Color Choices – Making Color Sense Out of Color Theory, by Stephen Quiller – a book review

It’s been a while since my last book review and Color Choices by Stephen Quiller is not one to be overlooked – highly rated on Amazon that I found during one of my research journeys has become a great resource on color.

Mr. Quiller, an artist and professor, gives to us his research on color theory in a format that provides a real nice foundation to understanding how color is the narrative descriptor in paintings leaving it up to the artist to use color notes as a guide to viewers.  There are six chapters loaded with photographs of his paintings, charts, and schematics to illustrate the concepts.  The first four are totally devoted to color and packed with valuable information:

  1. The Color Wheel
  2. Monochromatic and Complementary Color Schemes
  3. Analogous and Split-Complementary Color Schemes
  4. Triadic Color Schemes

The paintings used as examples are watercolor and gouache, but should that mean we set aside his discussion because oils, acrylics and pastels aren’t used?  Not at all, color theory in its purest form is applied across all these mediums – it’s up to the artist to figure out how to use their medium in building color notes.  His theories are well described.

Here are three reasons why I’m recommending this book as a great read:

  1. The Quiller Wheel:  Mr. Quiller took the traditional color wheel and blew it out so that many gradations of the primary and secondary colors pigmented names are shown – he puts the gradations inside the color wheel so that you can see their relationships to all other colors.  It’s probably the most go-to tool I have when analyzing colors and deciding a color scheme for paintings.  While I still use the traditional color wheel, I love the Quiller wheel, which by the way comes as a pullout if you buy the book – not a better find in my opinion, the book is worth every cent just because of the Quiller Wheel.
  2. Chapter 2 – Monochromatic and Complementary Color Schemes:  this is so well done, it helps to see how delicious complementary colors can make a monochromatic scene come alive.  I’m currently rereading this chapter, now that I’m painting landscapes again, Mr. Quiller has helped me see more clearly how powerful a limited palette can be for describing a scene.  This is a concept that I want to explore more in my paintings, I reach for too many colors in my landscapes and I want to get comfortable limiting the number.  It might be more difficult with oil pastels, but I’ll experiment and post on my blog.
  3. Split-Complementary Colors:  Mr. Quiller’s discussion of accent color really resonated with me and was exactly what I was looking for.  He gives a great explanation using split complementary and analogous colors together to create a visual mood.  His examples helped me tremendously in understanding concepts, especially when using neutrals and semi-neutral color notes with the split-complementary color scheme.

In closing, if you are looking for a resource on color theory and how to use colors more effectively in your paintings Color Choices is worth looking into.  It’s been a great source of information for me and I can’t emphasize just how beneficial The Quiller Wheel has been in choosing color schemes for my paintings.


About Mary

Oil Pastelist
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26 Responses to Color Choices – Making Color Sense Out of Color Theory, by Stephen Quiller – a book review

  1. Mona says:

    I’ve been thinking about getting more knowledable about color. This was a great read thanks for posting it.

    • Mary says:

      Hey Mona, great to hear from you! So glad you enjoyed the review – the theory that Quiller presented is well-rounded giving me a lot to think about while painting with oil pastels. I’m challenged by color and am considering painting a piece using a limited palette of maybe three colors – that I’m sure would be difficult for me, but a valuable lesson.

  2. My artistic ambitions are what led to the discovery that I was colorblind at an early age but I persisted. After years of purple skies and orange lemons I finally had to admit that color and I would never get along. This sounds like a great book that I wish I’d read years ago.

    • Mary says:

      So interesting to read that you are color blind – your images are amazing and I can’t imagine not seeing them in their true colors. Thanks for your comment, but here is my question – if you’re color blind how will you be able to translate the colors and theory that you’d be reading about.

      • That’s a good question that I probably couldn’t answer until I saw the book. I always hope there will be some magic formula revealed in books like this that will let me cheat color blindness, but so far I haven’t had much luck with that approach. I do have a little freeware program called What Color that tells me the colors I see on the computer, so that helps a lot.
        Color blindness can be annoying but I’m thankful that I don’t have it as bad as some people. If a red cardinal lands in a green tree he disappears completely, but if he lands on a wire and has blue sky behind him, I can see him just fine. Some people can only see in black and white, and that would be too bad.

  3. violetski says:

    Thank you for sharing Mary! Defently will check in library and I’m sure will purchase one!!! 😁

  4. cmartzloff says:

    Thanks Mary! This is really helpful. I’m going to check out that book. There’s always so much to learn about color.

    • Mary says:

      Thanks and your welcome, you won’t be disappointed. I’m with you there is so much to learn about color, this one resource has been really helpful.

  5. ĽAdelaide says:

    I left you a comment but did it come thru? I keep running into this on some blogs I comment on thru the reader. Did you see it? 😦

    • Mary says:

      Hi Linda, yes your comment came through with no problems whatsoever – loved that you are a huge fan of Stephen Quiller. He has taken color to a whole other level.

  6. ĽAdelaide says:

    I’ve had this book for a few years now and also have all his other books as well as his DVDs–they’re all packed with info and yummy paintings. His use of color is spectacular , in my opinion and I use his ideas often as jumping off points and especially with his porcelain palette. It weighs a ton but worth every penny for my watercolors! I couldn’t agree more with your review! 😀

    • Mary says:

      Thank you Linda very much – he has been such a good find for me and reading your comment adds tremendous weight to Mr. Quillers’ stature in my eyes. It’s only been the last two years that I’m really starting to appreciate what he brings to the table.

  7. Great book review, I will have to check it out. Thanks for sharing!

  8. M-R says:

    Too rareified for me. But I like the way you write, too ! 🙂

  9. iarxiv says:

    Ooh goodie, thanks for the introduction to this book – I’m definitely going to take a look at it in the library and then most probably add it to my wish list 🙂

  10. Hi Mary, I’m off to Amazon to check this book out. I have a lot to learn about color. More than I love bright colors. I’m finding that a way to show those bright colors off is to use muted tones, which surprised me. I’m especially interested because I’m still using pastels and I like to layer with multiple colors.

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Kerry – hope you do consider this great resource for your art library. There are so many incredible aspects of color, I could spend a lifetime learning about it.

  11. Thanks for the good review, Mary. I’m especially interested in the power of a limited palette, and might look into this!

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