One advantage any artist has is an eye for colour and seeing some tones non-artists can miss. They see a blue sky, we see it getting darker at the horizon for instance. It makes life easier to know what you’re after to create the colour on canvas. After years of being identify colours by tube names, the oddest thing I found when it came to digital painting was out of the various software I looked at, only one identified by familiar names. Everything else was by the look of the colour square. You had to take the plunge otherwise and blending less prevalent because getting the mix right a lot tougher. Consequently, over the past couple years when I can, I’ve been picking up books on colour theory from time to time and reabsorbing my knowledge.
With the opportunity to look at William F. Powell’s book, ‘1500 Color Mixing Recipes For Oil, Acrylic & Watercolor’ came up, I took it with open hands. With a flexible spine, the pages are less likely to fall out and you aren’t going to face a fold giving a grey shadow in the middle of the book making sure you’re looking at the right colour.
After a few pages on colour theory, the book shows how to get the various hues and shades by adding dots of colour. There is a transparent guide at the back of the book to match your colours to but I hope and suspect that people will make copies onto transparent plastic rather than continually wash off the original if they need to use it. Once you learn how to measure colour to get what you need, you might not even need it. I’m a little less sure about the dot process more that’s more to do with knowing how much colour you need to create the hue you need.
Of particular interest are two special sections dealing with portraits and landscapes. The former should get you out of a jam identifying different skin colour tones and how they differ across the planes of the face. You might have sienna and umber amongst your paints but working out how to dilute it to the measure you need to paint is an asset.
Something I want to try out is how I can use this to work out blends in digital. If you are considering this, don’t forget that what you seen on your screen isn’t necessarily coming out of your printer and you might have to change the RGB format for printing. With this book, I think I might have the right starting point on some areas I’ve been having problems with if I want to avoid a plastic look.
Flicking through this book and you might think all it shows is colour swatches (not to be confused with the wristwatches) of the various colours. However, with portraits, you get a guide to how the planes of the face change the tonal levels of the colours. Importantly and something that I’ve been having problems with recently is looking at greying. That is how to darken the skin reflecting (sic) the face out of the light. This doesn’t mean you should actually use grey but a touch of ultramarine blue to deepen the colour is the main starting point as shown here. It’s an important technique in blending so the colour doesn’t look muddy. How this particular swatch is shown might give you some ideas on digital blending in the likes of ‘Painter’ and other digital software that offers a bending palate. There is even some guidance in how to colour eyes and hair. Objectively, I would still say use all of this as guidance than laid down laws.
The landscapes selection is a bit more specific as the colours are dependent on the sky and light source but they should fill you in on recognising specific colours and how to make them.
Looking on their website, the Walter Foster imprint does have separate books for colours for portraits and landscapes but I think having a combined book might be better hence me picking this one. If you’re specialised one way or the other, you might prefer to go for them.
There is no information on how different we see colours or have our own ideas as to what makes the best choices. What this book does do is lay down the foundations to develop what works for you. Knowing the colour choices will at least enable you to pick out the right paints for your work rather than hope for the best in what you have to be suitable.
(pub: Walter Foster Publishing/Quarto, 2012. 178 page illustrated medium hardback. Price: £14.99 (UK), $19.95 (US), $21.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-60058-283-7)
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