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Books about Color & Color Theory

Books about Color & Color Theory by Johannes Itten

I love anything of Itten's. I own the three books below, as well as The Color Star. Itten's writing is quite enjoyable—his books are not only educational resources, but a pleasure to read.

The Art of Color begins with a short explanation of color physics, and the first 30 pages speak to color theory principles. The next 60-70 pages expand on his seven color contrasts, and he includes color plates of various artist's works (Mondrian, Rembrandt, Picasso, Cezanne, Klee and more,) as examples. The remainder of the book speaks to topics like color mixing, color harmony, and form & color.

The Elements of Color is really a condensed (and more affordable) version of The Art of Color. In the his first book, Itten devotes 10+ pages to each of the seven contrasts, The Elements of Color presents each contrast in 2-4 pages.

Note: The Art of Color is a great book, but buyer beware—its suggested retail price is $125.00 USD. I've seen it advertized for $600.00 when out of print. (And it is out of print right now.)

Design and Form is Itten's recount of his teaching and teaching methods used at the Bauhaus and beyound. He opens the book by writing: "The most precious moment in a student-teacher relationship, when the teacher succeeds in lighting an intellectual spark in a student as he gets through to his innermost being, can never be repeated. What I can describe of my teaching activity appears to me poor compared with what actually happened during my work in the classroom. The intonation, the rhythm, the sequence of words, time, and place, the intellectual conditions of the students, and all the other circumstances which create a dynamic atmosphere cannot be recreated; but this is the very medium which helps to reproduce this creative climate." (I wish I could have studied with him!)

The Color Star is not really a book, it is a reproduction of Itten's Color Star (color wheel) and templates to reveal various "harmonic color chords of two, three, four, five, and six tones." Although it does include a booklet containing information about the use of the Color Star.
(View some photos of The Color Star here.)

Interaction of Color - Josef Albers
The book by Alber's was required reading for a beginning class in color theory and I assume it remains the required text for classes today—it's a poetic introduction into color theory.

Notan: The light-dark principle of design - Dorr Bothwell The Notan book by Bothwell is a great introduction into the concepts of figure and ground and the importance of positive and negative space. She includes in her introduction a quote from Lao Tse:

We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the utility of the wheel depends.
We turn clay to make a vessel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the utility of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house;
And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the utility of the house depends.
Therefore, just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the utility of what is not.

Bothwell states: "This poem, attributed to Lao Tse, was written about two thousand years ago in China. it is a poem about Notan, the basis of all design. Before Notan or the meaning of this poem can be understood, it must be experienced. And the experience of Notan is what this book is all about."

Color for Interior Architecture - Mary C. Miller
Dimensional Color - Lois Swirnoff

Both of these books were important resources for me while working on my architectural thesis as they look into color theory principles as they apply to three-dimensional space.

Interior Design - John Pile
Color in Interior Design - John Pile

The first book was a required text book for an interior design class; it really is sort of a coffee table book - lots of pictures and examples, and an overview of various issues regarding interior design. I found it very helpful and still keep it around. The second is really an expansion of the information regarding color theory presented in the first. It offers a very good overview of color theory and then expands on the use of color in interior design. Well written, good examples.

Color and Meaning: Art, Science, and Symbolis - John Gage
This book does read like a text book, but I didn't buy it for a class. :)   It is a good resource of historical information regarding color theory throughout various periods.

Theory of Colours- Johann Wolfgang Goethe
Color (6th Edition) - Paul J. Zelanski

The Theory of Colours book is one that is required reading for most color courses; I own the 4th addition of Paul Zelanski's book - I am not certain what has changed but it skill receives good reviews.

Understanding Color: An Introduction for Designers - Linda Holtzschue
Color + Design: Transforming Interior Space - Ronald L. Reed
The New Munsell Student Color Set, 3rd Edition - Jim Long