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Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  8,844 ratings  ·  126 reviews
From New York Times best-selling author of the Dinotopia series, James Gurney, comes a carefully crafted and researched study on color and light in paintings. This art instruction book will accompany the acclaimed Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist.

James Gurney, New York Times best-selling author and artist of the Dinotopia series, follows Imaginative Rea
Paperback, 224 pages
Published November 30th 2010 by Andrews McMeel Publishing (first published November 9th 2010)
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Aalaa Yassin Yes, it's a handbook about color and light only. …moreYes, it's a handbook about color and light only. (less)

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 ·  8,844 ratings  ·  126 reviews

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Aug 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: art students, people wanting to improve their painting
Summary review: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - Let me be very clear on this point. This book comes very highly recommended by me. James Gurney's coverage of the topic of colour and light is comprehensive. Plus it is accessible art instruction of a very high order. I've not come across any other book about colour by a practising artist and illustrator which covers this topic in such breadth and depth and makes it accessible as well.
* I've got ones which are more technical - but they're much less accessible
Dec 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing

(More pictures at

Color and Light is the latest book from James Gurney and it's fantastic. It is a very accessible guide that's filled with interesting and useful information on color and light. It's fortunate we have so many colors today at our disposable, and now with this book, something to help make sense of them.

The book talks about color in a very practical sense, as you would see them in life. The lessons are observations of light and colors from James Gurney's years of
Sarah (CoolCurryBooks)
May 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, art
I’m usually not a fan of instructional art books. All to often, they devolve into breaking things down into a series of steps, or simply showing a the different stages of one image. While this breakdown might be helpful in creating that one painting or drawing, it rarely helps you develop the skills needed to apply to original work.

Thankfully, Color and Light is not that sort of book. Instead it is a wonderfully useful guide to how color and light works and how to incorporate them into your artw
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is another book every art person should own. However, it is a little "hand-wavy" as most art books unfortunately are. James Gurney at least stays away from weird mythical art mumbo-jumbo, as he actually has a formal scientific background (archeologist). He has a very active, informative blog on which you can see his rather rigorous methods. This book is more like a discovery channel documentary than a serious textbook. Nonetheless, Gurney's attention to detail shines through and he at least ...more
Khanh Cao
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book with lots of examples and applications. Theories are carefully explained and applied. Kudos to James Gurney for making this available to us!
Aug 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
That book is hands down.
Scott Head
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is outstanding for anyone interested in painting in any media. I learned more in this book than I ever learned in my college days - in art classes, illustration courses, color theory classes, etc. Each topic is broken down into manageable chunks, usually spanning a two page spread, and illustrated with examples of the topic at hand, and usually from the author's own works. I appreciate the valuable lessons on color and light, and the practical explanations of how to employ each idea. T ...more
Void lon iXaarii
Nov 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Overall I found the book quite interesting, his works and illustrations are also often impressive and there are a lot of interesting fun facts in it... however these latter two points are also the places where I think the book could have been better. I was expecting based on the promotion for the book to be more of an educational book, with more teaching, instead a good portion of it seemed to be oriented towards showcasing the author's works and trivia. I would have appreciated it even more if ...more
Dec 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art, art-instruction
A companion volume to Gurney's excellent "Imaginative Realism," "Color and Light" provides intelligent, practical advice on what the author describes as "the painter's two most fundamental tools." Gurney discusses elements of color, color mixing, surfaces and effects, light and form, atmospheric perspective, and much more in clear, understandable terms. The book is lavishly illustrated with examples and includes a brief but comprehensive history of the title subjects from the Renaissance to the ...more
Feb 13, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
I had high hopes for this book. It turned out to be a fraud. An ignorant quotes any source he found and randomly throws in color reproductions. Pages filled with generic writing about styles with no trace of understanding what's written:
- Classicism was not some noble pursuit, but the entrenchment of the king's artists as the newly created cast of university professors.
- color does not "creep in" magazines, but it is a difficult and costly process made gradually available to the masses through
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reference-books
This is definitely a good book, specially for people who use watercolor. It explains how light and color work on several different scenarios in a very thorough and detailed fashion, always with several examples. It also contains a ton of references and indications of other books on the subject. The book is heavy on technical content, but it is still a pleasant and informative reading. Definitely recommend it!
Nate B
Jul 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
James Gurney is the best. This book is a practical and unadorned guide to color and light, and from my limited experience the first book I'd recommend someone interested in the subject. The book is filled with useful information and contains no unnecessary fluff. Each section is paired with useful examples that clearly shows the principle he is discussing. I'll be returning to it for years. ...more
Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
For years I didn't read this book thinking it was about dinosaurs etc. This guy knows his stuff. This is serious information packaged in an imaginative cover, probably one of the most serious art instruction books out there & probably not for a beginner either, unless you are serious about learning. ...more
Aug 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: art
Good introduction to colour and light.

Interesting perspectives into the thought processes on how to look at a scene and deconstruct it, explain it and then paint it.

James Gurney also has a nice youtube channel:
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Any illustrator interested in improving on their colour and lighting.
Recommended to Somebody by: Caraid
An excellent book for those interested in building upon their fundamentals.

The book is filled with examples and artwork to help explain the ideas Gurney expresses. None of those long paragraphs with flowery language without a single image business. The book has examples-and tons of it. Also tons of James Gurneys wonderful artwork which looks really great on print. Even if you arent interested in the explanations the artwork is worth it.

Secondly, this book is not a step-by-step guide. There are n
Gina Lento
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read through this book twice and I will read it again, dragging it along on painting excursions to apply the examples in the book.
The book, physically, is extremely well made of quality paper and is quite heavy. The reproductions are excellent.
This is one of several books that I would recommend as required reading for any artist. This one should be a required text in Senior yr art and also in college painting classes. (Also, Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting). The earlier the better. How
Kevin de Ataíde
Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art
Right. I'm looking again at this lovely, lovely book. It will certainly make a handy reference guide later on, but its real power is its scientific approach to painting. It doesn't go far enough, but that would make it less approachable. It is good to hear from a professional that realism is not the slavish copying of nature to the point of imitating photography. Such an approach is visible around the internet and is discouraging for those who don't have the patience for it. One of my criticisms ...more
Juanita Violini
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art-instruction
This is the books I have been looking for. Even though it says 'for the Realist Painter' this is an excellent book for anyone who wants to understand how light and colour work for their artwork; good for the folk artist, mixed media artist and others.

Each section is two facing pages, so even if you only have a couple of minutes, you can still read an entire section. I loved this. The book is very well formatted. Because it is so tightly written, each sentence imparts valuable information. Thing
Alexander Leo Swenson
Oct 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you're interested in learning to draw form, Bridgman and Loomis stand pretty tall as classics (though Scott Robertson's How to Draw is also essential if you're interested more in industrial design and modern techniques for perspective).

The giant gap that modern art left between decent traditional art education and cheap full-color books meant most classic texts on painting focus too much on medium and not enough on color theory - and when they do try to talk about color, they sound like philo
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I don't paint. With this book, which is rich with color and light and disarmingly fun to look at, I can now look at a painting with so much more color and light. I can "see it" with a broader range of light and color composition now, that is, with much deeper appreciation and enjoyment that I couldn't have fathomed before. The beginning of this book also traces some modern techniques through of their historical developments--how color and light techniques came to be at the state they are at toda ...more
Jan 05, 2018 rated it liked it
I am more of a sketcher, so perhaps not the most practical art book to me but it is a great insight on how a professional fantasy, science fiction, and palaeological illustrator goes to work.
Delving deeper into colour theory and the theoretical side of painting, it is perhaps a duller read than James Gurney's Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist, which I would advise to buy first. Unless of course, you are specifically looking for colour theory.
Vincent Sargenti
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
You simply can't give this book enough stars, even if it were showered by every light in the heavens. This is the top book in it's field for artists in every media. This is the gold standard. There simply is no more authoritative voice than Gurney's. He is related to Dan Gurney the great race car driver and that makes him one of the greatest living artist of our time. Racing and painting: it doesn't get any better than that at any end of the gene pool. ...more
Facundo Ezekiel
Feb 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Color and Light by James Gurney is an absolutely necessary compendium for artists and people that want to understand how the illusion of reality is conveyed in a painting. Every now and then you might need to go back and refresh the memory on the basics and this is the perfect book for that on this particular subject.

It's a nice reference book that you'd like to keep at hand at any time if you're an artist or a dilettante.
Sep 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I need moaaarr of thissss. The words are easy to understand, the explanations are brief, like only the necessary points, along with tips and there's always pictures to pointed out the means. Most of it are about how color and light happened the way it happened in the nature and how to apply it in the painting. While I don't do (oil) painting, but I really enjoy the scientific explanations and the tips, and now I wish for updated/ extended version. Or maybe just a new book new topic altogether. ...more
Marco Klein
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Packed with so much information. I am amazed at how the author has at least one of his works available to illustrate each and every effect and technique that is mentioned. He also gives great insight into the physical and pratical reasons behind why things look as they do. Great for studying light and color for any painter.
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The concepts of color and light--and how light affects color (think of the blue/gold dress controversy) is technical and complicated. But Gurney is a good writer and explains all the concepts really well. This is a great guide for any painter of representational work. Can't wait to make up my own exercises to better understand the concepts. ...more
Lars Krystad
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely amazing and thorough. This book really shows the importance of knowledge in painting and explains the topics well. I don't think I could recommend this more for someone who wants to better understand their subject matter and how they're seeing it. It makes translating light to canvas that much easier. ...more
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Amazingly detailed and scientific view of art. I feel as though I should read through it about 12 more times in order to absorb the information.
But don’t be intimidated, it’s also a very easy to read book with lots of great informational nuggets that can be pulled out and used individually.
And so many lovely paintings!
May 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
For anyone interested in colour theory, making graphic novels or comics, or with a passion for capturing the natural world, I cannot recommend this book highly enough!! James Gurney is an underrated genius with a true passion and kindness and love of sharing artistic ideas. I will definitely be revisiting this book often!!
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An amazing book! This book is so full of helpful information that I am glad I purchased a copy rather than borrowing it from the library. I am sure I will return to this book constantly to review the valuable information and admire the beautiful artwork.
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Born June 14, 1958 in Glendale, California. Raised in Palo Alto, the youngest of five children of Joanna and Robert Gurney (a mechanical engineer). Earned a B.A. in Anthropology in 1979 with Phi Beta Kappa honors from the University of California at Berkeley. Studied painting at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena,California, where he met his wife Jeanette. In 1984 they moved to the Hudso ...more

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