Am I Blue?

Well, no. But Billie Holiday, who wrote the song of the same title, was much of the time and so was Picasso, at least for a certain period—his “Blue Period”.

As a young, just-moved-to Paris-artist, Picasso found himself broke and relying on a fellow Spaniard, his good friend Carlos Casagemas, for companionship and support. Casagemas took his life in a Paris café by shooting himself in the right temple on February 17, 1901.

Picasso had traveled back to Barcelona early that year and was not in town when the suicide happened. Surprisingly, his work of that spring and summer was actually quite vibrant. But as fall hit so did a severe depression. And, as some art history legend has it, Picasso, after realizing that Casagemas’ death was a reaction to unrequited love, still took up residence in his friend’s former apartment and began a liaison with his friend’s lover. (He might have been suffering a little guilt.)

The point is that Picasso chose to use a predominantly monochromatic color scheme for almost four years as a way of emphasizing emotional content. He was probably the first artist to do so. Monet, whose obsession with the study of light would simplify his pallet in an effort to understand, but Picasso used the color blue, just as Billie Holiday meant it.

Picasso’s Blue Period was followed by his Rose Period which represents more pleasant themes depicted in cheery, hues of red, orange and pinks. Over this seminal period of Blue and Rose Periods, lasting over five years, Picasso made a statement about the power of color to communicate emotion. And the art world listened.

This week I propose a challenge of working monochromatically. Not only is it a great way to develop mood and content, it is a great way to learn about value, among other things. From Wikipedia: “Monochromatic colors are all the colors (tints, tones, and shades) of a single hue.

Example of a monochromatic color scheme

Monochromatic color schemes are derived from a single base hue and extended using its shades, tones and tints. Tints are achieved by adding white and shades and tones are achieved by adding a darker color, gray or black.

Monochromatic color schemes provide opportunities in art and visual communications design as they allow for a greater range of contrasting tones that can be used to attract attention, create focus and support legibility.

The use of a monochromatic color provides a strong sense of visual cohesion and can help support communication objectives through the use of connotative color. The relative absence of hue contrast can be offset by variations in tone and the addition of texture.[1]

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