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My Favorite Books on Color

Colors! I can’t get enough of them. I can spend hours looking at books on painting and color theory. Color arouses emotions, sensations, and memories. Creating a color palette is a powerful tool for expression and one of my favorite parts of design and painting. 


Whether you’re an artist or an art lover, the following is a list of what I consider to be the best books on color.


Italian Painting by Keith Christiansen– This first book covers 2000 years of Italian painting and starts with the ancient Romans. The collection includes large photos with vibrant and dramatic color illustrations. I specifically use this book to study color in painting fabrics and the use of color for dramatic effect.


Impressions of California. Early Currents in Art 1850 – 1930 by Jean Stern, et al – An excellent reference book utilizing nature’s color palette. I can go to Laguna Beach today and still see the landscape plates available in this book. This period of impressionist paintings was grounded in realistic, natural colors. I highly recommend it!


Van Gogh: A Retrospective by Susan Alyson Stein – One thing I love most about Van Gogh, he was not afraid to use color. He was a pioneer in his unique and creative use of color, intense blue for the sky, vibrant yellows, and greens that broke the traditional way of academic painting. His use of heavy, rich, vibrant colors and his thick application with a palette knife instead of a brush can be seen in this retrospective of his work. The book also contains biographical material on his life and is a must for any Van Gogh admirer.


Color in Contemporary Painting: Integrating Practice and Theory by Charles Le Clair – Perfect for anyone interested in the late 50s to late 80s use of color in contemporary art. Examples of work include Diebenkorn in Venice, California, and Rothko’s The Color Fields. The book really encourages artists to have fun with color and explore play and experimentation in painting.


The Elements of Color: A Treatise On The Color System of Johannes Itten Based on His Book The Art of Color by Johannes Itten – A great book on color theory that includes exercises and Itten’s theoretical approach to how colors interact, complement, and relate to each other. An indispensable reference for visual artists. 


So, there is my list of top five books on color. If you’re interested, you should be able to find them at either abebooks.com or thriftbooks.com