The 6 Best Books on Color for Artists to Buy

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Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Bright Earth: The Invention of Color at Amazon

"Bright Earth is a study and history of artist's colors (with some science thrown in), written in an extremely accessible way."

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Artist's Color Manual at Amazon

"The text is presented with plenty of headings (and cross-references) to guide you around and draw you in."

Best Travelogue: Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox at Amazon

"Color is an entertaining and informative travelogue of the author's journeys around the world searching for the sources of color."

Best Mixing: Color Mixing Bible at Amazon

"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."

Best Watercolors: Color Right from the Start at Amazon

"If you're looking for a book on colors and color mixing devoted specifically to watercolors, this is it."

Best Art History: Colour in Art at Amazon

"Colour in Art is an introduction to how visual artists have theorized, investigated, and used color through the ages."

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Best Overall: Bright Earth: The Invention of Color

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. Occasionally 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.

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Runner-Up, Best Overall: Artist's Color Manual

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 in.

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Best Travelogue: Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox

Color: Travels Through the Paintbox

 Courtesy of Amazon

Colour 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).

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Best Mixing: Color Mixing Bible

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.

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Best Watercolors: 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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Best Art History: Colour in Art

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.

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