The best books on color and painting

James Gurney Author Of Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter
By James Gurney

Who am I?

My name is James Gurney and I've been a professional illustrator for National Geographic and Scientific American for over 40 years. Although I went to art school, everything I know about drawing and painting comes from studying art instruction books, and from sketching directly from nature. I'm best known for writing and illustrating the New York Times bestselling Dinotopia book series, published in 32 countries and 18 languages. I designed 15 dinosaur stamps for USPS and a set of five dinosaur stamps for Australia Post. My originals have been shown in over 35 solo museum exhibitions. My book Color and Light has sold over 200k copies and was Amazon's #1 bestselling book on painting for over a year.


I wrote...

Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter

By James Gurney,

Book cover of Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter

What is my book about?

This book examines two of art's most essential principles. It bridges the gap between abstract theory and practical knowledge. Beginning with a survey of underappreciated masters who perfected the use of color and light, the book examines how light reveals form, the properties of color and pigments, and the wide variety of atmospheric effects. Gurney cuts through the confusing and contradictory dogma about color, testing it in the light of science and observation. 

The books I picked & why

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Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting

By John F. Carlson,

Book cover of Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting

Why this book?

John Carlson, himself a noted American Impressionist painter and teacher, addresses all the common elements faced by landscape painters, including design, light, perspective, color, clouds, trees, and composition. While the book was first published in 1929, Dover has reprinted the 1958 edition, so the language is a little more accessible to the modern reader without sacrificing Carlson's forthright style. Although the 58 diagrams are in black and white, the book's chief value is its practical principles and insights.

Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting

By John F. Carlson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written by a famous American painter and teacher, whose landscapes are found in many of the world's most noted museums, this book is known as one of the art student's most helpful guides. It provides a wealth of advice on the choice of subject; it tells what to look for and aim for, and explains the mysteries of color, atmospheric conditions, and other phenomena to be found in nature.
Through his profound understanding of the physical nature of landscapes and his highly developed artistic sense, John Carlson is able to explain both the whys and the hows of the various…


The Practice and Science of Drawing

By Harold Speed,

Book cover of The Practice and Science of Drawing

Why this book?

Harold Speed's classic text bridges the often-difficult gap between drawing and painting. He starts with a tutorial on seeing, the foundation of accurate drawing. He distinguishes between line drawing and what he calls 'mass drawing'—essentially monochrome painting. Although his writing style might strike some modern readers as old-fashioned and opinionated, he makes a good case and covers useful aesthetic territory.

The Practice and Science of Drawing

By Harold Speed,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Practice and Science of Drawing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Much of the learning to practice as well as to appreciate art is concerned with understanding the basic principles. One of these principles is what Harold Speed calls "dither," the freedom that allows realism and the artistic vision to play against each other. Very important to any artist or work of art, this quality separates the scientifically accurate from the artistically accurate. Speed's approach to this problem is now considered a classic, one of the few books from the early years of this century that has continued to be read and recommended by those in the graphic arts.
In this…


Creative Illustration

By Andrew Loomis (illustrator),

Book cover of Creative Illustration

Why this book?

Long out of print and expensive, this classic of illustration techniques has been republished. Although it was first published over 70 years ago, the sections on color and painting will prove useful for any artist, whether they work for concept art, galleries, or illustration. Loomis was a top magazine illustrator and devoted his later years to writing encouraging and practical guides that covered all the key topics.

Creative Illustration

By Andrew Loomis (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Creative Illustration as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Creative Illustration" is considered Loomis' magnum opus, which is aimed primarily at the professional-level illustrator. It's divided into seven sections: Line, Tone, Color, Telling the Story, Creating Ideas, Fields of Illustration, and Experimenting and Studies. The book is filled with instructions, tips, insider experiences, and incredible illustrations.


Oil Painting Techniques and Materials

By Harold Speed,

Book cover of Oil Painting Techniques and Materials

Why this book?

Speed's book on painting builds on his drawing book, offering painting instruction as it was practiced in the Royal Academy. Although not everyone will agree with his views on modern art, his advice on tone, color, and edges is concise and inspiring, and his analysis of the old masters benefits from the insights of a skilled practitioner.

Oil Painting Techniques and Materials

By Harold Speed,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Oil Painting Techniques and Materials as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In any exhibition of amateur work . . . it is not at all unusual to find many charming water-colour drawings, but . . . it is very rarely that the work in the oil medium is anything but dull, dead, and lacking in all vitality and charm." — Harold Speed
Such provocative assertions are characteristic of this stimulating and informative guide, written in a highly personal and unique style by a noted painter and teacher. Brimming with pertinent insights into the technical aspects and painting in oils, it is also designed to help students perfect powers of observation and…


Fundamentals of Composition

By Vladimir Mogilevtsev,

Book cover of Fundamentals of Composition

Why this book?

The book covers basic principles, such as variety, shape, silhouette, edges, unity, rhythm, color, and texture. But his coverage of these familiar ideas is fresh and original, and he provides lots of examples. He avoids laying down rules or laws, because one generation of artists breaks the rules of the previous generation. All of the basic principles are universal enough to have remained in place despite the changing styles throughout history.

Fundamentals of Composition

By Vladimir Mogilevtsev,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fundamentals of Composition as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the ENGLISH edition. To buy this book in Russian: https://www.amazon.com/dp/5904957076. | The only textbook on composition approved and recommended by the Russian Academy of Fine Arts. Written by a Head of the Drawing Department and a leading professor of drawing, Vladimir Mogilevtsev. Description: This is the 3rd and last textbook in the series of "Fundamentals of Art". The previous two editions are dedicated to Fundamentals of Drawing and Fundamentals of Painting. In the book Fundamentals of Composition, the author, on the basis of his own creative work and experience working with students, tried to show and explain how…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in painting, drawing, and art?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about painting, drawing, and art.

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