Books Added – Color

There are three things about color which particularly interest me.

First, interesting color combinations, whether I find them on the exteriors of houses, or on the insides; on TV logos, or on advertisements; or in art.

Second, the mixing of colors, although my own interest is primarily in mixing them on a computer screen.

Third, the phenomenon called metamerism. We encounter it most often when two pieces of clothing appear to be the same color under one light (say, fluorescent), and appear to be different colors under some other light (incandescent, or daylight). I won’t say much more about metamerism today, because it is so much more complicated than combinations and mixing. It will require looking at the physiological basis of color perception. I might not be so interested in it had I not encountered an analysis of it using the pseudo-inverse of a matrix.

How do we choose color combinations? This leads us to the artist’s color wheel as a start, and then it gets more difficult. From the artist’s color wheel we get the terminology of monochromatic, analogous, complementary, and a host of other color schemes. And yet most such discussions focus on hue (the color) but not on combining tints, tones, and shades. That is, they often talk about analogous colors such as red, orange, and red-orange; but they don’t spend much time on whether it’s a pale red and a bright orange, etc..

But if we are interested in painting in watercolor, then we need to look at exactly what colors we can purchase. And then we will have to study the mixing of these colors. If, instead, we are interested in painting in oils, we need to look at the different set of colors we can purchase. Similarly for painting either the interior or the exterior of the house. We go to the hardware store and collect paint chips. (It might be interesting to find a bored attendant in the paint department of a hardware store, and see if he understands how paint is mixed. I suspect that I would actually have to talk to the paint manufacturer: I’ll bet they simply provide recipes for mixing paints. Oh, wait a minute, there are places which guarantee to match any paint sample which you provide. They can’t have a recipe for every possible sample, so this is where it gets interesting.)

Mixing colors gets interesting in another way: it leads us to another color wheel. Now, there are many ways of representing color spaces, but I think it is worthwhile to juxtapose the artist’s color wheel and the mixing color wheel. I’ll put up pictures in a subsequent post, but for now let me just state the distinction as follows.

On the artist’s color wheel, green is opposite red. On the mixing color wheel, cyan is opposite red. As a general rule, that’s one of the first things I look at whenever I see a “color selection” display: what does it show as the opposite of red?

Okay, let me summarize some of my books on the subject. (And as with the other subjects I have discussed, so for color: I own more books than just these. Perhaps more will be added later.)

First, a stand-alone book. Cohen called himself a professor of psychophysics, “the relationship between objects in the physical world and our consciousness of them”. His book “Visual Color and Color Mixture” proposes a model for metamerism, and I want to know if it really works. I could not tell that from his own book, but that may partly depend on the fact that the book was completed posthumously by a colleague, and partly on the fact that some of the background data is tabulated in reference books. Oh, on a quick look, the math seems to be right, but it’s not in the usual terminology.

Then we need some basic books about color harmony, that is, about the artist’s color wheel. “Color Harmony Workbook” has no author identified; it has the standard discussion of color schemes as monochromatic, analogous, complementary, etc. It characterizes colors with descriptive adjectives such as classic, refreshing, elegant, welcoming. It provides a great many samples of combinations. It also includes CMYK equivalents for the artist’s color wheel, but I have to say I’m not sure how to persuade my computer to use them.

There are two books of color combinations which I really, really like. They are both by Leslie Cabarga. One is about historical color combinations, and the other is about global color combinations. The starting point for every example is a real advertisement, painting, or package; that is, the starting point is a real piece of art. Then he adds examples showing what happens if you change the relative proportions of the colors. The historical book has such chapter headings as Victorian, Art Deco, Far Out 60s, Bad Color, and Earth Color. The global color book does the same thing for the present time around the world. In addition, it has two bonus palettes at the beginning: “deadly color” comes from body parts in various states of decomposition; “camouflage color” comes from a camouflage manual. Neither of these palettes is recommended for design, but they are certainly interesting. And yes, he has both RGB and CMYK specifications for his colors. And no, such specs are not the end of the story as far as reproducing color.

A more standard book of color combinations is Krause‘s “Color Index”. it has more than 1100 color combinations, but the illustrations are quite simple although numerous. (He is also the author of three other index books –Idea, Design Basics, and Layout – in case you are interested in graphic arts in general.)

If you have ever seen wallpaper designs by William Morris… well, they’re just awesome. There is a fairly large book of his writings and designs, “William Morris by himself”, and the designs embody some great color combinations.

There are two books for artists which I particularly like. They discuss both color harmony and color mixing. Wilcox‘ “Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green” is probably famous, because he can make a case for the title, although it contradicts the conventional wisdom. I believe – but I am not certain – that he is discussing oil paints. His framework is applicable more generally, to any situation where you are buying colors and trying to mix them yourself to create additional colors. (I like his general framework; I have no desire to get my hands dirty with oil paints or watercolors.)

I also like Quiller‘s “Color Choices”. While his basic discussion is equivalent to what I can find elsewhere, the overwhelming fact is that I like his paintings, that is, his examples.

Finally, we come to the science of color. The definitive book – this is reference, not casual reading – is Wyszecki & Stiles “Color Science”, in the Wiley Classics Library (meaning that it’s a republication of an old edition). Where everyone else draws pictures of such things as the standard cone responses, this book has almost 200 pages of the tables for creating those drawings, after the 690 pages of text! This should have the detail which I require in order to investigate Cohen’s study of metamerism.

A less detailed, and easier to read, textbook is Foley, van Dam, et al., “Computer Graphics: Principles and Practice”. This is where I found exact algorithms for colors on a computer.

A rather interesting book, not encyclopedic but still wide-ranging, is DeGrandis‘ “Theory and Use of Color”.

In addition, the first volume of the Feynman Lectures on Physics includes a couple of relevant chapters: “Color Vision” and “Mechanisms of Seeing”. In fact, since the volume is trying to cover a lot of different things, it’s the kind of book in which you can read a few chapters by themselves, for culture or refreshment.

But my absolute favorite book – on color – even though I needed Foley and van Dam to fill in the details, is “Number by Colors”, by Fortner & Meyer. It is a marvelous overview, from the light spectrum into the eye, then to RGB and HSI; from the CIE color diagram through color models, and the theory and practice of reproducing colors. The last third of the book focuses on color on computers, and culminates in the choice of colors for visualizing data – hence the title of the book, a play on the venerable “paint by numbers” schemes.

In sharp contrast to the rather dense Wyszecki & Stiles, this is a very readable book. I will admit that there are occasional typos or inconsistencies, but this book is my foundation, where I come from when I start looking in other books.

Cabarga, Leslie. The Designer’s Guide to Color Combinations. North Light Books, 1999.
ISBN 0-89134-857-3.
[art; 08 Feb 2009]
Starts with actual color schemes from Europe / U.S., and plays with them.

Cabarga, Leslie. The Designer’s Guide to Global Color Combinations. HOW Design Books, 2001.
ISBN 1-58180-195-5.
[art; 08 Feb 2009]
Starts with actual color schemes from around the world, and plays with them.

Cohen, Jozef B. Visual Color and Color Mixture.University of Illinois, 2001.
ISBN 0-252–02549-0.
[color theory; 08 Feb 2009]
From the introduction: “… he sets out to reformulate the algebra of color matching and color mixing.”

Color Harmony Workbook, Rockport Publishers, Inc., 1999.
ISBN 1-56496-435-3.
[art; 08 Feb 2009]
Color schemes for artists or decorators.

De Grandis, Luigina. Theory and Use of Color. Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1986.
ISBN 0-8109-2317-3.
[color theory; 08 Feb 2009]
A small but wide-ranging exploration of color theory.

Feynman, Richard P.; Leighton, Robert B.; Sands, Matthew. The Feynman Lectures on Physics I: Mainly Mechanics, Radiation, and Heat. Addison-Wesley, 1966;
[freshman physics; 08 Feb 2009]
This is Feynman. What else need I say? As its title suggests, this is a wide-ranging first-year text. More so than the other two volumes, this is one you can pick up in order to read two or three chapters on one topic.

Foley, James D.; van Dam, Andries; Feiner, Steven K.; Hughes, John F. Computer Graphics: Principles and Practice (2nd ed. in C). Addison-Wesley, 1997 (reprinted with corrections).
ISBN 0-201-84840-6.
[computer graphics; 08 Feb 2009]
This is said to be quite out of date, but it’s what I have.

Fortner, Brand; Meyer, Theodore E. Number by Colors. Springer (Telos), 1997.
ISBN 0-387-94685-3.
[color theory; 08 Feb 2009]
Culminates with choosing color schemes for representing data, but it is a magnificent overview of color theory basics.

Naylor, Gillian (editor); William Morris by himself. Chartwell Books, 2001.
ISBN 0-7858-1275-X.
[art; 08 Feb 2009]
From the back of the book: “William Morris is the most influential British designer of the last 100 years and this collection combines Morris’s writings and his famous designs for wallpapers, fabrics, tapestries, embroideries, carpets, books and stained-glass.”

Quiller, Stephen. Color Choices. Watson-Guptill Publications, 1989.
ISBN 0-8230-0696-4.
[art; 08 Feb 2009]
Paint color schemes for artists.

Wilcox, Michael. Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green. North Light Books, 1994 (revised edition).
ISBN 0-89134-622-8.
[art, color theory; 08 Feb 2009]
How to mix store-bought colors and understand the results.

Wysecki, Günther; Stiles, W.S. . Color Science: Concepts and Methods, Quantitative Data and Formulae. Wiley-Interscience, 1982 (second ed., republished 2000.)
ISBN 0-471-39918-3.
[color theory; 08 Feb 2009]
Heavy-duty reference. I have heard that it is a bit out of date, but I have not heard of any replacement.


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