Sunday, July 31, 2016
Last blog I was writing about blue - and here I am with a painting that has almost no blue in it. The background is Paynes Grey and white with just a touch of French Ultramarine. This is not the historical Ultramarine but rather a modern replacement. In 1824, an industrial society in France offered a prize for any chemist who could discover how to manufacture an artificial Ultramarine. Four years later, the French colour maker J.-B Guimet developed the winning recipe. French Ultramarine quickly became a core colour for artists, who appreciated its cheapness. Today, it is still a basic blue. I often use it in shadow mixes because it is transparent. Prussian Blue is one of my favourites for water- especially for reflections.It was the first colour to be made artificially and was produced accidentally in 1704 by a paint maker in Berlin. Cobalt Blue was created in 1802 by a French chemist called Thenard. Made from cobalt aluminate, it took over from Smalt. It works nicely in acrylic for our local summer skies. Cerulean Blue was also developed in 1802 by a German scientist Hopfner by heating cobalt and tin oxides. This is a great colour for watercolour skies but not transparent in acrylics. Phthalo Blue was synthesized from copper phthalocyanine in the early 1930's. It is a deep intense blue and is often used instead of Prussian Blue. I think you have to be a bit careful with it to keep it from looking too strong and artificial. Indanthrene Blue is similar to Indigo and is available from some manufacturers and another substitute for Prussian. One interesting thing is that hues can vary from one manufacturer to another and from one medium to another. Artists tend to develop favourites and it is one of the reasons an artist's work develops a recognizable "look". It is interesting to think of the history behind the colours we squeeze out on our palettes.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
This is not the first pricey blue. Artists of the Renaissance's Ultramarine (which means " from beyond the sea") came from a gemstone called lapis lazuli which was more expensive than gold. Ancient Egyptians had a blue that was made from azurite, a copper carbonate mineral. This was still used by 15th century Renaissance artists , sometimes as an underpainting for the more costly Ultramarine. Artists' contracts often specified that Ultramarine was not to be substituted by the cheaper azurite as it was to denote the patron's status and wealth.
Woad was used in northern Europe ever since the ancient Britons used it to dye their faces blue to strike fear into Julius Caesar's invading army. Artist monks used woad to illuminate the Book of Kells in the eight century. Then Indigo was imported from India and it was 30 times stronger than woad. It became available to painters who sometimes used it to underpaint azurite to give it more depth and warm its effect.
Smalt was a deep blue colour produced from cobalt oxide that replaced azurite. It was used widely from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century . J.M.W. Turner (1775-1850) was said to use great quantities of "smalts of various intensities".
Artists nowadays are fortunate to have a choice of blues available- as I did in the above plein air painting "From the Balcony" .
There will be more on blues - my main reference for this is Simon Jenning's "Artists Color Manual" from Chronicle Books.