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The Designer’s Dictionary Of Colour by Sean Adams (book review)

The problem with a lot of graphic software is that it shows you a selection of colours but no names to associate with them. You have to have a good eye for colour and hope you’ve picked the right shade and hope your videocard’s choice is a match to the colours your printer uses. In case you didn’t know, this is changing the format from RGB to CMYK if you want a good match although that is a software issue between computer and printer. Those of you in the UK who picked up the ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’ comic last year were aware of the wishy-washy look when they took panels from the episodes and printed them. That’s at the top of the list for why and wondering why they didn’t know.

What makes Sean Adams book, ‘The Designer’s Dictionary Of Colour’, stand out is that he explains from the start all the colour types and that includes computer colours and the difference I described in my opening paragraph. He even gives the colour ratio numbers to get a particular colour. There, I thought that would get your attention. I tried this on Autodesk Sketchbook to get a flesh colour with some surprising results. It’s colour triangle showed all the shades of this colour and it could be stored as a swatch cube.

The Designer’s Dictionary of Colour by Sean Adams (Abrams, £14.99) and the images as: Spreads taken from The Designer’s Dictionary of Colour by Sean Adams.

The introduction by Jessica Helfane points out an example of art teacher Josef Albers who showed students that everyone had a different idea what colour red was. Adams goes further and shows you don’t necessarily have to use a colour wheel for contrast colours, only for what works for you and divides the colours accordingly into warm, cool, neutral and speciality colours. For each, you get to see the colour, its alternative names, real life demonstrations of it in use and how to make the variants for CMYK, although don’t expect your software to work with that. It’s an education from the start and even with my familiarity with colour, I’m adding to my knowledge.

The Designer’s Dictionary of Colour by Sean Adams (Abrams, £14.99) and the images as: Spreads taken from The Designer’s Dictionary of Colour by Sean Adams.

I’m not sure if I think beige could be named tan as I associate that with brown although I agree with calling it putty. I never realised olive or khaki was favoured by the military for its camouflage properties but, then, I suspect most of us don’t really see it out in the field where other colours are mixed in. If you do use gold as a colour but it comes out as a brown colour then you need to print on glossy paper to get the right colour out is something I didn’t know but intend to try out.

The Designer’s Dictionary of Colour by Sean Adams (Abrams, £14.99) and the images as: Spreads taken from The Designer’s Dictionary of Colour by Sean Adams.

Something that did occur to me as I read is that when the colours are matched to the colour wheel and showing the various mixes from the colour chosen is why didn’t Adams identify these colour/shades/hues by the names that are associated with them? Likewise, the RGB number values would also have been useful here as well. Added to that, an index would have been useful for quick reference. I mean, cyan is mentioned but it would have been easier to have an identifier in the light blue section.

The Designer’s Dictionary of Colour by Sean Adams (Abrams, £14.99) and the images as: Spreads taken from The Designer’s Dictionary of Colour by Sean Adams.

Despite these quibbles, there is still a lot to learn from this book, mostly in the application in the real world as much as applying to digital painting and how adjusting the tone can open up a variety of other colours for you.

As with any artbook, you should be able to apply this to any medium and the real life examples shown see it as used in the real world.

GF Willmetts

April 2017

(pub: Abrams Books. 256 page illustrated square hardback. Price: £14.99 (UK), $24.95 (US), $29.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-4197-2639-24)

check out website: www.abramsandchronicles.co.uk