Art Book Reviews
Review: Color and the Light – A Guide for the Realist Painter by James Gurney

Review: Color and the Light – A Guide for the Realist Painter by James Gurney

Fancy yourself a lover of light? Chances are, James Gurney’s Color and the Light will become one of the most valuable books you’ll come across.

Who is James Gurney

The man behind the beloved book series, Dinotopia, James Gurney, hails from New York and is considered one of the most accessible and influential artists today.

If you’ve never heard of him, take a quick scroll through his social media, his Instagram, his YouTube and especially his blog, Gurney Journey, and you’ll realize he never tires in sharing what he knows to fellow artists.

Spend some time scouring through his YouTube videos and marvel at the way he makes gouache and watercolor paintings look so effortless – just a few dabs here and there and the finished product is always mesmerizing.

Prior to becoming an author and independent artist, Mr. Gurney worked for various companies including NatGeo and the Ralph Bacchi Studio among the most notable. He even published a book on drawing with the late, “Painter of Light” Thomas Kinkade.

Okay, now on to the book.

Why This Book

I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit biased with this book because if I were shipped to an island somewhere and told to bring just three art books, this will be one of them. And if I ever need something to start a fire on the said island, the other two books will get burned first. That’s how important this is to me. Of course, a book is only paper and text unless you learn something from it or it teaches you something. And this is where Color and the Light excels.

The book serves as a sort-of follow-up to Mr. Gurney’s first book, Imaginative Realism. I say, sort of, because it’s not a companion book, but they go together perfect. Imaginative Realism is a book on how to paint and create things from the imagination as if they existed in real life while The Color and the Light deals with two most fundamental elements every artist should understand – color and light.

Book Details

  • Book Pages: 221
  • Publish Date: 2010
  • Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
  • ISBN: 978-0-7407-9771-2

First published in 2010, it’s already 10 years old as of 2020, but the information it contains is timeless. I can imagine someone reading this 20 years from now and still find the content helpful on their quest to understanding the intricacies of color and light in their work.

What’s the Book About

First, what it’s not about, it isn’t a how-to book. You might be familiar with art books giving you step-by-step instructions on how to achieve color and light in your drawings or paintings – this isn’t it.

Instead, it’s more an encyclopedia of the various light and color phenomenon artists perceive around them but don’t fully know the why’s or how’s. If you’ve looked at the sky and wondered how light filters through clouds or noticed that under extreme sunshine, the color looks faded. This book will help you understand that.

As artists, we see things differently and sometimes we don’t have a proper explanation for why or how these things happen. We see them visually but can’t point a finger on what it is. Color and the Light addresses most (if not all) of the major questions you need to know about these two elements.

Book Structure

The book is divided into mini chapters and beautifully arranged so the reader can follow along.

Containing 12 Chapters, each chapter breaks down the main topic and gives you bite-sized important information. It’s arranged so each subtopic occupies 2 pages with text alongside the painting or drawing samples.

One thing I love about this is that the text is as long as it needs to be and doesn’t ramble. That’s why it’s like an encyclopedia – you look for something, read the small passage and carry on or use the knowledge right away. Plus, James Gurney writes in a conversational style so even more technical or scientific principles are kept simple. There are scientific terms he uses to describe particular light or color effects, but most of these are familiar to the artist. There’s also a handy glossary at the end for reference.

If you’re not convinced to grab this book for its information, then buy it for the paintings and illustrations. Majority of the examples in the book are artworks done by Mr. Gurney, and they are stunning!

Should You Buy It

Absolutely! I’m picky with the art books I buy, mostly because they can get expensive quick but this one is worth paying for a hundred times over. In fact, I love it so much I bought two copies. And honestly, when I spotted a copy at my local bookstore the other day, I still wanted to buy it. It bugs me a book so useful was just sitting on the shelf untouched. (Oh, when I did return to buy it, it was gone, so I guess someone did buy it!) Anyway, I can’t recommend it enough.

A Peek Inside

Artist Information:

Grab the book together with the following:

Where To Buy

You can order from major retailers like Amazon or Book Depository. Your local bookshop might also have them. However, I would suggest you purchase a signed copy directly from Mr. Gurney’s website since you also get a cool doodle and signature to go with the book.

Disclaimer: I am NOT affiliated with the companies or stores mentioned and I wasn’t paid to do this review. All thoughts expressed here are my own. It comes from buying and using the product for myself.