For first half of my life “blue” was the answer to the magazine-quiz question “What’s your favorite color?” Blue–soothing aqua, with its underwater weightlessness. Blue–cerulean to cobalt, hinting at infinity, unless a wayward cloud drifts by, the deeper the blue the more straight-up the gaze: traveling, traveling, traveling. Deep Prussian blue—a backdrop to the stars. Notice how the color blue seems to somehow relate to defying gravity? It’s of the heavens and of deep mysteries. Locked in ice it’s mesmerizing. Being surrounded by it is peaceful.
For the first bedroom of my own I chose powder blue. Rich, blue velvet was the fabric I chose for my self-crafted prom dress. Blue eye shadow-definitely. The song Blue by Joni Mitchell was my early-twenties anthem. My first new car was Ice Blue and my first brand new sofa was navy. The only jewel that ever made me swoon was a sapphire. When we “had our colors done” in the ‘80’s I was told to wear blue.
Blue soothed. But I grew tired of it. Now you’d be hard-pressed to find blue anywhere in my life (except in my wardrobe—apparently the color the Color-Me-Beautiful people were right). Red and green and yellow and pink and pumpkin are all around. I’ve resisted working with it for years until I forced myself to start using the tubes drying in my bin. Painting the paintings for the play Red, I learned how blue glazes could deepen and neutralize those unlimited Rothko reds. It really contributed to the rich, velvety depth of surface. Blue is now teaching me about quiet and fluidity.
Around 600AD artist’s started painting with Ultramarine blue ground from semi-precious lapis lazuli. The Italian was translated to mean “blue from beyond the sea.” Isn’t that just the word blue suggests?– Beyond. Reds and yellow—much easier to come by. Iron is more plentiful in the earth and plants relinquish their color with less effort than the hard stone. Costlier than gold, blue was color reserved for the Virgin Mary.
There is debate about what a warm blue is and what a cool blue is. But if you unwind the color wheel and realize that color is determined by the length of light waves, it’s clear that the pthalos, those sliding toward yellow, are the warmer blues and ultramarine, headed to violets, the shortest wavelength in the spectrum, are cool.
Winter may be the time for blue. As a primary, they cannot be made, you have to buy blue. But play with mixing blues to practice unearthly results—try pthalo turquoise and nickel azo yellow, or ultramarine blue with quinacradone magenta. Combine them in the same painting to increase harmony but add interest. Test the boundaries of blue. Get to know different meanings of being “blue”.