B is for Blue

Ice Crystal closeup

Blue is the colour of our sky and our oceans, both calm and turbulent, often streaked with grey or white, it envelopes our planet and gives our astronauts a blue marble to admire.


Azurite – image courtesy of Wikipedia

Yet while both sky and ocean are blue, they are not, and we turn to the earth itself to find substances that can create a blue pigment for us to attempt to duplicate those natural wonders on canvas.

The ancient Egyptians used a form of copper to create one of their blues. Copper has repeatedly provided us with some lovely pigments in the blue and green ranges (just have a look at a corroding copper pipe to get an excellent example of the colours this metal can create).

Azurite, another form of copper also gave a blue pigment to the Egyptians as well as the Greeks.


Woad – image courtesy of Wikipedia


Remember Braveheart? And all that lovely blue paint they decorated their faces with?  Long before them, back when Julius Caesar had his eye on Briton, the natives used to paint their faces with a blue pigment called Woad. Derived from a plant, Isatis tinctoria, it was similar to indigo, which is derived from another plant, Indigofera tinctorum. Indigo is what your jeans are dyed with…well, used to be, now everything is synthetic, but they fade pretty much the same.

Because apparently although a lot of traditional blue pigments are very strong tinting-wise, they are somewhat fugitive. Fugitive means they’re not long lasting, that whole lightfastness thing is very poor.

Blue bubbles

Fortunately nowadays, for us artists, we have some seriously lightfast pigments to play with. At the core of these is Phthalo Blue. Again a derivative of copper (copper phthalocyanine), it provides us with a variety of blue-green shades, even a red-blue shade and its lightfastness is good.

But we mustn’t forget cobalt. A stunningly beautiful blue that is just as stunningly bad for your health.

I could list a whole variety of blue pigments here, but I have to say that one thing that I have noticed is that I should have studied chemistry in school and dumped that boring physics class I failed oh so badly, because there is a lot of chemistry involved in paints and pigments.

Blue pastels

No matter the name, blue is a mainstay of our palettes. After all, how would we represent sky and ocean without it?

Best wishes,

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