Color Choices, by Stephen Quiller

By | 8 April 11

Color Choices, by Stephen QuillerColor Choices – Making Color Sense Out of Color Theory, by Stephen Quiller is a visually inspiring book for painters, especially landscape and still life painters.

Does it actually make “color sense out of color theory”?  I’m not so sure, but I’m also not sure if that matters.

Stephen Quiller has created his own color wheel, and that helps to demonstrate the qualities of color.  However, if you’re new to painting or color theory, just focus on the outer wheel, not the additions towards the center.

It will probably show you how the color wheel really works.

With Quiller’s color wheel, the variations — cool to warm, and one color to the next — can make more sense than the color wheel they tried to teach you in first grade art class.

For people working with dyes, this book could be pure gold.

However, this book was (mostly) written for fine art painters.

Almost unique among art book authors, Quiller lists specific colors (by brand name) so you can work with the exact same colors he does… and hopefully achieve similar results.

I’ll admit that, though I’ve owned my (now paint-stained) copy for over ten years, I’ve never read the whole thing.  I’m a real “show me, don’t tell me” kind of person.

But that’s something Quiller does pretty well:  He’s included a variety of truly lovely paintings — in a variety of painting media — that illustrate different limited palettes (using just a few, carefully-chosen colors) and their results.

The text…? Well, if you just love listening to lectures and you can’t get enough information about color theory, you may devour every word in this book.

I just wasn’t that interested.  Maybe I will be, someday.

And frankly, for those of us who wear reading glasses, the text is fairly small to accommodate the spaces around the large, lavish and juicy examples throughout the book.  So, you’d have to really want to read the text.

I guess I’m just not a color theory enthusiast.  I want to see what colors look like, against each other.  Fortunately, Quiller has lots of examples, from monochromatic paintings to pastels to rich, crayon-box colors made more vivid with acrylics.

In fact, most of Quiller’s illustrations feature watercolors or acrylics.  If you’re working in either of those media, this book may be especially useful.

If you’re new to acrylic painting, I suggest Quiller’s Acrylic Painting Techniques, instead.  It includes an overview of his approach to color and — for some artists — that may be enough.

On the other hand, if you’re an advanced artist working in other media — including collage — Quiller’s Color Choices book may be the resource you’ve needed to explore new color combinations and approaches.


  • Lots of detailed color theory: history, examples, and illustrations.
  • Lavish illustrations using a wide variety of palettes and approaches to color.
  • Brand names and exact color names of products make it easy to replicate Quiller’s effects.
  • Very useful for teachers from middle school through university level art.  You’ll find some great inspirations for your lesson plans.


  • Despite the vivid book cover, I’d categorize most of Quiller’s interior illustrations as “pretty” and “calming,” not deeply energizing.
  • Text reads like a university textbook… which it might be.
  • For me, much of Quiller’s work succeeds due to composition more than color, though color is often a key element.


Though my review may sound a little ho-hum, I really do keep this book within reach in my studio.

If you’ve wanted to delve deeply into color theory, this is an important book to own, if only for the unique Quiller Color Wheel that folds out.

In addition, if your goal is to paint pretty watercolors and landscapes with a sense of profound serenity and deep beauty, Quiller’s book is excellent.

art books review - 3.5 stars

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