Color and Light, A Guide for the Realist Painter – a book review

James Gurney the author, is also an accomplished artist, teacher and creator of “Dinotopia.”  This book is one of my all time favorites!  I have several good books that concentrate on color, all are second to the quality and comprehensive nature of information contained in Gurney’s book.  If you are looking for a reference on how to use color and light more effectively in your paintings this book comes highly recommended.

The book is for artists of all media, here’s why I’m sold:

  • 200+ pages, but only two pages per subject:  left-side page discusses the subject and the right-side page provides a painting that illustrates Gurney’s topic.  The author gets to the point, which allows the reader to look at the painting he provides as an example and think about the concept – drawing their own conclusion.
  • There are 12 chapters, each with many supporting topics – here are a few examples:  Light and Form (Edge Lighting, Light from Below, Reflected Light), Elements of Color (Grays and Neutrals, The Green Problem, Gradation), Atmospheric Effects (Reverse Atmospheric Perspective, Dappled Light, Cloud Shadows, Illuminated Foreground).
  • Except for a few paintings at the start of the book, 95% of the paintings are James Gurney’s, which is an awesome collection of art works.
  • And, finally in Gurney’s own words, “My goal is to bridge the gap between abstract theory and practical knowledge.  I would like to cut through the confusing and contradictory dogma about color, to test it in the light of science and observation, and to place it in your hands so that you can use it for your own artistic purposes.”

What you won’t find:  no one subject is over-analyzed, there’s not a lot of scientific jargon, Gurney doesn’t get lost in the minutia and there is a limited number of charts.

Color and Light was referred to me (by Mo, a fabulous artist from England) when I started painting.   I’m glad I took her advice and purchased the book because it is my go-to source for maximizing color and light choices when painting.  Amazon reader rating = 5-stars!

So whether you are a new or advanced artist, Color and Light is a must-have resource for your art library – it will not gather dust.

About Mary

Oil Pastelist
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9 Responses to Color and Light, A Guide for the Realist Painter – a book review

  1. artscottnet says:

    What a fantastic book! I purchased it recently based on your review, and I am so glad I did; I know it will not be one on my shelves unused. Thank you, Mary

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Scott – great comment. Fantastic to hear you got the book, so glad you like it. When I get stuck on light or color I often refer to the book just to get my bearings again. Color and Light will be on my shelf for a long time to come.

  2. This is good info! I also love the book by Michael Wilcox “Blue and Yellow don’t make Green. It is amazing book regarding colors, mixing them and understanding the different outcomes. Lots of exercises to practice. 😀

  3. Hello! I have nominated you for a Best Moment Award. Follow the link at
    With appreciation,

    • Mary says:

      Hi Cathie, oh what a wonderful surprise! Thank you so much, I’ll go check out the award – really appreciate your thoughtfulness. Thanks Cathie ~

  4. Sounds like one to own. Thanks Mary.

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