Color and Light

Cover of the book color and light by James Gurney
Color and Light by James Gurney

Color and Light, is a Guide for Realist Painters by James Gurney. He is the author and illustrator of the Dinotopia series of books. James is a superb artist and I follow his blog with keen interest. At first I thought it would have very little relevance for anything that I was doing but I was quickly proved quite wrong. He posts every day and if you are not interested in one day’s subject there will be something for you in the next few posts. He is an accomplished artist and teacher as well as a best selling author. I received this book as a Christmas present and I’ve been totally blown away by the content. He not only explains the concepts he provides the theory and then practical examples for each one, drawing on his decades of experience. He uses paintings from Dinotopia but also his landscape and local art works. He loves showing the beauty in the mundane and will paint a parking lot or a set of gumball machines in a laundry. I am hoping to have a go at using paint in the next few months and his book will be a constant companion. I have read it from cover to cover. I’ll be honest there were some difficult bits that I struggled with. My knowledge of colour was limited to secondary school physics and it really wasn’t much use. I now have a rudimentary understanding of the colour wheel and how to create a ‘gamut’ for a painting. 

Drawing of a green pepper using coloured pencils.
Green pepper done with coloured pencils.

He is a keen advocate of painting from life and not using photos for reference. I have tried this once. It wasn’t so much plein air (outdoors) as I had a go at a green pepper at the kitchen table, using a green pepper as reference (just to be clear), It was ok, but there is a lot of work to do.  I do think he’s right about the use of photos. Photos certainly flatten a subject but until I can get a bird to sit still for about 8 hours, I’m stuck with using the camera.  


  1. His work does look very interesting — I have just subscribed to his blog (I could do with some advice for when I next start to paint again…). I love your pepper — your shading and highlighs really make it 3D — and how exciting that you’re going to try paints soon (I wonder which ones… acrylic, water, oils…?). Best of luck, it’s great fun and you really learn about colours too when you’re actually mixing and experimenting.


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