Book Review, Reviews and Recommendations

Review: Artist’s Toolbox: Colour


Title: Artist’s Toolbox: Color

Author: Walter Foster Creative Team

ISBN-13: 9781633222724

Date published: 01 December 2017

Price: RRP AU$19.99

There is a summary down the bottom if you’d like a more concise answer to what I think of this book.

This is part of a new series of reference books aimed at beginners to the world of traditional art. The key thing to note here is that it really is for total beginners.

The book is broken down into four parts;

1. Colour basics and painting concepts – this chapter briefly covers topics like basic colour terms and concepts, and a discussion of what colour is. I enjoyed the inclusion of the psychology and mood of colour. The chapter concludes with colour schemes, composition, and how to infuse colour.

There is a lot of basic information in this chapter for complete beginners – more advanced artists might pick up a snippet or two, but it will be a rehash of concepts and ideas they’ll already be familiar with.

2. Pigments – this chapter does a good job in explaining the various characteristics paints can have. This includes transparency and opacity, staining and nonstaining, masstone and undertone, and lightfastness. It ends with a pigment quality chart, which lists some of the most common colours and what characteristics they have.

I was disappointed that they didn’t cover pigment’s numbers, as categorised by the Colour Index International. This might not seem like a big deal for beginners, but it is something that should have been introduced in this section regardless of skill level, because the pigments that are used in colours affect their characteristics. Just because paints share a name doesn’t mean they share pigments, and as a result they may handle differently than the ones described.

Take the colour Alizarin crimson as an example. This is a colour that can trace it’s history back 5,000 years to a dye for clothing. It is made with Pigment Red 83 (PR83). Despite it’s popularly this is a colour that is known to be fugitive (ie. it fades and changes colour when exposed to light) very quickly. It remains popular as it’s a colour that’s traditionally been used, and people like to be inspired by the old masters. Paint companies now often also offer versions of a “Permanent” Alizarin crimson, their take on the colour using other pigments to offer a similar colour that’s far more lightfast.

Do I expect a little reference book like this to explain all that, for each colour? No. But for a book that’s specifically on colour I would expect them to provide a better introduction into actual pigments. Otherwise they should have just named this section Paint.

3. Colour Mixing – this chapter touches briefly on painting supplies before moving onto colour mixing techniques – especially watercolour (which can be mixed in various ways compared to acrylic/oil), before ending in suggested colour mixes.

The supplies covered are described very briefly. It wouldn’t be enough of a description for a complete beginner (ie. someone deciding what supplies they need for the very first time), it’s more like a checklist to make sure you’ve got everything on hand.

Now keeping in mind I’m a watercolourist, I found the step-by-step instructions (with pictures!) for the acrylic/oil mixing simple and straightforward to understand. I couldn’t tell you if they missed any mixing techniques that could have been put into this.

I was unimpressed with the colour mixing techniques they presented for watercolour. Some descriptions were alright, but others were a little vague and felt like they skipped a step (or several). And the images they provided for examples were vaguely captioned – they would provide two or more examples next to each other, but the description required very careful reading to understand which example was which technique. Honestly, a beginner would be far better relying on other resources to learn painting and mixing techniques.

Moving onto the section where they present colour mixing ‘recipes’. For watercolour they actually provided a suggested palette of colours, but they did not for acrylic or oil. They provide general concepts (ie. vibrant greens can be mixed from a yellow-leaning blue mixed with a blue-leaning yellow) and they give recipes (ie. Phthalo blue + lemon yellow), but at no point in the book do they really explain warm/cool shades within a colour. The paint pigment chart presented earlier doesn’t even include all the colours they suggest now in this section (ie. they don’t list Lemon Yellow at all). And while the mixed colour swatches they provide on the pages are mildly interesting, they are of limited use due to the fact colours shown on a page are edited and will look different in person. Not to mention that two colours mixed together will give you varying colours/shades between them…

4. Painting Demonstrations – in this section you will find six painting demonstrations – two watercolour, two oil and two acrylic projects.

I found this part of the book useless for anything more than inspiration. None of the come with a supplies list, the descriptions and instructions are short paragraphs and there’s few pictures for guidance. For a book that feels and reads like it’s aimed at total beginners, total beginners will struggle to attempt any of these projects without stepping away from this book and accessing other resources.


This is a book that is best for a total beginner to the world of art. For that person who is thinking about getting their very first art supplies and wants to get a better understanding of colour and how to use it, before starting their first project. There is a lot of information here for new artists to take in, but it is set up in such a way that it’s easy to go back and work through each snippet of information as it becomes relevant or of interest for you.

More advanced artists will find little use for this book. While you may pick up a tip or a hint here and there, most of what this book offers you will have already learned or figured out on your own.

This is a book I’d recommend owning a physical copy – it would be a handy reference to have within arms reach. I do not recommend a digital or e-copy as the one I received was formatted strangely. All the content was there, but the images were often screwed and it didn’t flow comfortably when you were trying to figure what image went with what caption. This wouldn’t be an issue with a physical copy.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, via Net Galley, in exchange for my thoughts and opinions. All opinions here are my own and shared because I want to share them, the good and the bad.

Colour Spike
My most recent take on a colour ‘wheel’. Something a little different!