Review: Mike Blank - Color Harmony

by David


Disclaimer: I received the book as a free review copy by the publisher. This will not predetermine my review, which will be a fair summary and assessment of the book's strengths and weaknesses as I perceive them.



Hey all,

another book review coming in,
this time on Mike Blank - Color Harmony: Inside the Artist's Palette. The book was published in 2019 in Scale 75's Series Scale Editions. Within that series, which collects a diverse range of books on different topics, it is similar to Alfonso 'Banshee' Giraldes' book "A Colorful Mind" on which Massive Voodoo's very own Hansrainer has written a beautiful and personal review! This volume centers on one of the most well-known figures in the miniature-painting world, the Swede Mike Blank. If you have been around in the miniature-painting scene for some time, and especially if you're interested in historical minis, you must have heard of Mike - or at least seen some of his works. He is a modeling polymath: he sculpts, paints and creates dioramas. He is particularly well-known for his skill of sculpting lively and realistic poses, his super-focused and tightly composed vignettes, and his harmonious and atmospherically-dense paintschemes. While Mike's works are often-seen at modeling exhibitions, and the internet is reprelete with pics of his masterpieces, he does not entertain a dedicated web-presence or online gallery. Just search for "Mike Blank" in your preferred search engine's picture search and you should find his works.

The table of contents

In this volume,
Mike presents his vision in planning and executing a miniature-painting project and shares some invaluable advice drawn from decades of high-level painting. The book starts out with two personal prefaces written by two globally known master-painters, Fabio Nunnari and Alfonso Giraldes, in which they explain how they met Mike and what his work, friendship and inspiration means for them. This is followed by a brief introduction by Mike himself, which is framed by a brief recollection of a legendary night in a Paris hotel, in which the artist (who had been painting exclusively with enamel colors before) for the first time tried painting with acrylic colors. The remainder of the book has five main parts. In the first part, which consists of nine brief sections, Mike presents some general thoughts on his approach to painting, his vision of color harmony and some basic considerations on necessary tools, base-building, and painting metals and special effects such as blood, dirt, hair and fur. The second section includes an in-depth discussion on how Mike paints particular colors (focusing on base color, shading and highlights), including some that many figure painters find challenging such as white, black, red, and yellow. Section three presents a gallery of some of Mike's most prominent works; in Section four, he analyzes very systematically the color harmonies of selected projects in different scales. The final chapter takes the reader on a step-by-step tour of his painting approach, using a 75mm Confederate soldier sculpted by Keith Rocco as an exemplary figure. In this chapter, Mike masterfully integrates most of the insights he introduced in the previous pages, from his considerations in the choices of colors to his approach to include dirt and weathering effects into the paintjob.

Mike's approach to painting white...


... and black.

While I was reading the book,
I found myself repeatedly thinking: this is speaking directly to me. Mike writes that he works on multiple projects at the same time because inspiration is fickle and he likes the diversity that comes with project-hopping (I know this feeling really well, as I discuss in detail in this article). I also share his feeling of not being particularly interested in painting busts as he misses their integration in the surrounding. But more importantly, the book is a treasure trove of insights, tips and inspiration. For me, the strongest part is the discussion of how Mike approaches painting different colors and the in-depth analyses of selected projects in Sections 2 and 4. On those pages, you can find loads of great insights such as how Mike proceeds in highlighting and shading certain colors, how he achieves color harmony in his paintjobs, and how he integrates his figures into the bases. But almost all parts of the book include useful information for novice and advanced painters, for instance the cool tip not to wait until everything is finished before adding weathering effects and dirt on your mini, but to integrate it organically into all steps of the painting process! In addition to that, the book is written in an easy-going and personal style that is very engaging. The book also has very high production value, it comes as a sturdy hard-cover, and the pages are printed on thick, semi-matte paper that is stitched firmly into the cover and should be able to survive some rough handling.

Inspiration from Mike's gallery, focus on browns...

... and blues.

For me, the book's main weakness is that some of the pictures are not ideal. They are too dark and flat, such that the typical "Mike Blank style" of nuanced highlighting and complex color variation is lost somewhat and in parts it is hard to distinguish painted shadows. However this is mainly a problem of the galleries of older works collected the book's first three sections, while the pics in Sections 4 and 5 (which I would consider the main and strongest parts of the book) seem to be newer and are much more informative. Moreover, different than many other painting books, all ideas are well-understandable from the written words alone, thanks to Mike's ability to formulate his painting approach in a coherent and accessible style. I personally also would have liked to have Mike talk a bit about his approach to the composition of vignettes and dioramas, which I find one of the most fascinating and complex topics. Finally, at least at first, I was a bit confused by Mike's use of the word "value", which different to most terminology in painting is used here not to describe the light-dark aspect of color, but its saturation or "chroma".

Analyzing colors (note the color swaths, which correspond to the relative dominance of the main colors)

These minor issues,
however, do not detract from the fact that I really liked the book and would highly recommend it to everyone wanting to understand the work process of one of the absolute greats of our hobby. With a suggested retail price of about 40 Euros the book is not a bargain, but I would definitely say that it's worth it. Whether you're a novice wanting to learn about color harmony and how to shade/highlight certain colors or an advanced painter looking for some tips by one of the best, you are sure to learn something relevant and inspiring!

Step-by-Step: Confederate soldier - variety in grey!

Another section of the gallery: a typical Mike Blank dio, full of action and drama!

My verdict: highly recommended!

All the best,
David

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