How Green is Blue???

There is no blue bluer than the blue broken heart when first love goes south. Only someone green to life feels that. Other pains are certain to come later, but never that one again.

After that a person might become a painter with a less metaphorical perspective on green and blue.

The most beautiful blue (historically) is Ultramarine blue. I’ve written about it at length here but in case you don’t want to go read that, the color comes from Lapis Lazuli and, in medieval times was used only on the robes of the most holy people — Jesus and his mom.

The annunciation by Giusto de’ Menabuoi in the Baptistry of the Cathedral, Padova

To my eye, ultramarine is a greenless blue. In fresco — as in the painting above — ultramarine blue (which is made of crystals resulting from lapis lazuli when it’s ground to a powder) magically bonds with the gypsum in the plaster, miraculously reflecting light from the myriad microscopic faces of the crystalline ground. In medieval times ultramarine blue was rare so, naturally, extremely expensive. Even now, the real ultramarine blue made from lapis is $35 for a 3 ml tube. I bought one a couple years ago. I also bought real gypsum painting ground for oil paint. It needs to be mixed and cooked, and so far, that’s the hold up.

We now have synthetic ultramarine blue which is as ultramarine blue as the real deal.

“Knight” stand (a piece of furniture) the sky is pure ultramarine blue acrylic

The oil paints I use are made in Portland by Robert Gamblin’s company. Gamblin himself began as a restorer of painting. His beautiful ode to ultramarine blue says everything: In Praise of Ultramarine Blue

“Memorial” by Robert Gamblin — it seems to me to be Ultramarine, white, Cerulean with Alizarin Crimson touching the clouds

Ultramarine blue is one of the most versatile blues. It mixes well with most other colors and gives greens and sky that are as natural as morning. It’s usually the blue included in beginning painting sets.

Other blues tend more to green. Cerulean blue — another useful blue, one that emerge in the 19th century with the development of synthetic colors — is, to my eye, not as pure as ultramarine. It seems to have a black cast to it and a tinge of green. On a canvas, it looks like the sky with a bit of haze.

Cerulean blue

A couple of years ago I started a large painting. I was so determined to start it that I wasn’t thinking and, in fact, got the underpainting colors of the mountains and sky reversed. It doesn’t matter. This painting is a LONG way from finished, but you can see ultramarine (sky) and cerulean (mountains) together. Though the cerulean is reduced to a thin tint, the difference is still clear. I don’t know when I’ll actually DO this painting. It’s immense. 4′ x 6′ I think…

Sangre de Cristos in Saquache County

Another popular blue is Cobalt Blue, a very vivid blue, made of cobalt and aluminum. I don’t use it at all, though I have in the past. I don’t know why I don’t use it, but I think it’s because, to my eye, it’s a bit too black and green for me. I don’t remember how it mixes, either. The two colors I look for when mixing something into blue are green and purple, so my guess is that it just didn’t give me what I wanted.

Another popular blue is indigo — beautiful color, blue with a tinge of black. If you want to see it, just look at your jeans. They are most likely dyed with some version of indigo. Back in the day, indigo came from India and was pretty expensive, but medieval people discovered the woad plant gave a similar blue. The problem with woad is that growing it depleted the soil so severely that nothing would grow where the woad had grown. But, woad made people rich.

Recently a new blue was discovered — the first new blue in 200 years. It’s beautiful. I have no idea how it works in paint or if it’s even available. It doesn’t even have a real name yet, just a bunch of letters.

“Well, I asked my graduate student to mix three components. One is yttrium oxide, which is white; indium oxide, which is yellow; and manganese oxide, which is black. So the next morning I was in the lab, and he pulled the sample of the furnace, 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit, and I was shocked because all the samples came out vivid blue. In the beginning, I thought he made a mistake. I thought it would be like brown or black. Then I asked him to repeat the experiment and we could again get the blue. Blue is the most difficult color to make, and we found it extremely stable, so that made me really excited, and we find this to be the first new blue pigment in 200 years.”

These days we have the Pantone Chart which seems to be a catalog of every color its tints (mixed with white) and shades (maybe mixed with black, maybe mixed with their complimentary color). Until today I didn’t really know what “Pantone” was other than the chips of paint you find at Home Depot or some other hardware or home improvement shop. Write a blog a day and learn, I say.

From the Pantone chart of blues, you can see for yourself how green is blue. As an artist, I mix a lot of these myself. Seeing color is one of the deep pleasures of painting.

Pantone chart, blue to green

In the painting world, the way to make these colors is by adding blue to yellow. Sounds simple, and it is simple, but just as there is a variety of blue, there is variety of yellow… Another post for another day.

My painting of Cornflowers/Bachelor buttons. I knew I’d gotten the color right when a bee attempted to land on the painting. After this (tedious?) tutorial you can probably name the blues (or have them….)

I’ll stop here. This is probably more about blue than you will ever need to know. πŸ™‚

Here’s an awful song about blue… I really think the color deserves better.

15 thoughts on “How Green is Blue???

    • Blue out of the tube (whichever tube and whichever blue) is pretty useful on its own — navy, royal are fabric colors. Royal blue has a bunch of arguments around it, but it’s essentially ultramarine tinged with red. Navy is ultramarine tinted with black. It isn’t easy when you have an image in your mind ever to mix the color you really want.

  1. There’s another blue that defies description. I call it ICE Blue — it’s the refracted color that appears in glacial ice.

  2. Ultramarine blue is my go-to blue when I paint. I don’t use any other blue more. Pair that with burnt sienna, and you have my two most frequently used colors. UMB is beautiful!

    • I love it, too. It’s magical. For a while a few years back I had DREAMS about it, about looking everywhere for it, in street signs, clothing, everywhere. It was a strange kind of quest and I don’t know what that meant.

      • Hmmm! Very interesting. Must have meant a lot since you still remember it today. It would be interesting to look into the meaning! πŸ™‚

        • Even though I’m extremely skeptical about stuff like chakras, I think maybe it was the lesson of the third eye chakra which is allegedly that mystical blue, linked to the subconscious mind, buried memories, that stuff. Ultimately, I needed the lessons that lingered in my subconscious mind and the dreams linked to long buried memories. The dreams were frequent enough that it was more than a little freaky. And, as two of my closest friends at the time were very devout Hindus, I was in a place to pay attention.

          I didn’t know then about the source of ultramarine blue, or its history, I hadn’t written Martin of Gfenn, which is a novel about a medieval artist — so maybe it was a beacon. Anyway, I ended up having a LOT of dreams about that color. Now it’s just a really amazing color that I love.

  3. I always go with cobalt but whenever I go to the paint store, I spend so much time opening paint jars and falling in love with the new color that I don’t need but must have.

    • Me too. I’m sure I have more paint than I will ever use and certainly more brushes — they’re just so beautiful in and of them selves and promise so much magic!

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