Close Encounters

You know how child-free adults are always looking for a loaner-kid to take to the latest Pixar movie?… like, as a beard? Well two kids books just came out that offer a similar (if more cerebral) vicarious satisfaction.

Pantone: Colors and Chuck Close’s Face Book are engaging publications that may even imbue some artistic sensibility.

Pantone’s Colors is based on the Dennis Hoppper/Sean Penn movie of the same name, about policing L.A. gangs. Wait, no it’s not. Why did I even write that?

Pantone: Colors teaches colors using vibrant illustrations of representative objects. Nothing new there: a red wagon, a yellow lion. But each facing page has a multitude of tinted squares showing shades of the featured color.


“What,” you may wonder, “is the big whoop with shades?” Books that teach color always have the yellowest rubber duck, or the greenest grass. But with its tiles of hues, Pantone: Colors subtly introduces concepts like nuance, subjectivity and specificity.

I was never especially good at color euphemisms. For me, salmon, mauve and fuchsia all register as pink. I must completely disregard colors like coral, since they don’t fit neatly into my internal color wheel. But Pantone: Colors stylishly imparts the basics, while evoking practical gradations as readers’ sophistication grows.


Even more thrilling is Chuck Close’s Face Book. It’s about the frustrated affections of a Harvard introvert who’s driven to engineer the ultimate social network. No wait, that’s not it at all.

Face Book is painter Chuck Close’s gratifyingly frank account of his artistic journey. A freeform Q&A format makes it easy to jump in anywhere. But Close’s story is so compelling – from dyslexic misfit to avant-garde portraitist to chest-down paralysis to resurgent artistic brilliance – that a chronological reading becomes irresistible.

Chuck’s art is breathtakingly impressionistic, abstract, photographic, pop, and pointillist – often in the same painting. Since Close exclusively paints faces on a large scale, his art is among the most arresting and accessible. Gazing at these portraits, the viewer is inevitably drawn in for a point blank scrutinization, then gently pushed back until the full scope of the portrait is resolved. Young readers will thrill to the shifting dynamic between the artist’s process and his subjects.

Chuck Close made this portrait entirely with his fingerprints. Fanny/Fingerpainting, 1985. Ink on canvas.

In addition to reproducing Close’s most iconic works, Face Book offers an unpatronizing lesson on turning adversity into advantage. Chuck’s brief narratives are delightfully practical and spontaneous. It feels as though he were visiting your kid’s classroom as a favor to the art teacher, who the painter maybe knew [wink] 40 years ago when they were starving artists in bohemian SoHo.

These two titles may herald a new genre: coffee table books for kids. Except unlike traditional coffee table books, which are only opened during moments of idle boredom, these books invite scrutiny through their ability to mesmerize. If you don’t have an age-appropriate kid of your own, give them to your favorite loaner-kid.

Pantone: Colors, $9.95, ages 2 and up

Chuck Close: Face Book, $13.64, ages 8 and up

All images courtesy Abrams Books. Image at top of page is a detail from Chuck Close’s Self-Portrait, 2000-01. Oil on canvas. Featured image shows Chuck Close standing next to his Big Self-Portrait, 1968. Painted with airbrush.
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7 Responses to Close Encounters

  1. Amanda April 6, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    Couldn’t you just go to your favorite home improvement store, buy a bunch of paint samples, paste them in a book and get the same thing for less? Maybe I’m just cheap.

    • Daddy Confidential April 6, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

      You’re gonna get the book and the paint samples for less than ten bucks?!? How much are you planning on saving? Besides, I think the colors on the paint store swatches have more abstract names, like July rain and whisker grey.

      • Amanda April 12, 2012 at 10:47 am #

        The paint samples are free, so there’s no cost there. You could even go really el cheapo and just use a 3 ring binder and some plastic sleeves. Parenting on a budget. ;)

  2. Lisa April 10, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    I love both books already. I’m going to buy them without needing to use a child as my beard!! Thx for sharing.

  3. Venus April 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    Even without G, I would totally buy these! I’m a big geeky fan of Pantone’s colors in any case… and getting a full Pantone book of colors is actually REALLY expensive. I’m happy to see they’re letting out at least a selection of their stuff at a reasonable price. :-)

    • Daddy Confidential April 11, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

      Hmm, I feel obliged to point out that the colors in the Pantone kids book do not correspond to actual Pantone colors. So no real savings there.

      • Venus April 12, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

        Wow. This makes my normally non-litigious self want to cry “false advertising!!”

        Ah well, I’m sure I’d enjoy it anyway. ;-) Thanks for the warning!

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