color (a dark brown, leather perhaps!)

Let’s take a look at the second way.


On a color wheel any color directly opposite the color you’re using is that color’s complementary color that works nicely with it, giving further contrast when the two are paired together.

The Orc Brave from Ouroboros Miniatures

-Orc Brave-

Large scale Nurgle Plague Marine.-Nurgle Plague Marine-

The two examples show a green skinned ork and a green armoured plague marine.

The ork’s skin and the green armor of the marine have been painted greens -then for the shading I’ve used the opposing color of green which is red. If I would have used a darker green it would have been fine. However using the pair of complementary colors brings about a more beautiful and highly contrasted model that look much more realistic and more pleasing to the eye of the viewer. I’ve even gone as far as adding other types of reds to them like the plague marine’s pustules and the ork’s blood mouth etc.

Next we have the third layer. It is a color temperature gauge that balances cool and warm tones to achieve another nicely contrasted and aesthetically pleasing result.


Let me explain: Now, in color theory, there is a color thermometer that artists refer to. The thermal poles are opposite, where the coldest and coolest colored are in the bottom of the thermometer and the warmest at the top. The coldest tones are blues, purples, blue-greens, etc. As cool tones become less and less cold they start to transfer over to the hotter colors like reds, oranges, yellows, etc. This is the idea and tool for making a piece have a particular atmosphere- cold cemetery, say, as opposed to a lava base where that’s a hotter (much hotter!) enviorment .

We can also use this cool/warm when we paint s miniature .

Arena Rex Gladiators

-Arena Rex Gladiators-

These figures have warm skin with reds and red-browns glazed in, yet in the darkest shades and the secondary shadows I’ve use a deep blue to offset the very warm skin.

Genestealer Cults Aberrants from Games Workshop's Warhammer 40k game.

– Genestealer Aberrants-

These genestealer aberrants also take advantage of the possibilities of thermal contrast. The warmer red/pink skin is offset and balanced by the blue chitinous exoskeleton: the carapace. You see. Again another way of showing a beautiful, more natural color grouping and adding further contrast to the model as well.

Next to last we have the…

Shiny & Matte

This can be a couple of things. If you’re using metallics on an area, you can add further contrast by having that shiny metallic area transition to a matte or dull shadow. In addition to that, you can have a glossy area (a slimy tentacle etc) surrounded by matte (dull) area on a model.

GW orruks painted for Cool Mini or Not's Crystal Brush competition.

-Orruk trio-

Take these two examples on the same piece: if you look at the Orruk boss clad in armor, you’ll see metallics, which stay shiny due to the metallic pigments. However when you move into the deep shadows you’ll see they are a darker color that remains matte (dull). This enhances the surface of the model.

As for glossy and non-glossy, look at the drummer’s bone drumsticks. The parts that look as if he ripped them str8 out of a living creature’s ball and socket stay glossy, simulating blood and gore, while the rest he’s sort of cleaned up (licked the blood off, or maybe the power coming from them has burned it off, only leaving the balls still bloody!). Again we can give another way of simultaneously contrasting the same models by achieving different surfaces as a result.

The last of them is a favorite of mine and can be optional as Meg And Mark explain.


This is a way of having a model’s surface becoming enhanced or a way of giving much more interest on models that have several areas which can be broken up by using textural contrasts.

Examples: if we take a space marine’s armor, it really only possesses one type of surface. To add interest and contrast, one may use scratches, scrapes, and other types of rough texture to the model’s armor, giving more aesthetics and further contrast between parts.

Nurgle Deathguard space marines from GW.


Nurgle models from the Games Workshop game Age of Sigmar.

-Garden of Eden-

The Deathguard have been given corrosion and rust, along with other types of grime. This is a way of enhancing the otherwise boring and monotonous standard-like green armor most use.

In my Garden of Eden, for example, the first chap wearing a gibbet has smooth skin. This has a higher contrast next to the armor which shows much wear and tear. The armor also has its surfaced enhanced to do this.

The second chap again has a smooth skin with sores and scrapes and scarring, again enhancing and giving further contrast.

The last model shows the skin again as above, only now it’s contrasted much more against the worn leather fool’s cap that he wears. And again the hat has its surface enhanced also.

I hope this is helpful to other painters. Meg and Mark have done a terrific job educating all of us, and to pay it forward we must recognize how we all can achieve a level of painting wonderfully realistic looking models because of such talented and wonderful folks .


Because of the central and inspiring role mini painting has played in John’s life, I asked him to give an account of his journey as a painter. His success is a testament to what generosity of spirit, a clear vision, and an incredible amount of hard work can accomplish. Here’s what he had to say.

Hello painting community. My name is John Margiotta . I go by the screen name BloodASmedium-or BAM for short. I began painting miniatures when I was 9 years old. Back then Toys-R-Us sold Dungeon Dwellers boxed sets of lead models. I thought they were cool so I started painting and stayed with it. I began to want to become more adept with my skills when I was at a friend’s house and he showed me a book called “Fantasy Miniatures.”

This book introduced me to Golden Demon and Citadel miniatures. I was enthralled and intrigued just to say the least. Me and a friend went to a gaming store, bought all we could carry of space orks, Rogue Trader, eldar war walkers, zoats, etc. You name it, we bought it. Our painting was not very good but we loved painting these small pieces of metal. We both had hopes of making it one day into White Dwarf and winning a Golden Demon (back then it was a two inch metal miniature on a plinth).

Through the years I stayed with it – with no means back then in the 80s to improve. We both accepted that, but hey, who cares? We loved doing it.

In 1993 I attended the first Games Day on US soil. There was a small room and a few tables with at most 20 models in each category. I landed in the finals and was so high I was over the moon. After that I would attend every year and make the finals. I considered myself a finalist and that’s it. I was ok with that. I loved it. As I got older I came to realize my passion was sports and being a 4 star athlete was what I did and what defined me. I still continued to go to Games Day with no real hopes of elevating my consistant status. I somehow in my long journey worked very hard, and in 2005 won a Gold Demon for my Treebeard in the Canadian Games Day. In 2009 I won a Bronze Demon for my large scale Abaddon. I was happy my quest was over- or was it?

In 2011 I was severely disabled due to an intense athletic schedule.  At the time I was training full-time and competing as a semi-pro boxer. My injury ended my career in sports. Not cause I wanted to be- it was the doctor’s orders.

I asked myself what could I do to replace this purpose in my life that spanned 3/4 of my life and served as such a source of identity to me. Golden Demon was gone in the US at that point. I noticed as I was looking on the computer a site called COOL MINI OR NOT. They had tutorials and all sorts of things that one could take advantage of to actually break the cycle and become better. So I began my quest, slowly seeing results in each and every thing I tried. In 2012 I signed on to CMON and met wonderful folks who helped clear up questions that were holding me back. Most notable of these was David Powell, who became a very dear close friend of mine . He helped me prepare and in 2015 me along with Dave took our entries to our first Crystal Brush. The amount of talent was incredible, the biggest names were present, and I was like a kid in a candy store. Lo and behold I achieved two Crystal Brush trophies in the toughest international event at the time.

Since then I’ve won 42 international painting awards. I now have placed in the top tier of some of the biggest names in the competitive painting community. I’m a multi Crystal Brush award winner, a multi gold medalist at MFCA (the biggest historical miniature event of its kind), a multi gold medal and overall winner at Nova Open’s Capital Palette (a Crystal Brush qualifier), and a multi Golden Demon award winner. With the exception of the Golden Demons, the 40 awards were achieved in the last 4.5 years.

My awards mean all the more to me as I was awarded them after being judged by Jennifer Baily, Jose Palomares Nuñez (Big Child Creatives), Francesco Farabi, James Craig, Roman Lappat (Jarhead), Matt DiPietro, David Taylor, James Wappel, Sam Lenz, and many more. It has been s thrill to meet so many of my painting heroes.

In addition to this I’ve also earned a top ranking on Putty and Paint and in the galleries of CoolMiniOrNot, written articles for Figure Painter Magazine, and soon I’ll appear in Fine Scale Modeller. Most meaningful of all to me is making Volomir’s “do not miss” list, where each week he picks his favorite models out of the 100s that are uploaded on different sites all over the world.  I’ve been featured on Volomir six times.

I definitely fashion my style after Jacob Nielsen and John Blanche. These are my two favorite painters and early on I’ve tried to emulate some of the look of their models into my own.

I couldn’t be happier than where I am now. By my side is my lovely  fiancé Janet Ng and she’s now been painting over a year and has two silver medals as well. 😉

It’s amazing what miniatures and some paint could do to literally turn a life around.

Now I try to continually better myself and to help others raise their skillset as well.



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