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Book Review: Color Theory by Patti Mollica

While doing research for my painting basics post, I pulled out a book I’ve had on color theory. After reading through it, I thought I would provide a book review and my takeaways from this book.

Book Review of Color Theory by Patti Mollica

Color Theory by Patti Mollica is a fairly short but dense book in the Artist’s Library Series aimed at more traditional artists. What I mean by this is that the colors she mentions and tools used are the typical set used by canvas painters. So while the topic of learning color theory is helpful, we just need to translate it into painting miniatures.

I am listing learning color theory as one of the things to help painters improve. By learning how colors interact and mix, you can create moods and feeling, or create focus to particular areas of the model.

Book Contents

At only 52 pages, it is easy to skim through Color Theory and get a sense of what it offers. Patti breaks the book down into five sections: the history of color, color basics, pigments & paints, communicating with color, and color in action.

History of Color

I think a better title to this section would be What is Paint/Color as the history side is rather light. But what is interesting is where she discuss the physics of color and pigments. We may have learned about it in high school physics class, but getting a refresher on how we see colors was interesting.

Color Basics

This is where Patti breaks down the color wheel, hue and saturation, color temperature, and color schemes. This could be the most helpful section as it provides the foundation of color choices and how they interact.

Color Theory Book Review with Hue

Copy of page from Color Theory

Hue and Saturation are two of the terms that painters throw around that can be frustrating if you don’t get what they mean. Instead, Patti gives good examples of how hue is what happens to a color if you mix white, black, or gray.

Saturation Examples by Patti from Color Theory

She also has three paintings showing what a saturated color scheme looks like compared to a desaturated one, and how doing a mix provides even more interest.

Picking a color scheme using the color wheel

Color Scheme from Color Theory book

The final part of this section that could be helpful to hobbyist is how the color wheel can help us pick color schemes. But instead of just talking about using complementary colors or a triad scheme, she has example paintings that show it in action and tips on using it to the best effect.

Pigments and Paints

This section may at first appear to not be helpful as the color selection for hobbyists is huge and mixing paints isn’t often required.

What I did find helpful is in creating desaturated colors as most of the paint ranges are quite vibrant. By mixing a bit of the color’s compliment it provides a ‘colorful gray’ that still provides a distinct color, but less vibrant.

This can also be done by mixing colors that ‘lean’ towards the compliment. By leaning, she means the color is towards a compliment. So an orange-red ‘leans’ towards yellow, same as a blue-green. If you mix both of this together you get a purple, but a duller version.

Communicating with Color

This is where color philosophy and mood get discussed. Historically, each color has taken on a different meaning and feeling. You can use this to emphasize individual elements on your miniature. Reds and oranges add intensity while blues and purples imply coolness and royalty.

It was also interesting to see the different styles of traditional painting and how they would relate to our hobby. There are those who paint in a way to capture realism, while I think I fall in the ‘painterly’ style – meaning brush strokes are loose, and what is usually called Blanchian could be considered Expressionist in that colors are chosen to convey mood rather than accuracy.

Personal Approaches to Color

In this final section, Patti shows some of her work and discusses how it uses the different techniques discussed in the book. It is a nice wrap-up and an excellent way to see the abstract concepts in use.


Overall I think Color Theory is a nice book to help hobbyists understand the concepts and start to apply them in their work. It breaks down the vague concepts like color temperature and displays what it means to put it to use.

You can pick it up for only $10 on Amazon and start improving your painting.

Do you have other painting books you have found helpful or use color theory concepts to improve your painting skills? Hit up the comments below and let me know.

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