Wikipedia Color Resources

Wikipedia Color Resources
There are lots of color resources on the web, for artists, designers and others, but an often overlooked one is Wikipedia, the venerable user-edited online encyclopedia.

Whatever you may say about the reliability of the information on Wikipedia (or from Britannica, or any other single resource, for that matter), I rarely consider a source like Wikipedia a place to end a search, but, like Google, a place to begin one.

Though not specifically an artist’s resource, Wikipedia’s color related articles are numerous and varied.

You might find it interesting to start with their “List of Colors“. The list includes a lot of non-artist colors, like “British Racing Green” and “Psychedelic Purple”, but the familiar artist pigments are there too. Links for those lead to articles with information about the pigment, including source materials, history, chemical composition, lightfastness, typical use, hazardous qualities, color system numbers and sometimes more.

Some are grouped; Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Orange and Cadmium Red all lead to a single entry for “Cadmium pigments“, but some have more extensive and interesting listings, like the history behind Ultramarine.

There are articles about Color Theory, Color Vision, the Color Wheel, Complimentary Color, Primary Color, Hue, Saturation and many other related topics.

Though hardly an exhaustive resource on color for artists, it does seem a valuable resource to add to your virtual palette.

Confident Color

Confident Color: An Artist's Guide to Harmony, Contrast and Unity, Nita Leland
This is one of those books for which the binding is key.

Nita Leland’s Confident Color: An Artist’s Guide to Harmony, Contrast and Unity is published by venerable art instruction book publisher North Light Books.

Like Leland’s previous book, The New Creative Artist (which I reviewed here) and Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing with Imagination (my review here), North Light has published it in their hybrid hardback/spiral binding, giving the overt clue that this is a book meant to be used, rather then simply read.

The spiral binding allows for laying the book flat on your drawing table, the hardcover allows for rough and continued handling, and the combination allows for propping the book open upright on the rail of an easel.

The intention of the publisher clearly matches that of the writer, to get the most out of this book, it needs to be used, worked with over time; and will have shown its best service when ragged at the edges and spattered with paint.

Not that you couldn’t settle into the Comfy Chair and find lots of interest to read through and look at; Leland drills through a concise introduction to color theory, history and terminology and covers the basics of understanding palettes and pigments, all augmented with her selections of works from a variety of contemporary working artists and a few of her own. The real value, though, is in the exercises, trials, procedures and processes that form the core of the book.

If you’re lucky, you may have encountered a teacher like Leland in your formative years, one who will, however gently and politely, continue to poke and prod and push you to try something new, move out of your comfort zone, experiment, play and explore.

This isn’t random try-whatever experimentation, however; in Confident Color Leland provides you with guided exploration, designed to systematically familiarize you with the ranges of relationships presented by your color choices.

There is a “Look Inside” preview on the Amazon listing, though as is often the case, the pages represented don’t give the best indication of the actual content of the book. The index is actually better for that.

The book is aimed at beginners as well as more advanced artists, and though watercolor is Leland’s medium and some of the pigments mentioned are particular to watercolor, the general palettes are set up with colors that work well across most mediums that involve color.

In some ways this is an extension of and companion to Leland’s 1998 book Exploring Color, which has become something of a standard among books on working with color. That book, though without the advantage of the lay-flat binding, was also meant to be worked with.

Both volumes focus alternately on the split-primary process of color mixing and on the exploration of variations on the red/blue/yellow triads that serve as the basis for several of many possible color wheels.

She urges you to work with and understand the difference between palettes composed of muted, intense and earth-toned colors, as well as the “workhorse” colors that form the basis of most artist’s palettes.

In pursuing her exercises and explorations, you might work with colors and combinations that you would’t use in other circumstances, which may seem counter productive; but just as contour drawing is rarely used as the style for a finished work, knowing artists will work at it with dedication, letting the practice inform and strengthen their finished style.

This isn’t the kind of book that says “mix two parts Cad Yellow to one part Ultramarine to paint this foliage”; in Confident Color, Leland is suggesting if you experiment with these excursions into color harmony and contrast, work through the mixtures possible with variations of of the primary triad and really get the feeling for how colors act and react with one another, you’ll instinctively know what to mix when you want to paint something.

The book’s binding is the key. Confidence comes from doing.

Color Vision & Art

Michelangelo's Doni Holy Family, Monet's Impression: Sunrise, on WebExhibits
Color Vision & Art is an online feature on WebExhibits, which describes itself as an “interactive museum of science, humanities and culture”.

The feature is a series of related articles, accompanied by images and simple Flash interactives, that explore the relationship of human color perception to the uses of color in art. The feature is more extensive than it appears first, each section divided into secondary and sometimes tertiary levels of topics.

The articles move from basic information about light, color and vision, through color theory and the color wheel (additionally, see my post on History of the Color Wheel), paints and pigments (for which there is a dedicated feature on WebExhibits, Pigments Through the Ages) into color interactions and peripheral vision. The latter has some interesting essays on the use of detail and blurring in paintings at various points in art history.

I found the section on Color Interactions Simultaneous Contrast a little spare, as I feel this is at the core of understanding and using color, and could have benefitted from additional interactions and demonstrations, (particularly demonstrations such as the striking examples of simultaneous contrast shown by modern color perception demonstrations like the ones I wrote about here and here).

However, I found particular interest in the section on Luminance and equiluminance, or value contrasts and value similarities. This is illustrated particularly well in simple interactives that use sliders to remove the color and show the strong value relationships in Michelangelo’s Doni Holy Family and the very different ones in Monet’s Impression: Sunrise. The latter is the painting from which the term “Impressionism”, originally a bit of derisive mockery by critics, came into use.

The interactives allow you to gradually remove the color from both paintings, viewing the difference in their color contrasts and value contrasts. (The images above are just screen captures and are not interactive.)

Most fascinating is the combination of deliberate lack of value contrast and simultaneous strong color contrast in the key parts of Monet’s painting, also demonstrated in his Poppies, near Argenteuil, producing a conflict in the perception of the contrast within the brain that makes the area seem to vibrate.

Overall, the features are, if you will excuse the expression, illuminating, and well worth both casual perusal and more dedicated reading if you have the time.

Other features in WebExhibits of particular interest to Lines and Colors readers include Causes of Color, Pigments Through the Ages, Bellini’s “Feast of the Gods” and Van Gogh’s Letters.


Like many of the online interactive color visualization and color picking utilities, ColorJack offers multiple interfaces with different options and capabilities.

The most interesting of these, and most popular of the ColorJack options, is their Color Sphere, or Color Theory Visualizer (image above, top). More than simply a color picker, this displays the secondary, tertiary and multiple other colors in some of the most common color harmony relationships (complimentary, split-complementary, triadic, etc.); and allows you to dynamically see their relationship in the color space as you move the chosen color within the sphere, or adjust one of the color’s characteristics in the bars to the right of the sphere.

Another interface is the Color Galaxy (above, second down); it displays the color wheel position of various named colors, displayed from a color index chosen from a drop-down menu at top left. This would be more useful to painters if there were a choice traditional painters pigments, though you will find some of them in the “CNE” choice. There are choices for Munsell’s catalog listings, though you need to be familiar with his cryptic indexing system for it to be particularly useful.

Other options include the obligatory swatches feature, an online drawing app they call Sketchpad (above, third down), other color pickers, color relates articles, and a blog (image above, bottom).

Navigation between the sections is inconsistent, but you’ll find interesting features if you’re willing to flip around and investigate.

Master Artists’ Palettes

Master Artists' Palettes
Writing in her blog on the Telegraph in an article titled Why preserve Van Gogh’s palette?, Lucy Davies points to some of the considerations for artists learning from the palettes of the masters, both in choice and arrangement of colors.

Those fascinated by the techniques of the great painters would benefit from understanding their palettes. Even when learning from contemporary artists, the palette plays a greater part than is often acknowledged.

I always find instructional videos exasperating when they ignore color mixing and act as though the brush is always magically loaded with the the proper color, with little thought or work on the part of the artist. This seems to apply to a great majority of the instructional videos one encounters on the web, though those that are professionally prepared often address color mixing more thoroughly (as in the instructional videos of Richard Schmid).

There has, of course, been an effort to preserve the palettes of master artists when possible, even if only as historic artifacts. Davies’ article shows several, including those of Eugene Delacroix (image above, top), Gustave Moreau, Auguste Renoir, Georges Seurat and Edgar Degas (image above, bottom) .

If you look around, you can find other photos of famous artists’ palettes, as well as much verbal discussion and listing of the colors used by individual artists, including those of Delacroix, Whistler, Vermeer, Degas and Monet. Often these discussions will make a point of mentioning modern equivalents to fugitive colors used in the originals.

In general, the range of colors available to artists has increased over time, with significant additions in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries as the range of materials increased and artificial pigments became widely explored, importantly reducing reliance on pigments that are not lightfast.

Davies also links to selections by art supplier Natural Pigments which sells sets of colors matched to Titian’s Palette and Goya’s Palette.

The article is peppered with links and is a nice jumping off point on the subject, including links to discussion of color theory, another aspect of artists’ practice that has changed over time (see my post on the History of the Color Wheel).

[Via Neatorama]

The Color Wheel on Gurney Journey

The Color Wheel on Gurney Journey, James Gurney
Painter and illustrator James Gurney, who I recently profiled here, is currently writing a series of fascinating posts on his blog, Gurney Journey, about The Color Wheel.

In them he is exploring questions that are not raised often enough, including questioning the concept of exactly what is a primary color, and how might primary colors be interpreted differently; not just in different color spaces, additive and subtractive, but even within the familiar paradigms of modern color theory and practice.

The colors that are considered primaries, as he points out, are not set in stone.

The series, of which there are three installments to date, is likely part of the material Gurney is producing for his upcoming book, Color & Light.

I don’t know how many posts there will be in this series, but you may find that it encourages you to think about color and color mixing a little differently.

(You may find it useful to supplement your reading with my post on the History of the Color Wheel.)