Thursday, July 21, 2016

A New Blue

     There is a new blue in the world. It was accidentally discovered by Oregon State University researchers who were testing compounds for uses in electronics. The pigment ha been named YInMn Blue after its three elements - Yttrium, Indium and Manganese. The mixture was brown but turned to a brilliant blue in the heat of a furnace - an entirely new pigment.  Because of the rare elements, it will sell around $1000 per kilogram - so, although it can be mixed into paints and plastics, it is doubtful that it will be lavished on canvases in paintings. It has some other interesting  aspects - it absorbs UV light and resists high temperatures so it could be used for cooling roofs.
     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.

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