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Old 01-30-2009, 02:20 PM
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gunzorro gunzorro is offline
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Munsell Book of Color

In order to make this originally long and convoluted thread more concise, I have trimmed out the more conversational posts on this copy of it. The original, unedited thread is on the main Oils forum here:
http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=544016
Dave (dcorc)


Opening a new chapter in the discussion of the Munsell System of Color Notation, I hope this thread will inspire discussion of the topic. Feel free to discuss anything presented here, including my paintings.

****************

Yesterday, January 29, 2009, I received my copy of the "Big Book", the Munsell Book of Color, which contains nearly 1600 color chips covering all ten basic Munsell Hues, broken down in 1/4 step intervals within and between the Hues.

This acquisition has always seemed like an extravagance to me, and an incredible financial commitment (the list price without any group or student discount is something like $700!).

I have heard many testimonials from owners of the book about how much of an asset it had been to their painting progress. Others have utilized the color information to develop methods that can be taught, and it would seem, endlessly discussed.

In looking over these extensive color listings, I'm sure most readers will see immediate uses for such information. Although there is no "Munsell Painting Method" it will be easy to see how this hard information lends itself to interpretation that can be used in many variations of practical application.

In late 2008, I bought the smaller book, The New Munsell Student Color Set, Second Edition (also know and "The Student Book") on eBay for under $30, and had gotten tremendous insight into the Munsell system, as well as extensive color theory from other sources cited to great depth in the Student Book. In fact, I would cite the Student Book, along with Faber Birren's Principles of Color, as the two biggest influences on my understanding of color theory and my developing color sense.

Between those two books, and following up on the many references they cite of other authors of color theory, I feel I've developed a broad understanding of the subject and hope to share some of that with those not previously so inclined, or others that also share my quest for color understanding.

Many of you readers know that I have previously published comparisons, here and on other forums, between colors and brands of oil paints, and have been moving in the direction of more formalized, or "clinical" descriptions (when will I buy a color spectrometer???). It was only a matter of time that I would evolve toward the Munsell system of notation and the theories and applications surrounding it.

In the past few months, the Munsell system has so infused and inspired me, that I have even incorporated color progressions based on this system into my abstract paintings. I make no apology for this inspiration, and don't necessarily consider others will follow this path. But for me, it has already paid off, leading to this expansive Munsell Book of Color.

The investment is sure to be worthwhile for me, as I can use it in paint comparisons, expanding on some of my previous tests, as well as using the reference to directly plot paint colors and mixing for my formalized oil paintings.

Even if the idea of purchasing the Big Book seems remote or impossible, I urge readers to please buy a copy of the Student Book and thoroughly read and understand it. It is a small investment (under $30 if you look around), and will expand your color understanding and horizon.

Note: The Big Book has only a few pages of the briefest description of the Munsell System and theory -- it is basically just the collection of chips. The real "meat and potatoes" is in the Student Book, and the color charts are simply a wonderful bonus! In other words, the Student Book offers essential information not found anywhere else.

Special thanks to artist Graydon Parrish for spearheading the dissemination and practical application of Munsell knowledge.

************

This first photo shows the complete set of two volumes of color chips that compose the Munsell Book of Color. It is apparent why it is also called the "Big Book".

The slip case is shown at the top, with two volumes open, in one volume showing the complete Neutral value scale broken down in 1/4 step intervals from black to white. The other volume is open to a complete graduated scale of one section of "yellow" (each hue is broken down into 1/4 step intervals, so there are four pages for each hue, see below examples of "red").

Also included in the photo on the left is the "Student Book" with its abbreviated color graduation for Hue 5R (red), seen in it expanded glory on the large red page, second from the left. The tube of Old Holland paint is included for scale.

The set of red is shown in its entirety (four pages), and every one of ten Munsell Hues has such a set of four pages, for a total of 40. There are also supplimentary pages such as the neutral scale, and the listing of "grey" colors (reduced chroma colors have their own special pages).



This photo shows the direct comparison of the Student Book page with its matte-finished mounted chips, and the glossy chips (removable) from the large book. It is evident that the scale is expanded. Also the Student Book only goes down to Value 2.5 for each color, where the Big Book goes to 2.0.



This photo shows a near-match with the removable color chip for the color of the Old Holland Cadmium Red Vermilioned paint. Notice the chip has been taken from the 7.5R page, not the middle red 5R page -- the 7.5R is noticably more "orange" in Hue shift. Note: The chips are glossy for two reasons -- greater chroma than matte finish, and paint can be directly applied to the chip for matching, then wiped off, leaving the chip unharmed.



Here is a recent example of finished paintings that have benefitted from my explorations of the Munsell System of Notation and the Faber Birren writings.

"Munsell Sprites"
6x6 each, oil on canvas



"Corner Key"
13x14, oil on poly canvas



"Munsell Rabbit Hole"
12x12, oil on linen on aluminum panel



"Gray Collaboration"
12x12, oil on linen on aluminum panel


Last edited by dcorc : 04-23-2011 at 10:10 AM.
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Old 01-31-2009, 11:19 AM
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gunzorro gunzorro is offline
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Re: Munsell Book of Color

You can all rest assured that I'm not a Munsell book salesman (no commission, sorry for me!), and I agree that the vast majority of artists are not going to need this "Big Book" of Munsell color chips.

But the company keeps manufacturing the books, and there seems to be a ready market somewhere among interested parties. When we get into color discussions, besides direct mixing examples to make a point or show a method, we can all benefit from the Munsell notation system. And without someone having a set of these chips, it gets a little tough to identify what is a concensus for "beige" or any other color once it is mixed.

Even owning the smaller and more affordable Student Book provides an understanding of the system and its notation, along with sample chips that can be used for most practical purposes. More important than that, the book is packed with color theory and mixing information, which goes directly to answer wetbob's concern about color mixing.

George -- Sorry about your eyes! But is seems like your post has increase the saturation quite a bit. So now you are responsible for more damage to the readers.

Howard & Alex -- Thanks. For me the experience is beyond the "Munsell System" to a rewiring of my brain for larger view of the color universe. I'm getting a tactile experience of being able to pull chips and arrange in strings or sequences much more quickly than with paint tests. Color matching against common objects and my past paint mix sampels is greatly enhancing my color identifying skills, which improves my imaginative color skills. I'm now better able to visualize color relationships in the vast color space, and use the chips to confirm.

Imagine how much expensive paint I have used to provide those paint comparisions -- the Munsell book may actually save me money.

However it is accomplished, understanding the relationship of color to paint seems to be one of the cornerstones of art, so it deserves some study and proficiency. I certainly don't expect everyone to dive in like me, but any knowledge can only help.

Unfortunately, for all us lazy folks, the detailed study of color is only a small part of the overall learning and skills needed to become an accomplished painter. The aspects of drawing and techniques would surely be far more complex to master!
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Old 01-31-2009, 11:58 AM
sttaffy sttaffy is offline
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Re: Munsell Book of Color

I've been lurking at the Rational Painting forums for a few months, and at first I was put off by what I thought was a cult-ish devotion to the Munsell color system. I was a 100% complete skeptic. I have an open mind, though, and I give a chance to anything that might make me a better painter. I bought the $30 student book and started reading it, and jeez!

Best 30 bucks I've ever spent on something art related. Just a handful of things I've learned:

Value compression, how people get information from value and where in the range we get that info, and how to make the most of the pitiful gamut that paint affords the artist (the best thing ever, wow)

the use of chroma and consciously reserving and pushing chroma to achieve effects

simultaneous contrast, using one color to make another color behave a certain way, like making a dull red glow, or a gray fall into the background, or make something look illuminated even in the very low value ranges

why, if the physical spectrum is linear, does violet wrap around the color wheel and meet red? (always bugged me!)

I am also, through jerking around with those little color chips, getting a lot better at discerning values, even across gradients, something that always screwed me up.

those are just a few of the invaluable concepts I've picked up through a month or so of tinkering. I use the knowledge I've gained in this silly little book in every painting since, even in drawing.

I have no affiliation with anything Munsell, but I thought it may be valuable to add my experience, coming from a 'convert.' I don't have any desire to get the big books, but I think you could get about 90% of the benefit of this system from the $30 book.

No matter what your feelings about the munsell color notation system, if you are serious about your craft it is just silly to deny yourself information, period.
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Old 01-31-2009, 12:24 PM
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Re: Munsell Book of Color

I just got my Student Book of Colour yesterday for $35 US (including shipping). I've only unwrapped the shrink wrap and quickly flipped through. Like Gunzorro, I thought I'd post the pics here too.
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Old 01-31-2009, 12:25 PM
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Re: Munsell Book of Color

If you can find it on eBay or Amazon, if you're wondering if it matters if you get "new" or "almost new", or used, I think you'll get more bang out of the buck if you look for a new book or a nearly new book for as long as the colour chips have NOT been assembled. Avoid the books that says "Already assembled so you don't have to do the work" - the whole point of this book is doing the exercise yourself so you get the concept.

More pics why:
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Old 01-31-2009, 12:57 PM
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Re: Munsell Book of Color

sstaffy & Laurie -- Outstanding posts!!!

sstaffy -- Thanks for sharing those valuable insights. I completely agree that that small book provides more useful infomation than any single color book I've ever read. I would choose it over the big book because it has all the theory and examples to change your relationship to color. And enough color chips to really make a difference in how you analyze color.

Laurie -- Thanks for the great photos and explanation. I agree, buy new or with the chips unopened.
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Old 02-01-2009, 06:23 AM
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Re: Munsell Book of Color

The idea of the detachable chips is great.
The books are at the same time useful and fascinating.

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Old 02-01-2009, 11:27 AM
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Re: Munsell Book of Color

Eduardo -- Thanks for seeing that.

Having the chips in these progressions is also useful for plotting graduations such as in skin tones for portrait artists, or colors moving through shadow and light. It is an awesome resource to have on hand.

I will be using the gray scale to mix up at least a few tubes of exact neutral gray paints, and tube them for future use -- I'll be able to see very precisely when I am at the exact value and neutrality I am looking for. No sloppy "close enough" tinted grays. I figure to make at least three tubes to start with in increments of two value steps, probably V3, V5 and V7. I'll be able to easily add more later, if needed, and have the confidence of batch to batch complete neutrality.
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Old 02-02-2009, 09:38 AM
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Re: Munsell Book of Color

It's worth it. Search on eBay or Amazon for a good priced book. You could get it from the Munsell store, but it's listed as $65.00, and I just paid 35 elsewhere.

So far, I just finished Chapter 1 yesterday. Explanation of the Munsell system, including its terminology, the hue wheel, the definition of Hue, Value and Chroma, and the notation. Now I understand more, and know what it means when someone says 5R 4/14 - which is a "hue of 5 red, with a value of 4 and a chroma of 14" or "a pure red color in which its value is medium dark and its chroma very strong."

Chapter 1 also had some some exercises. The exercises so far consisted of putting the HVC chips in place, and then getting some black and white and burnt sienna oil paints and mix them together as per instructions to create a neutral scale. It's kind of fun, really. I have to pick up card-stock paper, and gesso it so I can create neutral scale cards with a hole punch. (it's not unlike those greyscale cards you buy at store, but you get a better understanding and control of mixing colors at it's neutral level).

I had created a greyscale once before, using a store-brought scale as a comparison. I found my greyscale and compared it to the neutral chips from the book, and I would say I was off by 1 step, and only had 7 of 10 truely neutral. Now that I have this book's neutral chip, my next task is going to mix these neutral until I have it exactly.

Note: If you're using acrylics, you'll have to remember to compensate for the color shift from wet to dry. You'll have to compare your chips to the dry state, not wet state, to get an accurate match. Once you have a handle on that, it'll be easy to adapt acrylics, if you take notes.
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Old 02-02-2009, 02:10 PM
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Re: Munsell Book of Color

I like to study as many colour theories as possible, and experiment with it. Currently I use the warm/cool primaries system (warm red, cool red, warm blue cool blue, etc), but I feel that I'm missing out on something especially on my current painting.

As an artist, I feel that I need to get a stronger understanding of values, and so far, the Munsell book, by one chapter alone to date, is helping me get the concept of values. It explains how value works, and is giving me hands on exercises to understand these values. Certainly there are other books that will be just as good in explaining this as well, but right now, I'm going to give Munsell a try.
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Old 02-03-2009, 01:01 PM
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Re: Munsell Book of Color

Eduardo -- Here's my follow-up.

As you can see, I got carried beyond my initial intent! Instead of three tubes, it turned into six! And I will probably go back and do the Values 2 and 9 in the very near future.

Mixing the exact neutral grays is time consuming -- including beginning from a dead start through the clean-up was nearly 4 hours. BUT -- I won't need to do this again for quite some time, and when I do, I can replace a specific tube by matching the Munsell chip.

I've included the chips in the photo, along with the paint splotch from each tube.



The resulting tubes are approximately 50ml-55ml of paint.

Paints used were Old Holland Cremnitz 225ml tube, Old Holland Titanium 225ml, Blockx Mars Black, Old Holland Burnt Umber, Mussini Burnt Sienna and Old Holland Ultramarine Blue Light (used twice to make minor correction after making too warm). I added Maimeri Safflower Oil to the whites to make them more managable and bring them to my desired consistency, matching the other paints used as they came from the tube. I used about 2/3 of each large tube of OH paint.

Quite a bit of the Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber were needed to bring the black and white mixture to an exact neutral gray. I used almost a tube of each. The blue was only a trace and is only listed for complete disclosure of the procedure. The total percent of the warm tinting colors to the final paint mix comes to approximately 15% of the volume (around 60ml). Burnt Sienna predominates in the lighter values, and Burnt Umber in the dark values, although they are both used throughout the mixing process.

The paint samples were painted right onto the chips during the process, then the chip was taking to various lighting situations to compare for accuracy until an exact match was established. Without the chips (or some other industry standard), one would be at a complete loss to find exact neutral gray, as evidenced above by the addition of warm colors, and the corrections made with blue.

The result is a custom set of exact neutral grays that cannot be purchased anywhere. What is their value? $200? Whatever the cost, it would be quite an expense just for the premium paints used! But fairly cheap considering they don't exist otherwise! My opinion is that it would be foolish to go through this process and use cheap paint as the basis -- use the best and most reliable paint you can afford -- don't "cheap-out" with student paints.

It becomes apparent that for particularly exact paint use, the Big Book pays for itself fairly rapidly if it is used.
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Old 02-03-2009, 01:30 PM
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Re: Munsell Book of Color

Hone -- Done that myself many times!

As you can see, I used Mars Black, although any black will do: Ivory, Mars, Lamp, or even some natural earth blacks. The advantage of Mars is that it dries quite a bit faster, which is an advantage for the deep values. For the lights it doesn't matter much, but I feel it is a benefit to keep the pigments consistent throughout the complete value range.
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Old 02-03-2009, 01:43 PM
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Re: Munsell Book of Color

That's great, Gunz.

So, from a practical perspective, what are the benefits of having these perfect neutrals mixed and tubed? As opposed to why not just add white and/or black to your colors?
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Old 02-03-2009, 03:35 PM
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Re: Munsell Book of Color

Carey -- Thanks! Yes, I did! They are white mailing labels, with a piece of tape holding the ends down in the back as the adhesive wasn't designed for curved oily surfaces.

After I finished filling and sealing each tube, I used a little of the left over and mixed in lead napthante to speed drying (on a separate paper palette so as not to contaminate the paint!), then spread it on smoothly with the palette knife I used for mixing. As you can see, the paint dried very fast! I was careful to wash the knife in MS before going back to mix the next batches.

If the grays are done progressively, the same palette can be used and any remaining from the previous value can be used as a "starter" for the next batch.

Bright Eyes -- Thanks!

Laurie -- There are a few problems or inconveniences with mixing black and white on an as-needed basis, instead of having a reliable supply of exactly the correct value.

1) Over a period of time, you will invest far more time mixing to get the correct color.
2) As seen, the make-up of exact neutral gray (essential for correct color mixing to avoid hue shifts) is dependent on the addition of warmer colors to counteract the natural bluish shift in color if only using black and white.
3) Using a gray that is not perfectly neutral immediately introduces a hue shift in color mixing, without any predictable standard to refer to -- the main problem of attempting to hit gray with complements such as alizarin and viridian and other complements.

Complementary mixes can work, and these perfect grays reflect that in their minor use of warm earths to counteract the blue shift. But on a more intensely hued set of complements it is near impossible to find a combination that will remain neutral, especially when introducing other pigements to the mix. As with anything, it is a matter of degree.
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Old 02-04-2009, 07:03 AM
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Eduardo Flores Eduardo Flores is offline
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Re: Munsell Book of Color

Quote:
Originally Posted by Café LoLa
...what are the benefits...
Practical benefits are a direct consequence of conceptual benefits; in this case, the subtle beauty of that series of pure grays is proof of the importance of knowing how to mix paints exactly and of the fundamental importance of the concept of VALUE.
In the special case of Gunzorro's art, where the struggle of the artist is toward the mysterious beauty of color "per se" and of geometry, those tubes can be used for composing a delicious symphony whose title could be "The color of non-color".

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