Blue is the color between violet and cyan on the visible color spectrum. It's a primary color in both RYB and RGB color models. Blue is the color of a clear daytime sky, the deep sea, and the fifth band on a rainbow.
This color's name means "shimmering" or "lustrous" and has been in artistic use since ancient times. In today's modern times, this color symbolizes harmony, faithfulness, confidence, distance, infinity, imagination, coldness, and occasionally sadness.
As an artist, it's important to understand this refreshing color, how it's used in the past until today, what it means and the different emotions it evokes, as well as its different shades, and how to produce them.
This article aims to help you do just that.
A Brief History of the Color Blue
Our ancestors started using the color blue relatively later than other colors. Unlike the colors red, black, brown, ochre, pink, and purple that have been used in art, decorations, and dyes since prehistoric times, it took humankind thousands of years before we developed good blue dyes and pigments. These early blue dyes came from woad (Europe) and Indigo (Africa and Asia) while blue pigments came from azurite or lapis lazuli.
The ancient Egyptians used lapis lazuli for the eyebrows of King Tutankhamun's death mask. The precious stone was an expensive import so the ancient Egyptians started grinding silica, lime, copper, and alkalai together and then heating it to 800 or 900 °C to produce their own blue pigment – Egyptian blue.
The ancient Greeks imported indigo dye from India, calling it indikon. They also used Egyptian blue in the wall paintings of Knossos in Crete and to paint the beards on statues.
The ancient Romans also imported indigo dye from India and used it on the clothes of their working class.
During the time of the Byzantine empire, dark blue was most commonly used to decorate churches. In Byzantine art, Jesus and the Virgin Mary were usually depicted wearing dark blue or purple.
In the early Middle Ages, blue became the color of the poor (who dyed their clothes with woad) until the Abbe Suger rebuilt the Saint-Denis Basilica with cobalt-colored windows. It was also around this time when the Virgin Mary's clothes were depicted with ultramarine – the most expensive dye from Asia at the time.
During the Renaissance, artists started harmonizing blue with red and white to better depict the world as they saw it. The master painter Raphael was particularly renowned for this technique.
Blue became the color of choice for the uniform of the German and Prussian armies in the 17th century.
In the 18th century, the British also adopted the color blue (navy blue) for their naval officer uniforms. Blue would later become the color of liberty and revolution. In America, George Washington declared the official color for all uniforms to be blue and buff.
It was around the 18th and 19th centuries that synthetic pigments became more readily available. This was also the time when complementary colors were established in color theory and saw blue complemented by orange and yellow. The synthetic pigment cobalt blue became the favorite color of some impressionists, including Auguste Renoir and Vincent van Gogh.
While blue represented liberty and revolution in the 18th century, the 19th century saw it become more of a governmental and authoritative color. This was when it became the color for policemen and other public servants.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, renowned painters like Pablo Picasso used blue and green to create a melancholy mood in paintings.
In today's age of the Internet, blue has become the standard color of hyperlinks in graphic browsers.
Blue Colors: Psychology and Meaning
The color blue has been around since ancient times and has picked up several meanings along the way.
Ancient humans used the color to depict the sky and the sea which has led to the color being associated with the freedom of open spaces, imagination, intuition, sensitivity, and inspiration.
Because of its connection to both the sea and sky, the color blue also came to represent spirituality, calmness, peace, and hope.
The color has also become symbolic of deep loyalty, trust, wisdom, sincerity, faith, confidence, stability, and intelligence.
When used in excess, blue can also represent impersonality, unfriendliness, and coldness as well as depression and sadness.
Shades of Blue
As humanity's technology improves, so does our ability to harness and develop more color variations. We got our first blue dyes and pigments from woad and indigo in the past but now (as of writing this article) we have 23 true shades of blue.
One thing to note:
While the colors azure and cyan may seem like shades of blue, they aren't considered true shades of blue – so they won't be included here.
Periwinkle, a.k.a lavender blue, is a very light purplish-blue. This color is derived from the periwinkle flower.
Ultramarine is a vivid blue color derived from the precious stone lapis lazuli.
It was, at one point, considered the most expensive blue pigment known to artists in Europe.
Liberty is a strong blue color. Its first recorded use as a blue color in English was in 1918.
4. Navy Blue
Navy is a vivid blue color.
This color got its name from its use by the Royal Navy in 1748.
5. Space Cadet
Space cadet is a dark blue and is one of the colors on the Resene Color List (popular in Australia and New Zealand). This color was formulated in 2007.
There are two hues of blurple. The earlier one was a brilliant purplish-blue hue while the latter one is a vivid purplish-blue.
7. Cool Black
Cool black is a very dark shade of blue. It's one of the Pantone colors.
Modifying Blue Acrylic Paints
Now that you've got a better understanding of the color blue, from its history to its different variations, it's time to learn how to modify it yourself.
As artists, we usually look for the right shade of color to really make our painting pop. If you don't happen to have the exact shade of blue you need, here's how you can modify your blue acrylic paint to achieve your desired shade.
How to Create Warmer Shades of Blue
If you're looking to make a warm shade of blue, odds are you're already using ultramarine.
While this color is already warm, you can make it warmer by adding in some alizarin crimson.
How to Create Cooler Blue Shades
If you want to do the opposite and make your blue give your blue a cooler tone, you can do so by adding in some green.
How to Mute Blue Colors
To get a more muted blue color, you can choose one of three options:
Mixing in some white gives you a muted lighter blue.
Mixing some black produces the opposite effect while still muting your blue.
Or you can mix in gray to mute your blue without making it too light or dark.