Help support TMP

"Wild West River Terrain - blue or brown?" Topic

30 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to The Old West Message Board

Back to the Terrain and Scenics Message Board

1,020 hits since 21 May 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

boggler21 May 2017 6:07 a.m. PST


I've been making some river terrain pieces for my Old West games and am now wondering what colour the river should be – a muddy brown or a nice reflective blue?

Any suggestions would be very helpful.




Blount Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2017 6:12 a.m. PST

I wouldn't go with blue; I'd go with muddy brown or even grey rather than blue.

alan lockhart Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2017 6:17 a.m. PST

I would always go for a muddy brown/green for any river. They are only blue on maps, although perhaps blue when looking from a great height on a sunny day. No doubt there are pictures out there showing blue but I think brown would be more realistic.

boggler21 May 2017 6:20 a.m. PST

Good advice…I was thinking the same, as my commercial river terrain looks way to artificial to my eye.

Personal logo Inari7 Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2017 6:33 a.m. PST

I always thought of miniatures kind of like comic books. Most miniatures are out of proportion like comic books and colors are usually not standard colors of the day. So I would paint the river blue so that players know what they are looking at at first glance. Painted brown, at first glance people might think it's a road.

Early morning writer21 May 2017 6:34 a.m. PST

If in barren country and it is spring run-off, then brown is the way to go. However, if your river banks will be tree (and/or brush) lined, I'd give very strong consideration to a green tint to the water. The 'color' of water tends to be the color of what it reflects. I'd say brown is a limiting choice since once the spring run-off settles down the water won't be brown but clear – and thus reflective. Will all of your games be during spring time?

Based on your sampled photos above, I'd use acrylic gloss medium tinted green with alternate layers tinted the same color as your base – and you can even throw in a blue tinted layer – just need to let the layers dry between coatings. Keeping the tinting fairly light will still allow the base color to show through. For tinting, just mix in the appropriate color (or mixed colors) of acrylic paint – and practice first before doing it for real.

The dominant reason water is perceived as blue is because the dominant reflective element in the terrain is the sky – which is blue (unless cloud covered). So, even blue is acceptable in a dry terrain – just not the children's coloring crayon blue we used as kids. Look at nature as your guide – or images on the internet if you must.

Having seen your earlier post with those many bases of cacti, again, green tint seems your best choice for your developing terrain.

One last thought, vary the tinting from close to brown in the shallows to the greener tint in the deeper portion of the water course. Makes for a very effective looking river. Last top coat should be high gloss medium. This type of river looks wet and is easily cleaned with a barely damp cloth.

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2017 6:37 a.m. PST

I'am in Co, SO Brown in spring during run off( lots of sediments) and dark green during summer(algae) and brown again in fall (dried up)

Personal logo timurilank Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2017 7:00 a.m. PST

As is, you have an ideal dry river bed or 'arroyo'.

boggler21 May 2017 7:16 a.m. PST

Leaning towards green now…great ideas all round, especially the dark to light tinting.

Thanks guys..very helpful.

Piquet Rules21 May 2017 7:36 a.m. PST

You have to consider what your eyes tell your brain. I've tried brownish/greenish/dark rivers, and the consensus was "is that a road"? Reality in river and water colors doesn't always translate well to the tabletop. Our brain says "blue", and when the eye doesn't see that, something just doesn't register. I've gone back to a blue, and I'm completely happy with that decision.

Grelber21 May 2017 8:25 a.m. PST

I tried painting the bases for my ACW gunboats brown with a gloss finish, and it looked like they had run up on a mud bank. My initial inspiration for ACW gunboats came while flying from Orlando to Salt Lake City, looking down at the southern rivers, and they really do look brown or a greenish brown, and I really wanted the brownish water to work--it just never happened. It is a tough effect to achieve on the table--go ahead and try for browns and greens, but if it doesn't work to your satisfaction, go with blue.
A lot of rivers in the Great Plains have sandy bottoms, so you might want to try highlights of a sandy color, rather than all Mississippi mud brown.

If the river is sandy, the sand probably extends a mile or so each side of the river, reflecting various beds the river has had over the centuries. Much, perhaps most, of the water actually flows through the sand, not as surface water in the river. I've got relatives buried near the Arkansas in a sandy region, the water flow tends to move the coffins gradually downstream, and they turn up where there isn't supposed to be somebody buried already, or pop out into the sand pit downstream.


Vigilant21 May 2017 8:48 a.m. PST

Just had a look at some pictures I took a couple of years ago in Washington State (I know not exactly Wild West). The are from height and show shades of brown around the shallows at the banks and darker green as you get towards the middle with flecks of white where there are rapids or rocks in the river.

thosmoss21 May 2017 8:53 a.m. PST

Also go for many coats of gloss, maybe something as heavy as varnish. The sheen will say 'water' every bit as much as the color, especially if you've got dry looking banks to contrast.

Personal logo StoneMtnMinis Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2017 10:09 a.m. PST

Growing up in New Mexico the Rio Grande was brown/tan near the banks and going to a blackish/brown in the center. Still water will reflect blue more than moving water which breaks-up the reflective quality of the surface. So if you have some still pools you can go to a blue/black.

Just remember to put a gloss finish on the water and it will look fine.

boggler21 May 2017 11:10 a.m. PST


Here it is, now in shades of green:


It looked better before the varnish funnily enough…the gloss seems to have blotted out the shading.

Thanks for all of your excellent advice and help.

The templates are from East Riding Miniatures BTW…excellent product and top class service.

attilathepun4721 May 2017 11:50 a.m. PST

There is really no simple answer here, because there are so many variables to consider. The width and depth of the river, rapidity of the current, the average load of sediment it carries, the color of the banks and vegetation (if any), and the prevailing weather. This is because, as already pointed out, it is mostly a question of reflection, and all the above factors bear on the ability of the water to reflect and what colors it is reflecting.

I am a native of the Far West and have traveled through a good deal of it. I can attest that western streams pretty well run the gamut in nature. Some, such as the Columbia, are big, deep, and clear. I have often seen it, when skies are clear, looking very blue indeed. I was once at a picnic on the Green River (where the mountain men used to hold their annual rendezvous), and it did indeed have a very dark-greenish cast, although I don't really know why (the weather was sunny, and the river had a strong current, nor was there a lot of overhanging forest). There are other rivers that typically carry a heavy load of sediment that really do look very brown indeed, much like coffee with a heavy dose of cream.

For an average look, you might do well to go with a sort of indeterminate dark color, some mix of brown and blue-green, with streaks of definite brown along the banks, and some really dark areas to indicate deep pools. And all of it covered by several coats of gloss varnish. The example posted above looks too distinctly green and bright to me for an average sort of stream. If you want to go with predominantly green, it should be a darker and duller sort of green (one toned down with some black or dark brown). You should look at a lot of photographs of actual rivers before you invest too much time in painting.

jdginaz21 May 2017 12:36 p.m. PST

If your setting is in the southwest then go with brown The San Juan, in southeast Utah and the river n the John Wayne cavalry movie is so usually so full of sentiment that it's said that the catfish swim backward so they don't get mud in their eyes.

In AZ the Colorado, Salt and Gila rivers all tended towards brown before the damns were built.

phssthpok21 May 2017 1:12 p.m. PST

Where the Yampa(Muddy)River joins the Green River you can do half and half! Really, it takes a mile or more before they fully mix.

mwindsorfw Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2017 1:27 p.m. PST

I like the gloss effect. Most rivers reflect in places to one degree or another. I think one trick is to make it darker in the middle (the deeper part), and lighter as you get toward the bank. Not uniformly, because most rivers have deeper and shallower spots.

jdpintex21 May 2017 2:36 p.m. PST

Blue-ish Grey. is my vote.

Kevin C Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2017 2:53 p.m. PST

I live in Southwest Oklahoma and our rivers tend to be a red-brown color.

Early morning writer21 May 2017 4:34 p.m. PST

boggler, the green looks fine but if you want to 'fix it' just use other thin layers of tinted gloss until you get what you want.

Ivan DBA21 May 2017 9:22 p.m. PST

I agree with Inari7. Blue looks better in the tabletop.

womble67 Supporting Member of TMP22 May 2017 1:03 a.m. PST

My guide for Making Rivers hope it helps.

As always, comments are appreciated.

Take care


Greg G122 May 2017 5:35 a.m. PST

I paint my rivers blue, but with Midstone dry brush in streaks following the flow of the river, with the odd white dry brush. With a heavy gloss vanish, normally a couple of coats.

Heisler22 May 2017 6:25 a.m. PST

You should try looking for some model railroading articles like this one:

This is the kind of thing they a lot of.

boggler22 May 2017 10:23 a.m. PST

Thanks for all the help. Some great ideas and methods. I think I will have to do a blue river too now!

Tony at ERM is making some corner wedge pieces for me now so that my river can bend and meander.

I can't recommend his terrain templates highly enough and he is super fast at delivery.

uglyfatbloke24 May 2017 10:58 a.m. PST

Army painter dark dip makes a nice muddy river finish – 2 or three layers and it's very flexible so it won't crack even if your river sections are just hardboard.

TurnStyle Inactive Member25 May 2017 5:54 a.m. PST

The small amount of water I saw in the desert, whilst working there was often monsoon driven – so brown as it was muddy run-off from mountains. The few bits of moving water was green or brown. That didn't include any genuine large rivers though.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Jun 2017 11:38 a.m. PST

I only use blue in Fantasy games. Otherwise brown, black or green.

Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.