Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Learning about Colour - Art Book Reviews for Artists #1

During my project on Colour during June and July I'm producing book reviews of as many of my books about colour as I can. I'm also inviting other bloggers to contribute book reviews. Books reviews by me, participating artist bloggers and others found on the Internet will be listed on a new lens - published today - called Colour - Art Book Reviews for Artists. I hope this will provide helpful guidance and advice for those wanting to choose an art book about colour which suits their needs.

This week, I'm producing a very brief synopsis of each book that I own. This which will cover:
  • what the book is about (list rather than evaluation)
  • what sort of audience it's aimed at
  • whether it is a favourite of mine and whether I recommend it
A note about links:
  • Links in the titles are to Amazon. For those which aren't available on Amazon I've also included links to Google Books which provides useful information about where to find a book and links to Google Books where they provide a 'look see' functionality for the book
  • ISBN links are to Alibris who I am finding come up on a regular basis with good information about where to find a book - although I have to say I haven't used them.
Today we're focusing on Learning about Colour - and books which are primarily devoted to explaining about colour and/or provide an overview.

Colour by Edith Anderson Feisner
How to use colour in art and design
Published 2001 Laurence King ISBN-13: 9781856693004

This is the most comprehensive book about colour that I've come across to date. It's accessible but I think it likely that it would be of most interest to colour nerds (like me)! Preview this book and the full contents guide on Google Books. This is what it provides:
  • explanation of the five main colour wheels and their application
  • a historical account of colour theory plus a chronological list of colour theorists (unique?)
  • a historical account of pigments and their use in fine and applied art plus a list of historical colour palettes linked to current colour code.
  • analysis of the four dimensions of colour - hue, value intensity and temperature
  • colour in composition - in relation to the principles and elements of design
  • colour symbolism - including colour symbols in religion
  • a thorough glossary of colour terms
Intervaled scale
A color scale that forms a smooth equal visual transition from one component of the scale to the next
Glossary - Colour by Edith Anderson Feisner
  • over 75 colour charts
  • over 100 works by students and well known artists
  • coloring agents:
    • dry binders
    • liquid binders
    • pigment origins and characteristics of common colours
  • hue - various art media (eg Liquitex Acrylic Paints) matched to colour-aid paper pure hues
  • color legibility rankings (background colors and lettering/line colors) Did you know that the most legible background colour is yellow?
  • a very comprehensive bibliography
Colour by Betty Edwards
A course in mastering the art of mixing colours
Published 2004 Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin ISBN-13: 9781585422197 ISBN: 1585422193
This guide published in 2004 is by the bestselling author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. This is a primer for people wanting to learn more about colour written an author who focuses on making art theory and practice accessible. Of all the books concerned with learning about colour it's probably most suitable for those who are just starting to learn about colour.

It reduces the enormous existing knowledge about colour theory into a practical method of working with colour to produce harmonious combinations. Its focus is on practical exercises with 125 step by step images - and will suit those who learn by doing.

Painter's Guide to Color By Stephen Quiller
Published 1999 Watson Guptill Publications 144 pages, ISBN-10: 0823039137 ISBN-13: 978-0823039135

This book is good for people who want to produce coloured greys rather than mud! It's written by a well known contemporary artist who is also a very popular instructor. He provides an analysis of the painter's ideal palette and how it is organized with primary, secondary, and intermediate hues.

The guide explores value and intensity, complementary and analogous colors, harmonious and discordant colours and the ways in which color can be used to evoke moods and express atmospheric conditions and six colour families. A review of a range of master colorists' work completes the book. A color wheel is included with the book - bound-in but removable.

Artist's Color Manual: The Complete Guide to Working with Color
by Simon Jennings
Published 2003 by Chronicle Books, 192 pages ISBN:081184143X

This is one of those books I'm glad I have and it's nicely laid (Think Dorling Kindersley) - but it is absorbing rather than stimulating . It won 'Artist's Choice' art instruction book of the year in 1995. There is a mini version also.

The publishers state that the Collins Artist's Colour Manual is aimed at painters in particular and creative people in general, but will also appeal to designers, art students and educators and all those with a creative interest in the visual world.

It has over 1,000 pages and 192 pages. Main topics include
  • what is colour - information of paints, pigments and a condensed and simplified introduction to the theory of colour
  • colour by colour - a tour around the paintbox and an exploration of different 'core' colours
  • creative directions - interviews on the practical application of colour theory with practising artists (lots of pictures!)
  • index of colour - a visual synopsis of over 450 colours from the world's leading manufacturers.
You can view the contents page and some of the pages from the Artists Colour Manual in Google Books and yet more here. It's a good introduction to colours for those who don't want all the in-depth theory.

What Every Artist Needs to Know about Paints & Colors By David Pyle
Published 2000 by Krause Publications ISBN:087341831X
This book covers
  • the history of color from the history of pigments through trading through colourmen, the new chemistry for paint production and modern-day computer applications for measuring the colormetric properties of pigments,
  • the emotional impact of colour
  • how paints and colors are made (he's listed as directing the communication and education dept. for Winsow and Newton)
  • pigment characteristics, permanence and stability.
  • information about how pigments perform in different media - acrylics, oils, and watercolor.
I'd say it's a good book for "improvers" who want to know more about the technical characteristics of pigments, paint production and paint characteristics. As I'm a dry media rather than a 'brush' artist, it's of less interest to me.

Tomorrow I'm looking at books which are more about Using Colour.


  1. Hi!
    Bright Earth,The Invention of Colour by Philip Ball,Vintage Books9 A paperback at £10.99 is excellent, though looked at from a scientist point of view there is still loads of information,
    by the way has anyone been having trouble with Blogger?
    My site is a bit dead as it is not connecting properly The links seem to not be comming up at all!

  2. Thanks Chris

    I can certainly confirm that Blogger has been having a lot of problems recently. I couldn't access some blogs at all yesterday.

    I'm wondering whether they have been caught out by the same host as statcounter (details on the statcounter blog and forums - there was an explosion in The Planet Data Center in Houston Texas.) - or maybe just the recent problems with connections due to thunderstorms

    Apparently The Planet Data center failed to take basic precautions as to how information has been distributed between servers and locations such that when the explosion occurred it took all the servers - and the information - off-line. Which is why everybody's traffic data through statcounter had taken a big hit too.

  3. I highly recommend An eye for Color by Olga De la Rosa

    The book presents a unique, easy-to-follow system that the author developed to create effective color patterns, which differentiates it from the standard index-style books on the market that provide color combinations without placing those combinations in context.


  4. Katherine,
    One of my favorite books is "Fill Your Oil Painting with Light and Color" by Kevin D. MacPherson. There is a page that talks about color being relative to its surroundings as well as an example of a color card isolator. (Directions for making one are posted on my blog "A Line in Time" published on April 6.) Basically, it is a 2.5cm x 7.5cm or 1 x 3 inch card that is white on one side and then has three shaded squares on the other (black, grey, white) and each square has a small hole punched into it. One views the color through the hole and isolates it from what the eye sees surrounding it and then can compare it to a known value. I have found the tool invaluable as the eye loves to trick a person into thinking the mind is seeing something else. This really helps with seeing the color and the relationship isolated from the surroundings. I have found that my eye is becoming more sensitive to sensing those subtleties.

    Even thought the book is for oil painters, I found that the information is applicable to any medium. For example, there is another section called the "S-Sense of Painting"....simple, shapes, soft, sun, shadow, six colors.

    MaryAnn Cleary

  5. Thanks Mary Ann. I've got Kevin's book - and it's one of the ones I forgot!

    It will be covered later in this series of posts. Thanks for highlighting why you find it so useful

  6. Hi there! Problems at my end as well yesterday with both Blogger & Google.

    One colour idiot (me) well impressed by the info your sending out. Your project has come at a perfect time: the inspiration needed to bring out all my colour pencils with staring at them in despair...! Look forward to the next post.

  7. Tulika - I'm intrigued by the fact that the author is the Design Leader for Global Retail Hair at Procter & Gamble!

  8. I remember you Sheona - you're the Black on Grey on White lady!

  9. Hello Katherine, I was wondering if any of the color books you've listed are oriented towards colored pencil? I guess I was looking for something that is very hands-on and practical, like exploring color theory by blending different colored pencils. I'm too much of a newby to think about buying paints and beginning to mix them, much easier to start with pencils, I think. Thanks, John Byrne

  10. John - most of the colour theory and application that I've learned has come from books which are about colour - NOT books about coloured pencils

    While a lot of the books lean towards one medium or another most recognise that to maximise sales most of it needs to be applicable to all media.

    The best way to learn is to experiment - after a bit of reading! ;)

    Maybe what I should do is a post about how I do my optical mixing of coloured pencils?

  11. Tulika,

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH for your kind comments on my book (An Eye For Color), it is really exciting to hear/read. The concept is to study the color work of fabulous artists, and provide enough INSPIRATION to the viewer to DARE to "play" and EXPERIMENT with colors.

    As a Graphic Designer, color has always been to me the most wonderful and expressive element to create emotion. The approach in this book has helped me, as Katherine says to 'learning by experiementing".

    I have always searched for the right color combinations, and color theory books never helped me personally much to create the impact I see in the mages--for example--featured in the book.

    Agree with you Katherine, the continuous study and experimentation with color is helping me to develop "my own eye for color"


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