Delve deep into the wide world of color and make your compositions stronger with a crash course in color theory. As much a science as it is an art, color theory is a complex study that outlines prismatic relationships and how the human eye perceives the spectrum. The foundation of color theory is the color wheel, a diagram invented by Isaac Newton that maps the colors of the rainbow onto a circle. Color theory is especially concerned with the harmony of color combinations. It also identifies certain colors as primary, others as secondary, and more still as tertiary tones, and these identifications are used to understand spectral relationships. Learn about all this, and much more, with the help of a color theory book. Browse our selection of the best books, below.
1. Interaction of Color: 50th Anniversary Edition
Lauded as one of the most important books on color ever written, artist Josef Albers’s Interaction of Color is an essential volume. A full course in book form, this text demands a high level of engagement and investment. Albers stays laser-focused on his material and includes a set of exercises for readers to complete as they make their way through the text.
2. Color by Betty Edwards: A Course in Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors
This volume by Betty Edwards, author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, serves as a fine introduction to color and color theory. A great choice for beginners and recreational artists, it covers all the information that would be presented in an advanced high school art class or introductory college course. The book is written in clear and intelligent language and includes a variety of exercises so the reader can gain hands-on learning experience.
3. Color Theory: An Essential Guide to Color—from Basic Principles to Practical Applications
In this guide, author Patti Mollica covers all the basics, from pigment properties to color-mixing psychology. This book is less esoteric than practical, with specialty topics like how to create lively black hues and realistic flesh tones. Concise and clear, this edition is great for those who want to acquire a basic understanding of color theory without getting lost in the weeds.
4. The Laws of Contrast of Colour
Since its publication in 1861, Michel Eugène Chevreul’s book on color contrast perception has remained a fundamental text on understanding the interplay of color. Chevreul, a French chemist, developed the theory of simultaneous contrast—the interaction between two colors side by side and how they appear to us. His ideas covered a range of arts—painting, carpet weaving, paper-staining, printing, illumination, even landscape—and have been applied by countless artists. Illustrated with 17 plates, this full-color facsimile is a classic study on color, but note that its 19th-century writing can be a little abstruse.
5. A Dictionary Of Color Combinations
Sanzo Wada, the author of the six-volume work on which this book is based, was an artist, teacher, and costume designer who was well ahead of his time. He published his original volumes in the 1930s, and his color combinations helped lay the foundation for contemporary color research. This diminutive book includes 348 color combinations that are beautifully designed and printed. Flip through its pages for ideas to use in your work.
6. Color and Meaning: Art, Science, and Symbolism
This research-packed book takes a sweeping look at our relationship to color and how we experience it. Author John Gage, who previously penned the award-winning Color and Culture, explores topics from historical discoveries about color to psychologists’ studies of color-to-color symbolism in medieval art. The approach of its 21 essays are quite scholarly, and the topics specialized, but they are filled with fascinating kernels of information sure to enlighten artists and color enthusiasts of any background.