Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Using Colour - Art Book Reviews for Artists #2

Following on from yesterday's post about books which promote Learning about Colour, today's post is going to highlight some books which help to understand how to use colour. I want to emphasise that these aren't necessarily the best books - these are just five of the ones I own. As yesterday:
  • I'm asking all my readers to tell us all what they have found to be the books which have they have found most useful in helping them to USE colour.
  • below you will find a synopsis of five books that I own. This covers:
    • what the book is about
    • what sort of audience it's aimed at
    • whether it is a favourite of mine and whether I recommend it
All the books are listed on both of my two related information sites Colour - Resources for Artists and Colour - Art Book Reviews for Artists. Anybody recommending or reviewing books related to USING Colour please let me know by commenting on this blog post and I'll look to include your recommendaiton and your review on the book review site. I've already been doing some updates as a result of recommendations on the main colour resources site!

Color Choices: Making Color Sense Out of Color Theory by Stephen Quiller
Color Choices by Stephen Quiller - Far and away the best book to explain and use a mixing color wheel.
Handprint book review
My second Stephen Quiller book - although this was the one I bought first. I want to emphasise that this is one of the books which always makes me feel good! Here's Stephen Quiller's synopsis of what it's about.
This book has been in print since 1989, and I have revised and updated the gatefold color wheel and colors in the book. This book provides a foundation on color mixing, color relationships and standard color schemes. Chapters on monochromatic, complementary, analogous, split-complementary and the triad are examined and developed thoroughly. This book provides a foundation for any artist who is interested in color.
Stephen Quiller
This book is essentially about a systematic approach to making colour make sense. With the help of his own "Quiller Wheel," (which is a special foldout wheel on A3 paper featuring 68 precisely placed colors), Quiller demonstrates how to use the wheel to interpret color relationships and mix colors more clearly. Then he explains, step by step, how to develop five structured color schemes (as described above), how to apply underlays and overlays, and use color in striking, unusual ways. It also has a very useful section at the end which reviews the Master Colorists. I will be reviewing the two Stephen Quiller books in more detail in a subsequent post.

This book is for people who want to grow in terms of personal expression and to learn more about how to use colour.
Some painters have a natural color sense. They "feel" by instinct what colours harmonize, without understanding the theory behind it. But most painters can only become colorists after a long process of growth. This process involves reading about color, studying master painters and how they used color and then applying these ideas to their own work
Stephen Quiller - Introduction to Color Choices

Color in Contemporary Painting: Integrating Practice and Theory by Charles LeClair
Published in 1997 by Watson Guptill Publications; 224 pages; ISBN-10: 0823007413 ISBN-13: 978-0823007417

Charles LeClair, author of The Art of Watercolor, takes an in-depth look at the many ways colour can be used in various types of painting. This is a book for those who learn by looking at how others use colour and want to know more about colour contributes to design and pictorial structure. It shows how colour relationships actually function in picture-making and no other book has such a diverse range of examples of contemporary art.

Colour theories are outlined and the book's thesis is that the reader must become acquainted with colour principles to use it spontaneously. A number of approaches to colour are set forth as a guide, including building a picture with colour blocks, enriching colour with shadows, heightening colour intensity, achieving freshness with broken colour, painting with sunlight, experimenting with abstract colour systems, fantasizing with colour and creating space with colour. Each of the sections of this book are illustrated by the work of artists of historical importance as well as by the work of contemporary artists. There are also a number of development studies of the author's own work. Each section closes with a group of suggested exercises.

The main emphasis of the book is on the way contemporary artists actually use colour - with examples of work by Milton Avery, Janet Fish, Richard Diebenkorn, Hans Hofman, Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Wolf Kahn, Robert Rauschenberg, Harriet Shorr, Frank Stella, Wayne Thiebaud, and other artists whose style and subject matter cover a wide spectrum
LeClair uses the format of a slide show art lecture to present over 150 works by 70 artists, embracing both the new themes of the '80s and artists (such as Rivers, Albers and Mitchell) in the active tradition. LeClair's selection is a very good overview of the decade's art ideas: both eclectic and appreciative of the variety he has found.

He does a good job of presenting art concepts, including a stripped down "color theory," in simple and natural terms.
This book will interest everybody from art students to professional artists - to people who just enjoy art and want to learn more about it. Even his editor still uses and refers to it! However it's difficult to get hold of - and Charles LeClair died in 2007. Read the Amazon reviews here.

Making Colour Sing
by Jeanne Dobie AWS NWS
Hardback published 1986, new edition in paperback published 2000 by Watson Guptill Publications; 160 pages; ISBN-10: 0823029921 ISBN-13: 978-0823029921

Everybody who has ever read this this best-selling book seems to recommend it - which might explain why it's sold over 100,000 copies in hardback and is now available in paperback. My copy is a hardback of 1986 vintage! This book is for those who are prepared to shift their thinking, exercise their brain and leave behind old habits and 'copying' photos. I know at least one teacher who makes this book mandatory reading for her students!
Mind-benders is the nickname my students have given my lessons - and for good reason. They are designed to stimulate new ways of approaching paintings; to challenge old habits cliches and mental blocks; in short to exercise the mind.
Jeanne Dobie - Introduction to Make Color Sing
Jeanne Donie is an award-winning watercolourist who demonstrates in detail how to mix any colour and how to control colour and composition so everything works together to produce any effect desired. Her book, in no-nonsense plain English, sets out to stimulate new ways of thinking about colour in order to generate responses which stimulate personal creativity. Readers are provided with numerous exercises which show how the interplay of complementary hues can trigger vibrations; how the push and pull of warm and cool colours can create a feeling of space; how to disguise one colour in a scene to accent another plus many more tips about colour. The book has two parts - the first focuses on the colour exercises. The second part is about composition - on using colour as part of the process of creating compositions. For those wanting to know more about thinking in terms of 'big shapes' don't miss her 12 shapes exercise.

Read more reviews of this book on Google which also recommend this book. One is very critical about her paint recommendations on the basis of lightfastness. Note the updated palette from her website. This book and her approach will be reviewed in more detail later in this project.

Color Right from the Start: Progressive Lessons in Seeing and Understanding Color by Hilary Page
Published 2001 by Watson-Guptill; 144 pages; ISBN-10: 0823007529 ISBN-13: 978-0823007523

Color Right from the Start carefully explains some sophisticated concepts and it is written to give artists just the depth of knowledge they need to be well-informed. This is a book for those who like their books in the 'how to' and 'step by step' format.

It provides a familiar foundation for lessons on the colour spectrum, why colours produce certain optical effects, what paints are made of, why they behave as they do when they're wet, when they're dry - and much more. If you want to construct your own colour charts - colour wheels for light and for pigments, and colour-mixing "maps" - Hilary Page shows you how. If you want to test your pigments for their special properties - how the pigment particles settle on paper, how well the paint serves as a glaze or in wet-on-wet application - she tells you exactly how to proceed. In subsequent lessons, she focuses on each major hue, from gray to yellow and on through red and blue to green - primary colors, secondary colors, and neutrals.

One of the unusual aspects of this books is that she provides reflectance curves for different colour shades.

New and more lightfast pigments have been introduced into the market since "Color Right from the Start" was first published in 1994. Manufacturers have upgraded and re-named their paints to reflect the use of the improved pigments - and Hilary Page has provided a conversion chart of the paints that have been changed on her website for all the paints which have changed. She also rpovides a complete reappraisal of watercolour colours on the website for her other book Hilary Page's Guide to Watercolor Paints. It looks very useful.

Painting the Impressionist Landscape: Lessons in Interpreting Light and Color by Lois Griffel
Published in 1994 by Watson-Guptill; 144 pages; ISBN-10: 082303643X ISBN-13: 978-0823036431
This is the lady who teaches how to paint light using colour blocks and colour notes. In theory the book is about the secrets behind the dazzling color of the impressionists. In reality Monet influenced William Merritt Chase, who taught Charles Hawthorne - who founded the Cape Cod School of Art in 1899 which was the first American school dedicated solely to the ideals of Impressionist painting. Hawthorne then taught Henry Hensche who became his teaching assistant and then Director of the School who latterly taught Lois Griffel - who then became the third Director of the School.

Although this book has got a number of useful tips I have to confess I've never been able to finish it. I 'get' sections of it and then get 'stuck' at other points. It's interesting to note that one student reviewing it on on Amazon commented that explanations are maybe not as clear as they could be - and I think that's a fair summary. I've got a feeling that there is a much simpler book in there somewhere. The author also teaches workshop and this is the Painting the Impressionist Landscape Workshop 2008 Schedule. You can also read the 47 customer reviews on Amazon - most of which are very favourable.

Some tips for those buying books about using colour

TIP #1:
When looking at books about the use of colour by artist/authors to try and see which one you'll buy, do remember to take a look at the artist's own paintings. You'll pay much more attention to the words of those who produce paintings which excite your brain. I've included links to the websites of the artist/authors named above where that's possible.

Tip #2
Take a look at the book reviews of books about colour science and colour theory on the Handprint website. This link - and links to each of the individual reviews - are being bookmarked as resource links on the Colour - Art Book Reviews for Artists site.

Tomorrow - an overview of five books about mixing colours.


  1. I'm still reading your post but I have to say, I was very disappointed with Making Color Sing - which probably doesn't say much about me! ;) The info is excellent but it really fell down on the illustrations which I felt were incredibly dull for such a much recommended book - and especilly with a title like that! I would have thought it was due for an update with more glowing examples. Visually it doesn't inspire at all.

  2. I'd definitely agree that the artwork in the book is a world away from the artwork on her website. She's got some real 'zap you between the eyes' ones on there.

    I've always been curious as to the production standards re colour on that particular book - as I must confess I'd had the same thoughts about the images as you at times - especially when I look at the pages which have colour swatches (eg Correct colors without compromising on page 76). They all seem muted to me. It's so odd to have muted images in a book which is about making colour sing!

    I know something about how books are published and the colour adjustment would need to deal with several pages at the same time. I'm wondering whether in order to bring out the subtleties of the 'mouse' colours (which is actually very good) it's had an impact on the strength of some of the purer colours. Just a guess.

    Mind you - the book I'm looking at is over 20 years old and production technologies have improved since then.

    What do others think?

    Having said all that, having got Making Color Sing out again, it's one of the ones I'm going to definitely going to be rereading.

  3. Actually, now I have it out again after putting it away for a few months it doesn't look so bad! Shirley Trevena's book, Taking Risks with Watercolour arrived in the same package and I think that may have had something to do with it! ;)
    Someone else mentioned to me that it's a fairly dated book now and that may have something to do with it - the style is 'of it's time', you could say.

  4. A couple years behind on this blog but I just posted a recommendation at for Charles LeClair's book, Color In Contemporary Painting. This one and his watercolor book have been very helpful to me.

  5. A couple years behind on this blog but I just posted a recommendation for Charles LeClair's Color In Contemporary Painting at This book and his watercolor book have been very helpful to me.

  6. The book 'Vison and Art' by Margaret Livingstone is fascinating (have read and reread it several times)and I recommend it highly.



There are lots of very silly people who don't understand that Google is not stupid and that links posted to a Blogger comment are:
* NOT LIVE and
They continue to post spam comments - despite this blog using both word verification and moderation that states very clearly that no spam will be published.

So I've SUSPENDED COMMENTING BY EVERYBODY but me. This allows past comments to still be seen.

Feel free to comment on my Facebook Page when my blog posts are posted there
BUT do note: Spammers on Facebook will always be blocked and reported to Facebook for spamming.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.