Color and Light by James Gurney

Posted: 2012.02.10 in Books

Color and Light by James Gurney is the follow-up volume to Imaginative Realism. Like Imaginative Realism, Color and Light is not a “how to” per se, but rather more of a reference book including a basic history of the usage of the title subjects, modern application, and differing approaches for each. Although the principles Gurney details may be applied to any medium, there is a chapter solely about pigments as found primarily in (oil) paints, which also touches on other tactile mediums such as markers, pastels, etc. Perhaps because I have a longstanding interest in color and thus am a bit more educated about that subject, I did not find the first half of this book to be quite as useful. However, there is a turning point in my case once Gurney discusses his Yurmby color wheel and the gamut masks he uses in conjunction with it. Almost everything after that point is fresh and interesting for me.

The Yurmby color wheel is Gurney’s original creation. Although you cannot find a premade one in any art store, upon a Goggle search I found a gamut mask tool online which features both a “standard” color wheel as well as the Yurmby wheel. This is a great tool for artists, though I caution you as to its use as all monitors display differently and print outs will also vary from what you see on screen (they will not be exact). It’s far better to obtain a printed copy of Color and Light and create a Yurmby wheel yourself using the book as a guide.

The discussion of gamuts and gamut masks you can apply over ANY color wheel (regardless of whether you use Gurney’s version, the Munsell wheel, or any other) so as to achieve a more harmonious palette is pivotal. Gurney makes the point that many artists face the issue of having too many colors, not too few, and that many paintings are, as a result, disjointed. Gurney merely comments on some common gamuts/palettes, and more or less says, “play with it.”

Other information you will find in this book includes: a breakdown of the types of light sources and of light itself; the effects of strong light on various pigments and dyes over a period of time (what sort of fading occurs); local color and our assumptions about it which influence our color mixing habits; considerations of how to use light and color to affect the mood of the piece; various methods of premixing and organizing your palette; the factors which influence light and color and what changes in each situation; various methods for gauging the color of an object; the shifts of color and light across surfaces and spaces; the anatomy of shadows; various lighting and color issues commonly faced in art; and the differences between how the eye sees versus how a camera sees.

Some of the principle points of the book are as follows (from the final segment of Chapter 11):

  1. Color and light are not separate topics, but rather closely related.
  2. Viewers will see the subject, but feel the color and light.
  3. Choose a lighting plan and stick with it.
  4. Know your wheel. (Whichever wheel you use.)
  5. Know your gamut.
  6. Vision is an active process.
  7. There is not a single brand of realism.
  8. Compare, compare, compare. (Color shifts, etc.)
  9. The outer eye fuels the inner eye. (Look for resources and study materials, and observe nature.)
  10. We are fortunate to be living today. (Use all of your easily accessible, high-tech resources and relatively inexpensive materials to your advantage.)

I like the fact that he is anything but absolute in his discussion of different aspects of color and light; that is, he will discuss different opinions of each and leave the reader to figure out his or her particular stance on the matter. I also like that he consistently describes the scientific explanation for everything he mentions, from the chemical composition of pigments to the angles of reflection and refraction of light in various situations.

Above and beyond his “technical tips,” he also has a reference section filled with terms and additional resources for you to look into should you desire more information about the topics mentioned in the book. All in all, this is a wonderful textbook for any artist, as it teaches information that may be simple review for more experienced artists yet foundational for neophytes. It’s definitely worth the money – I’d say that it is even more valuable than its predecessor, Imaginative Realism.

  1. […] studying art books such as The Artist’s Guide to Sketching, Imaginative Realism, and Color and Light, I have worked a little bit on a new painting. The subject matter pertains to some of my weekend […]

  2. […] intended to hand paint my own Yurmby color wheel after studying Color and Light by James Gurney, however as I have a bit of a time limit at present I opted to instead use Richard […]

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