Archive for category Subject: Colour Mixing

Hazel Soan’s Watercolour Rainbow

This is, in short, a book about colour written by one of its acknowledged masters.

Hazel Soan’s portrayal of light and shade is legendary and here she shares the secrets of her palette. This isn’t some dry-as-dust technical tome and there isn’t a colour wheel in sight, either (well, there is one, but it’s very basic and quite small). The book isn’t about theory but about practice and there’s an important difference, of which you’re probably all too well aware.

Colour can depict recession, shape and mood. It can also influence how the viewer sees your subject and how the different pictorial elements appear in importance. It can emphasise highlights while at the same time putting detail into deep shadows. It’s the most important tool you have.

The book is arranged, if you look at the contents list, by colour – or, rather, by the main colour groups. That’s to say, yellows, reds, blues, greens, browns and blacks, greys and whites. That’s not, you may have noticed, exactly a rainbow, or a conventional colour wheel either. As I said, this isn’t a book about theory and these are the colours you’re most likely to find on your palette. There’s plenty of information about the background to the various hues, as well as their properties when this is necessary, but much more about how and when they’re used. And, of course, every page is filled with examples that hit the spot perfectly. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that you could use this without ever reading a word and just working from the illustrations.

Like all of Hazel’s books, it’s about painting, pure and simple. Did you expect anything else?

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500 Acrylic Mixes || Sharon Finmark

This is in the same format as its companion on watercolour, which appeared last year. Once again, Sharon has provided a work which is much more than just a list of colours, but one which shows you how they are used in practice as well as when to use them.

Pretty well all of what I said before applies here so, rather than repeat myself, please just click the link to read it.

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600 Watercolour Mixes || Sharon Finmark

Books on colour mixing are both ridiculously easy and ridiculously hard to review. On the one hand, you can see at a glance whether they’re any good but, on the other, you rack your brains trying to work out how you’ve arrived at your conclusion. And, into the bargain, there have been dozens in the past few years and, let’s be honest, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. It really is like watching paint dry!

So, I’m not going to be excited about another one, am I? Except that I am, and I can tell you exactly why. For a start, this is by Sharon Finmark, not maybe the most prolific author, but a presence on the scene and someone I associate with the art rather than the mechanics of painting. In fact, what on earth’s she doing getting into colour blobs? And that’s where it gets interesting because, although there are plenty of said blobs, they don’t look like blobs. Hang on, what do I mean? Yes, what do I mean? Well, they look like something you might try out on a piece of practice paper as you go along, rather than a painstakingly constructed grid done to prove – well, ultimately to prove nothing. The other strange thing is that, although the title implies a heavy tome, this is quite a small book and only has 176 pages. I’m going to take their word for it that there are 600 mixes here, which is a lot, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

It gets better because the book is peppered with practical painting stuff like Overlaying in practice, Wet-in-wet in practice, Colour, light and shade. The usual approach is to organise everything by colour and then relate any token illustrations to that, as if anyone says, “I know, I fancy a bit of Payne’s Grey mixed with Cerulean Blue today”. Of course you don’t, you look at the sky and mutter, “Wow, I’ll have a bit of that, now, what colours do I need? A bit of wet-in-wet, mix on the palette or on the paper?” That’s the challenge of painting; it’s the finished result, the visual interpretation, the mastery of technique. Not the ruddy colour mixing, that’s just a means to an end.

So, here’s what this is. It’s a book about painting that comes at it via the practicalities of making up the hue and shade you want. It is, if you like, coming at its avowed subject backwards, which is entirely the right way to do it. If you have any other colour mixing books, throw them away and buy this, it’ll be the best favour you ever did yourself.

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Complete Colour Mixing Guide || John Barber

As far as I can see, this owes a huge debt to the author’s previous Colour Wheel series of books. However, where those were a new approach to the whole colour mixing thing, this one bears every resemblance to all the many other books of its type, the only real difference being the layout of the colour charts.

What you get is a series of radiating arms working out from the central base colour and mixed in decreasing proportions with eight other colours. As a colour guide, it’s confusing because you only get one set of mixes on each page, so you have to get though a whole lot of often similar charts in order to find the shade you want. Other books, which tend to work in blocks of colour, seem somehow easier to follow, or at least less intimidating.

The other thing is that this is an all-media collection: you get acrylics, oils and watercolour all in the same book and there are precious few example paintings, so no real points of reference. If you want a book of colour mixes, there are plenty of others out there (many also from Search Press), so it’s worth shopping around.

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The Pastel Colour Wheel Book || John Barber

The format of this series is becoming familiar and the idea is that you can use the 8 projects, which include full-colour step by step demonstrations, in conjunction with the colour wheel built into the front cover. Yes, it’s a gimmick, but sometimes gimmicks concentrate the mind and, with the emphasis here on relatively simple combinations of colours, you can explore the possibilities of the medium, freed from at least one layer of complication.

If there’s a gripe, it’s that the paper chosen makes the illustrations look dull which is, it has to be said, a neat trick when the medium is the pure colour of pastel.

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The Oil Paint Colour Wheel Book || John Barber

The basic principle of this ingenious series is by now established. The cover includes a simple colour wheel and then the body of the text provides a series of eight demonstrations based around specific colour combinations. Neither of these things is original on its own, but the idea of putting them together is really quite inspired and provides a way in to what is for many a tricky subject.

The original watercolour volume used a trick paper that was supposed to mimic watercolour paper, not altogether successfully, but neither of its successors has gone down that path. However, the illustrations in both do seem rather dark, here to the point almost of murkiness and I do wonder whether there is a reproduction issue.

That aside, the series is a bold and largely successful attempt to provide a way through the maze that is colour mixing and is to be welcomed for that.

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The Acrylic Paint Colour Wheel Book || John Barber

This is the sister volume to the previous one on watercolour and, if it follows the success of that, it’s a fair bet we’ll be raising quite a family.

Most of what I said previously applies here. It’s a gimmick, but sometimes gimmicks make you sit up and suddenly understand what has previously been a problem subject. I still think that the illustrations are a bit flat, even though the trick paper has gone. Nevertheless, there’s a good variety of subject matter and the medium is used in both impasto and as a wash, so you get to see most of the techniques you’ll want.

I don’t think this is a book you’d buy at any price, but equally, it’s certainly not a tenner wasted.

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The Watercolour Wheel Book || John Barber

OK, this is a gimmick. It’s a book with a colour wheel on the front cover and a series of projects inside that are based on the mixing combination you can get from playing trains.

Actually, before we go any further, I have a couple of reservations. First up, the paper the book’s printed on: I think it’s supposed to look like a NOT watercolour paper, but it has the effect of making the illustrations look dull, the colours flat. Second, the actual quality of the artwork. Put it this way, let’s just say I’ve seen better.

But… But none of that matters because, although this is a gimmick, it’s a completely fresh way of looking at the whole problem of colour mixing and it might be just the thing that makes the whole tricky subject understandable for you. A friend of mine says that, if you want to call yourself an artist, colour mixing should be instinctive. However, the fact of the matter is that plenty of people one certainly wouldn’t call incompetent do struggle with it and the are a lot of books out there that sell in the sort of quantities that suggest it’s an ongoing struggle.

Will this be the one that stops the sales of all the others? Well, maybe not, but it’s an honest and imaginative attempt and, at less than a tenner, no more that the price of a colour wheel on its own, so worth a punt, I’d say.

Search Press 2008

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The Oil Painter's Pocket Palette || Rosalind Cuthbert

Although this is not a new book (it first appeared in 1993), the fact that it is still in print and, even more, that Search Press, (who were not the original publisher) have reissued it in its correct spiral binding, testifies to its longevity and its value. Search Press first took this series over in 2000 and put them out in paperback, which is not their natural habitat. The Pocket Palette series really only works if you can lay the books out flat and refer to them while both your hands are tied up mixing colours. There’s a mixed metaphor in there somewhere and you know what I mean, so don’t be pedantic and ask me to unravel it.

The arrangement of the book starts with colour types and then provides examples of specific colour mixes in a range of three tints. There is also a short piece on using each colour type and a very useful section on skin tones which would, itself, justify the purchase price.

There have been other, more comprehensive, encyclopaedias of colour mixing since this series appeared, but one of its great merits is its selective nature; these are compact little books you can carry about with you and they don’t overburden you with more than you need.

Any serious artist will tell you that colour mixing and selection are so much the artist’s stock in trade that they should be second-nature. This is true, but beginners have to start somewhere and, as an aid to confidence, the series is invaluable. If you won’t put brush to palette without detailed consultation, you have a lot to learn, but then again, this is as good a place to learn as any.

Search Press reissued 2008

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Colour Mixing Index || Julie Collins

Everything about this book is right: the size, the coverage, the format, what it doesn’t include and even the flexible covers that allow you to flick through it easily yet are more than a paperback so that it doesn’t get dog-eared.

Do you need it? Well, only you can tell. If colour mixing comes naturally to you, if you can look at a cloud and say, “oh yes, Payne’s Grey with Alizarin Crimson and just a touch of Cadmium Yellow Deep”, then you’re unlikely to want a guide to colour mixing. If, on the other hand, that last statement brings you out in a cold sweat, then you’re one of the legions who struggle and whose existence is hinted at by the plethora of guides that are already on the market.

OK, so this is just another one? Well, yes, but someone has taken the trouble to look at the competition and come up with something different. First up, this little book (it’s jacket pocket size, but fat at 320 pages) doesn’t attempt to teach you how to paint. There’s 10 pages at the beginning on the basics of mixing colours and then it’s nothing but colour swatches, arranged by medium, base colour and tint. It’s not a book to sit down and read, it’s one to flick through (this is where the clever production design comes in), find what you want and look up the constituent parts. It’s small enough to take with you in the field, so you don’t ever need to be without it and it covers watercolour, oils, acrylic, gouache and ink – the only book of this type to include that last one, as far as I’m aware.

The only thing you might need to be aware of it before you shell out is that the colour names are from the Winsor & Newton range. This necessarily narrows its appeal if you don’t use their paints, but it does mean you get specific recommendations rather than generic names you then have to translate. You can’t have everything, I suppose. That small caveat aside, this is a book worth buying if you have the slightest trouble with colour mixing and even if you have other guides already. It feels nice in the hand which is a better quality in a book than is often credited.

David & Charles 2007

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