Do you want to learn about colour and light?
Want to discover some new artistic techniques?
Understanding colour and light for most artists is fundamental. From painting, fine art to illustration, learning this foundation can raise your art to the next level. Learning about colour and light has been very beneficial for my work, and it’s a continuous topic I’m learning about. This is why I’m such a big advocate of helping you learn about it too!
If you’ve read my previous blog posts recently, I’ve been helping you get to grips with colour. I delve into colour wheel basics by helping you discover primary and secondary colours, discuss how the artistic masters used colour in their paintings, and share the benefit of limited colour palettes. If you want to learn more about colour, I would highly recommend you check out my previous colour blog posts.
As a result of these colour articles, I thought I would take the opportunity to delve deeper into the subject of colour, and offer my personal review of James Gurney’s book, ‘The Color and Light – A Guide for the Realist Painter’.
Within this blog post you will discover my recommendation of the book, what you can expect to find inside, who it’s primary aimed at, my key takeaways and my final rating out of 5 stars. If you want to discover my recommended tools that I personally use to create my art and illustrations, the marketing software I use and how I setup my freelancing business, check out my Resources page. *(As an FYI – this is not a sponsored blog post and I have no endorsement with James Gurney’s book. I personally own a copy of James’ book, and I only recommend books which I have read myself. I have included affiliate links throughout this blog post, which if you click on the links below and purchase, I will earn a commission. You don’t pay extra.). Let’s start with a brief introduction of the book.
An Introduction To Color And Light By James Gurney
Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC and written by James Gurney, this book uses Gurney’s experience as a plain-air and realistic painter to help you learn about colour and light. Creator of Dinotopia, a New York Times best-selling book, this book is 224 pages long, and is roughly 23cm x 26.5cm. James is an experienced painter and features a lot of his paintings throughout. The book covers these chapters;
- Traditional Paintings
- Sources of Light
- Light and Form
- Elements of Colour
- Painting and Pigments
- Colour Relationships
- Visual Perception
- Surfaces and Effects
- Atmospheric Effects
- Light’s Changing Show
They are all detailed chapters and have reference paintings and photographs throughout. Starting with traditional paintings and seeing how the masters used colour, the book discusses all sorts of different situations a realistic painter may encounter; like sky palettes, colour opposites to selecting colour gamuts (probably my favourite section of the book).
As the name suggests, this book is appropriate for realist painters, however non-realism fine artists and illustrators can also find it most useful. Even though the book shares technical analysis of colour and light, this book is aimed at both beginners and advanced users. A beginner can find it useful to improve their understanding of colour and light and to dip their toes in the water, whilst a more advanced artist can learn a few extra pointers to help push their work.
If you are a landscape, realist or portrait artist, this book is made for you.
What Chapters And Sections Did I Find Most Useful?
The book is most helpful with situational painting events. Personally I found these sections less helpful until I encounter them within my illustrations. For example, if I was painting a portrait with the light shining directly on the subject, I would jump straight into James’ book and head to the ‘Frontal Lighting’ section. This is when I feel the book is at its most helpful. My favourite chapters are ‘Paint and Pigments’, ‘Colour Relationships’, ‘Premixing’ and ‘Visual Perception’, which starts from roughly 90 pages in. These in-depth chapters discuss colour theory – looking at colour relationships, colour gamuts and studying the colour wheel.
I found this useful as I could directly take what learnt, and apply it straight away into my work (sort of like a quick and easy win). I love how the book is written, as James’ takes complex subjects and explains in a simple and easy to follow manner – with helpful diagrams to support. Those who want to learn more about colour relationships and light, this is the book for you. If you’re a realistic painter and have environments you want help with (especially if you are painting from imagination), this is also the book for you. Or if you’re just looking at something to enhance your work, this is also a book for you.
Whilst I was reading the book, you can tell that Gurney has a lot of painting and illustration experience, and it’s fantastic to soak up all of his knowledge. You can see that he is passionate about the subject, and the amount of work which he has painted and produced (which is featured throughout the book), is mind-blowing and inspiring. As you may of gathered by now, there’s lots of positive! But are there any negatives?
Is There Anything I Didn’t Like?
It’s very hard to try and pick holes in this book. It’s full of golden nuggets and great wisdom – I need to reread it for this reason! If I was to be extremely critical, I would have liked to have seen more examples of how the artistic masters used colour and light in their work. I feel this section wasn’t long enough, and James’ could have shared more of his thoughts and takeaways from these geniuses. However, I can understand this isn’t what this book is about, and including more master examples may have made the book cumbersome.
This is all I can say that is negative about the book, and I hope you can see that this is an extremely tiny detail – as I’m trying to deliberately pick holes in the book (which to be fair, is extremely hard).
Who Is This Book For?
This is an excellent book by Gurney, who teaches complex colour and light issues in a simple and easy to read fashion. But who is this book for? I think it’s aimed at both professional artists and beginners who are new to colour and light.
Even if you’re a beginner to art in general, and don’t pick up everything that James mentions in the first read, with experience you’ll begin to see what he’s trying to teach you, and it can help massively.
It’s one of those books on my bookshelf that I reference when I need advice on a problem. I think it’s one of those books that you digest in the first instance, and you come back to it time and time again for those hints and tips when you’re painting and creating art.
Who Isn’t This Book For?
I think this book can be useful for any artist, from any industry with any style. Even though this book is aimed at realistic painters, even if you’re an abstract or children’s book illustrator for instance, it can still be beneficial. Of course, if you don’t exactly fit into the realm of a ‘realistic painter / artist’, then it might not be as beneficial, however most artists can certainly benefit from this book.
Another Book By James Which You’ll Love!
In addition to Colour & Light, I also love this great book by James called ‘Imaginative Realism’ (now I’m beginning to sound like James’ brand ambassador haha!). This book teaches you everything you need to know about creating art from your imagination.
A similar book to ‘Colour & Light’, in which it gives you lots of practical, informative information to guarantee strong imaginative art. Again, this book is mostly aimed at fine artists, illustrators and artists that paint and create realistic art. Even though this is the case, I think it can help most artists.
I particularly love the sections on perspective, eye level, and the importance of master studies within this book. If you already own James’ Colour and Light book, then you’ll also love this one too! (It’s also has exact same width, height, and number of pages as ‘Colour & Light!). Get it here.
My Rating Out Of 5
This book is an extremely useful book, which I refer to on a regular basis. If you want to learn about colour and light, this is the ideal book for you. For all of these reasons above, and because I believe it’s a great purchase – I’m giving it 4 / 5 stars. I think it’s a valuable book for all kinds of artists and illustrators, even if you don’t create realistic paintings. The only thing wrong with the book is the wording of ‘color’, that as someone from the UK is just plain wrong. 😉
James Gurney’s book, ‘Color and Light – a Guide for the Realist Painter’ can be found in most book retailers and can also be found on Amazon (at a very respectable price of £11.99 / $16.84 currently – I bought mine for £16.99 so this is a steal!).
If you want to find out more about James’ work, head over to his website. As you’re interested in learning about colour and light, do check out my previous colour blog posts to help you with limited colour palettes. If you’re unfamiliar with myself and my work, I’m a freelance illustrator and designer from the UK, and specialise in editorial, publishing and advertising illustration.
Thanks guys, and I look forward to seeing you on the next blog post!
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