Ages ago as a young girl I took piano lessons once a week, and I remember playing a song called Love is Blue. I never really understood what that meant, and honestly I don't really understand it now except that blue is the color we associate most with being sad. Yet it is also a very spiritual color. It is the color that represents faith and Heaven, loyalty, wisdom, and trust. It is the color of the Virgin Mary's veil and the heavens above.
“Blue color is everlastingly appointed by the deity to be a source of delight.” ~ John Ruskin
Blue is pervasive, blanketing the earth in skies and seas. It is comforting, calm, and familiar. It is relaxing and peaceful.
“Preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” ~Carl Sagan
In August and September, the students in the Creative Spirits painting class will take a deep dive in studying the affects of Blue in painting. And there are so many!
Ultramarine- from Oltramarino, or Beyond the Sea. Early blue paint was made from Lapis Lazuli, only found in Chile, Zambia, Siberia, and Afghanistan. With the exception of a few Russian paintings, all the real ultramarine in both Western and Eastern art came from one set of mines in a valley in northeast Afghanistan called Sar-e-sang or “the place of the stone” (before synthetic dyes were created). This blue veers towards cool violet. It was very expensive and hard to get.
The European art world said goodbye to lapis lazuli ultramarine in 1828 when a synthetic version was discovered in France by two chemists, Jean Baptiste Guimet (France) and Christian Gmelin (Germany.) The Société d’Encouragement pour l'Industrie Nationale offered 6,000 francs to the winner. It is said Guimet claimed the prize of being first, and his invention is called French Ultramarine.
Azurite – from “Citramarino,” or This side of the Sea. It was much more affordable. It is a by-product from copper mines and sister stone to Malachite and veers towards warm green. This pigment is unstable, and over time it becomes a brown olive hue.
Cobalt – from “Kobold,” German for goblin or vicious sprite who lived in the earth and resented intruders. Cobalt comes from Iran, and is a metal that attracts arsenic. One very unique characteristic of Cobalt is that it changes colors when heated and was used in the 17th century as invisible ink. Remember that scene when Nicolas Cage warms up the back of the Declaration of Independence to find another Mason's clue?
Cobalt was used in paintings for years but didn’t reach Europe until the nineteenth century when Louis-Jacques Thenard made it into a pigment. Like Ultramarine, it was expensive and leans towards violet.
Prussian Blue – In 1725 a Berlin paint-maker was trying to make red from a recipe when he ran out of alkali, so borrowed some. Unbeknownst to him the alkali he borrowed was distilled in animal fat and turned his mixture blue. It became instantly popular, especially as house paint.
Indigo – from “India” Indigo is comprised of ¾ Blue and ¼ Violet and is made from the Indigo plant from East Asia and India as early as 4000BC. The psychological meaning of Indigo is Intuition, Creativity and Spirituality, and symbolizes service to humanity.
Isaac Newton is credited for identifying Indigo in the rainbow.
A cheaper version of Indigo is from the Woad plant (weed)…but it is not as colorfast or vibrant. However, it was used as war paint because it is an antiseptic and could disinfect a wound.
Indigo was a “bottom” color for dying blacks, since the black dye faded so quickly. Blue also makes whites seem whiter, since the natural color of cotton is a faint yellowish-brown.
Indigo was farmed in India but was full of impurities by the time it made it to Europe, so the French farmed it in the Caribbean. The East India Company lost their market until the British went to war with the French, so their source was lost. But instead of going back to India to get more, they found a source in the US with 15-year-old Eliza Lucas (Pinckney).
Eliza and her family lived in the British Leeward Islands of Antigua where her father George Lucas was a Lt. Colonel in the British army who had inherited three plantations from his father-in-law in South Carolina near Charleston. He sent Eliza to manage all three plantations (Wappoo, Garden Hill, and Waccamaw) by proxy since his wife Ann had passed away and he could not leave his post in Antiqua.
Col. Lucas and Eliza wrote letters back and forth constantly, and she is credited for learning how to cultivate indigo in the US, which became the largest cash crop in South Carolina in the 18th century. Its cultivation and processing as dye produced one-third the total value of the colony's exports before the Revolutionary War.
Being a lover of history, historic architecture, painting and the sea, I can't wait for an upcoming trip to "Charles Towne" in September and a visit to one of the Pinckney plantations. Indigo will always have more meaning to me now than just dark blue.
The Creative Spirits painting class will begin their study of Blue beginning August 5 in the Winchester Studio of Evan's Park, Spring Hill, Tennessee, at 10am each Thursday. Join us! Call 615-668-8263 to register. The class fee is $25 per session and students bring their own supplies. We paint in Acrylics, however water-mixable oils are allowed.