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Top 7 Books on Color (and Color Mixing) for Artists

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This is a selection of books I've found useful and accessible for learning more about colors, paint pigments, and color mixing. Given that color is fundamental to what we do, the more we know about individual colors and pigments, the better we can use our paints.

1. Bright Earth: The Invention of Color

Books on Color for Artists
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans
Bright Earth is a study and history of artist's colors (with some science thrown in), written in an extremely accessible way. It's packed with examples, anecdotes, and quotes, and leaves you with a new appreciation for the colors we use. Occasional it's a little technical if chemistry isn't your strong point, but skipping these bits won't detract from your enjoyment of the book. Any painter wanting to know more about the colors that we today simply squeeze from a tube, or an art lover wanting to get a new level of appreciation for works in an art gallery, is sure to enjoy this book.

2. Artist's Color Manual

Book Review Artist's Color Manual by Simon Jennings
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans
If you're after the coffee-table version of a book on color, this is it. Not that this means the information isn't good (it is), just that it's beautifully designed and full of glorious color photos and illustrations (and plenty of color swatches). The book is divided into four sections: What is Color, Color by Color (an in-depth look at groups of colors), Creative Directions (how to use color, and how past artists have used it), and a Color Index (450 color swatches from various manufacturers). The text is presented with plenty of headings (and cross-references) to guide you around and draw you

3. Color: Travels Through the Paintbox

Book Review -- Colour: Travel Through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans
Color is an entertaining and informative travelogue of the author's journeys around the world searching for the sources of the colors found in her paint box, and the history of how they came to be used by artists. It takes her into all sorts of unlikely places, including into Afghanistan for lapis lazuli (used for ultramarine).

4. Color Mixing Bible

Colour Mixing Bible
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans
If you want know what the result will be when before you mix two colors together, then you'll find the Color Mixing Bible indispensable. For each medium (except inks and colored pencils), a basic palette of 11 colors is mixed with six reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, violets, browns, blacks and grays, and white. Three results are given for each color mix, depending on how much color was in the mix. It's a visual dictionary destined to be spattered with paint as it lies open next to you as you work. Introductory chapters look at the science of color and color theory.

5. Color Right from the Start

If you're looking for a book on colors and color mixing devoted specifically to watercolors, this is it. It's an information dense book, packed with color-related information, that's designed to work through from beginning to end in a series of progressive lessons. The first chapter looks at what color is, the second at color systems (wheels), and the third at pigments. The remaining chapters deal with an individual color group. To get the most from it, you should work through the first three chapters, then tackle the exercises with the individual color groups (which colors you do first doesn't matter).
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6. Colour in Art

Book Review: Colour in Art by John Gage
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans
Colour in Art is an introduction to how visual artists have theorized, investigated, and used color through the ages. Each chapter follows a specific theme, tackling it from the viewpoint of artists. For instance, you'll find out why colors weren't mixed in earlier centuries for ideological and chemical reasons, and how the introduction of oil as a medium changed this. If you'd like to know more about the cultural and scientific contexts of colors you use, it's well worth a read.

7. Artists' Pigments c1600-1835

Artists' Pigments c1600-1835
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans
Artists' Pigments is a heavy-duty read for serious painters wanting details about pigments used in Europe for painting (and worldwide today). The names given to pigments, dates of discovery and manufacture, that sort of thing. In short, fascinating.
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