Top 5 Books: COLOR


Hello and welcome to first installment of Top 5 Books: this time we'll start with at the beginning with books about COLOR! Which books would you add to the list? These are recommendations compiled from my personal library — I would love to know your favorites, too! In no particular order:

1. 100 Years of Color

"Beautiful Images & Inspirational Palettes from a Century of Innovative Art, Illustration, & Design"

by Katie Greenwood (HOW Books)

I keep this book on my desk! I love it:

  • Compact, not overwhelming, just the right amount to get the creative vibes moving

  • Interesting to see palettes change with the times

  • Helpful starting place when working on a project and trying to call up a feeling (jazz age, summer of love) through color

  • Fascinating and gorgeous art history reference for art styles and mediums across the century

  • What good are palettes without... RGB and CMYK break downs to input into your work! Hooray! Figures for both are included.

2. Encyclopedia of Rainbows

"Our World Organized by Color"

by Julie Seabrook Ream (Chronicle Books)

This book is based on the author's Instagram project, #100DaysofRainbows. While the author could "never pick a favorite color," I can (guess what it is!), however —I have always felt a intense sense of satisfaction at having a set of items, one in each color. New pack of colored pencils? Yes, please!

  • Divided into "The Natural World" and "The Built World" sections

  • Each facing page has a helpful key to the objects pictured

  • Soothing and meditative to look at – like those "oddly satisfying" YouTube videos. Orderly, balanced, and harmonious compositions.

  • Nature makes the best art! Is it just me (I could be biased) or are the natural objects somehow more beautiful? Gotta love that pile of books, though...

  • Handy "Visual Index" in the back

3. Ramayana: Divine Loophole

by Sanjay Patel (Chronicle Books)

I was introduced in-depth to this ancient story on a visit to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco to see the Ramayana Epic exhibit. This book isn't like the others on the list, but I knew immediately upon first paging through it at the museum gift shop that I would take it home, so taken was I with the singular and striking style of illustrator and author Sanjay Patel, a veteran Pixar animator. The color palettes are gorgeous to gaze at, and one can see the mark of a movie artist in the storyboard-like frames, filled with geometric shapes that are crisp, energetic, and ebullient. The story is told in casual and engaging prose, and it is a pleasure to spend time traveling through it's pages. Included also are an illustrated cast of characters, and sketches and notes from the author. A favorite quote: "Keep drawing; the art will reveal itself. It's inevitable; just trust the process."

4. Color: A Natural History of the Palette

by Victoria Finlay (Random House Trade Paperbacks)

If you have an interest in history and origin stories, you will enjoy spending time with this personally-guided journey around the planet: travelogue, as well as color history

  • Each chapters focuses on a single main color, providing and in-depth chronology of human adoption and usage, interspersed with related interesting tidbits

  • Immersive reading: a leisurely pace and a 'complete picture' at the close of each chapter

  • Found myself taking lots of notes like "SPY PENCILS! (Green) – Charles Fraser-Smith, a.k.a. Q" and "Logwood (for black) Collected by PIRATES! – look up Dampier's Voyages" and simply impressed and delighted by the trial and error and ingenuity of humans.

  • Would loooove to see an expanded edition with pictures to accompany the text (hence the notes about looking things up — come to think of it, I'd like to work on an expanded edition!) Until then... see next entry on this list...

5. The Secret Language of Color

"Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, & Violet"

by Joann Eckstut and Arielle Eckstut (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.)

As you can see, my copy is well-loved...

  • I enjoy how chapters are organized by color in this book as well, yet it also features chapters titled "Universe", "Plants", "Humans", and "Earth", which cover things like the color involved in the Northern Lights, or how chlorophyll works.

  • Incredibly wide range of topics; expands your mind with the breadth of information

  • Heavily illustrated with charts, images, photos – perfect visual aides to enrich the textual info

  • Big size allows for large images, and many different things to compare on any given page

  • Handily divided up into small chunks so you can browse and still access pithy information

Thanks for reading! I hope that you've been inspired to add these to your book store shopping list, and that you find them as inspirational as I do. Being an artist means constantly feeding oneself with new sights, ideas, sounds, and feelings — I'm grateful to be able to mine the enormous body of work that has come before me, and to those authors, editors, and visual artists who compile books like these.

Bonus Book: This just came out and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy:

The Secret Lives of Color, by Kassia St. Clair. Published by Penguin Books.

What did I miss? Please let me know in the comments which books you find indispensable and inspiring!

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NOTE: All photos, illustrations, design, and text are the copyright of their original creators, and I have linked to where you can purchase copies of the books for yourself. All opinions are my sincere and honest thoughts, and I am in no way compensated. This review is strictly for (joy, and) educational purposes, to promote work I admire, and to create discourse.

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