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Diving into the colour Blue by Helen Trevisiol Duff aka The Colourist

March 22, 2023 1 Comment

The Colourist blogging logo of Helen Trevisiol Duff Skylark Galleries

Skylark Galleries artists who favour blue

L-R artwork by Skylark Galleries artists Jonquil, Carol, Stella, Ruty and Helen

Colour has always been my passion, a fascination and became my specialist career focus and main income from my mid 20’s as one of Britain's Fashion Colourists.

Having worked on trends and colour for large retailers meant my livelihood depended on living and breathing colour.

Blue has always resonated with me and still does as a painter / printmaker.


Blue can have a direct influence on our mood and can have a calming effect on our mind. Looking at how a blue sky can bring a feeling of serenity and peace. Sky blue is imprinted in our minds as a retiring, quiet colour reminiscent of time spent outdoors, near the water, on a beach and has associations with relaxing times.

Blue is a popular colour for branding with a third of top brands using this colour worldwide in logos. Studies have shown that people are more productive and creative in blue rooms.

“Feeling blue”, a well-known phrase, can also be associated with feeling gloomy, We all know about Picasso's famous blue period reflecting melancholy.

The blue spectrum has always been favoured by artists although it's a relatively new colour in art. Historically cave paintings were drawn with earthy, warm pigments not blue which was rarer. The Romans and Ancient Greeks didn’t have a word for the colour, and it was omitted from paintings of the rainbow. Some thought that early humans may have been colour blind to blue. Others thought that it wasn’t a commonly available colour, as many blues are man-made and only a few could be taken from the earth’s natural minerals to produce pigments used as dye or paint. Green is the colour with the most shades in the spectrum as the human eye is most sensitive to green and that's why it can differentiate more shades.

Artists and blue

I'm aware that certain colours are always favourites not only with artists and designers but everyone, as often people gravitate towards a certain colour that appeals to them regardless of trend.

I asked Skylark Galleries artists what blue means to them and how they use it in their practice.

Jonquil Cook

Umbellifer Moon Jar by Jonquil Cook Skylark Galleries

Umbellifer Moon Jar by Jonquil Cook £380

Jonquil Cook produces stoneware ceramics from her studio in Woolwich Dockyard, south of the river Thames.

She says, “I have a particular love of blue, generally, but also in ceramics. I’m very drawn to it. For many years now I have been favouring the use of cobalt oxide, mostly as a colourant in the slips I make to paint onto the surface of my thrown stoneware pieces. I then carve through the slip to create a decorative contrast with the pale colour of the clay body beneath.

"Usually my regular glazing practice would then be to cover the piece, once biscuit fired, with a transparent high-fire glaze (I fire to 1260 degrees centigrade). Under this transparent finish the cobalt is a deep, dark royal blue.

"However, a couple of years back, I started working with a new glaze recipe that covers the vessel in a milky, satin effect. My aim had been to soften the intensity of the cobalt a little as I felt it would work better over the new, springlike wildflower inspired sgraffito decoration I began to produce during lockdown (remember what a heavenly spring we enjoyed in southeast England that year?)

"The great surprise to me, and the unexpected bonus that came with use of this new glaze, was the way it transformed the cobalt into a gorgeous, soft sky blue with fabulous lavender tones, almost mauve in colour, where the glaze was thickest..”

Linda Samson

Blue on blue by Linda Samson Skylark Galleries

Blue on blue by Linda Samson £600

"A childhood spent by the sea introduced me to the changeling blues found in the sky, the sea, in rock pool reflections. The versatility of blue has always attracted me. As a painter, the extraordinary range of the colour blue, and the way different blues react to, or enhance each other makes it an enjoyable colour to work and play with.

"The colour blue is often used to represent human conditions and moods.
My ceramic painting ‘Blue on Blue’ was made during the first scary Covid lockdown as one of a series of four ceramics. In this series the colour blue became a symbol of isolation and loss which many of us experienced at that time. Its title is taken from a blues song of the same name that I listened to while working in my studio by the North Sea."

Stella Tooth

Here comes the sun oil painting by Stella Tooth bather and portrait art

Here comes the sun by Stella Tooth £375

Stella Tooth is a commissionable London-based portrait and musician-inspired artist who collaborates in storytelling with those she portrays to capture a life lived up to this moment - or the excitement of performing live.

“My favourite colours are cool blues...precisely a bluey green that leans towards the brightness of turquoise or the more matt of jade. It’s not surprising I suppose as I grew up on the sandy south coast where the sea affected my every mood. I carry it with me in my imagination and transfer it to my art - from the deepest Prussian blue as a cloud passes over the sea or a transparent cerulean as seen in the shallows lit by the sun.

Artists often favour colours. We realise this when we exhibit a number of our paintings on a wall or create a ‘mood board’ of other artists’ work that inspires us.”

Ruty Benjamini

Catalina blue leaf imprint by Ruty Benjamini ceramicist

Catalina blue by ceramicist Ruty Benjamini £60

Ruty is a ceramic artist based in South London and has exhibited her artwork in the UK, Europe and Israel. She works in an intuitive and experimental way, making one-off and family groups of sculptural vessels.

She says, Blue comes in many different shades and can express various moods. I love the shades that have some green in them, because they make me  think of the sea. In ceramics, blues are achieved by the use of cobalt. Cobalt oxide is very intense. In its raw powder state, it is black. Cobalt carbonate is a little lighter. In the potter's studio, before firing, it is a lilac colour powder. In my ceramic work I often use blue as a splash of colour, on top of a white glaze or as a contrast, highlighting a muted earthy textured surface (as in my leaf imprints).

Helen Trevisiol Duff

Freedom blues by Helen Trevisiol Duff Skylark Galleries

Freedom blues by Helen Trevisiol Duff £120

My fascination with blue is eternal. I gravitate towards lapis, cerulean and Prussian blue as it provides such depth.

My current painting / printmaking work is inspired by the Yorkshire landscape and sky. Travelling around the dales, moors and valleys of the incredible terrain in all weathers gives me a sense of freedom. I often stop by the side of the road to sketch and, in my studio, I create plates for printmaking which are a combination of found materials, collage and low level carving. I then print collographs at the WYPW studio in Mirfield or in Leeds. These hand pulled varied editions are unique and Prussian blue provides me with a sense of drama and moodiness.

Living in a rural location the land, weather and wildlife motivates and informs my everyday experience. In particular I'm drawn to light, colour, movement and negative space in my work and patterns in my paintings and prints.

What’s the origin of blue?

When I started to explore more about blue I was fascinated to learn that so few natural pigments or dyes existed.

Many of our artists here in the gallery, including myself, feel an affinity with blue so I wanted to look more closely at where the pigment comes from, and what it means to the artistic practice of ceramicists, portrait artists, landscape and abstract artists.

Most people don’t often associate colour with technology, however the history of blue is connected with advances in chemistry and engineering.

Natural Blues

Before the 19th century, and the beginning of modern science, only a few completely natural blue pigments existed, each with its own hue and method of production. Ultramarine, the divine blue of The Renaissance translated from the Latin “ultramarinus,” means beyond the sea and is found deep in the ground.

Lapis lazuli, known in Latin as the blue stone, is considered semi precious. It produced a luminous and incredible decorative blue that made Egyptian blue appear faded and greener in comparison.

Egyptian blue is a well-known decorative blue and its recognition as colour began with the rare semi-precious stone, lapis lazuli.mined in Afghanistan in limited amounts. By the 14th century Lapis was the most sought-after colour in the western world, worth five times its weight in gold or more.

Indigo origins go back more than 5,000 years to Egypt, India, China and Japan. This darkish blue is extracted from tropical plants of the genus indigofera as a fermented leaf solution and also is produced from sea molluscs, a source of blue and red indigo.  When the two are mixed, an array of purplish hues called tyrian purple are made. Exposing this to light yields a royal blue or hyacinth purple, both types of blue indigo. It has been used in textile and printing and is one of the oldest natural inks going back to the Romans and created in India in 2,000 BC. It's from the word "Indigo" that India was named. It was exported to Europe through Portuguese and Arab traders. It's now also produced through chemical processes.

Originally worn by wealthy people to symbolise status and used as a luxury commodity in ancient civilisations from Africa and Mesopotamia, it's now used worldwide for dyeing cotton yarn and making jeans.

Chemical Blues

Prussian blue started its evolution in Germany as the first synthetic colour since Egyptian blue. An alternative to indigo which was used widely in the Far East but which faded or bled, Prussian blue quickly made its way across Europe. Within a few decades, it would grace the palettes of artists from Monet to Picasso evolving from the ever influential art of Hokusai and Hiroshige in Japan.

Cobalt blue was created from aluminium oxide, and cerulean blue soon followed. Then, in 1826, scientists made a chemically-identical synthetic pigment to lapis lazuli which was revolutionary and the modern synthetic Ultramarine blue was born, and with it, an era when affordable paints would be accessible to all artists.

Cerulean blue pigment is a more recent colour and is a very expensive pigment to produce. Today it is even more popular than when it was first introduced.
Cerulean was discovered by the chemist Louis Jacques Thénard in 1802 in Francen who went on to also create a synthetic substitute for ultramarine. Then Swiss chemist Albrecht Höpfner refined the creation of Cerulean blue from cobalt stannate in 1805.  Cobalt blue is a clean blue useful on its own or in mixing made by using cobalt zinc silicate. Smalt is a variation on cobalt, made from grinding pigments of cobalt glass used in ceramics.

Cerulean blue is made by the calcination of salts, tins and silica combined with cobalt sulphate and is an inorganic, synthetic mineral pigment. In the 1860's it was available under the trade name coeruleum.

Cerulean was quickly used by artists, including The Impressionists, because of its permanence, hue and opaque quality. So useful in sky and seascapes, it's favoured by many and can be found in artists' works here at Skylark Galleries as Sarah Knight uses cerulean in many of her oil paintings.

Seascape in cerulean blue by Sarah Knight artist

Seascape in cerulean blue by Sarah Knight £650

In 1999 cerulean blue was nominated by Pantone as the colour of the millennium. 

“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most“
John Ruskin.

Like my fellow artists here at Skylark, I will never tire of using blue.

"The world is blue.“ — Yves Klein.

Helen Trevisiol Duff aka The Colourist blogger for Skylark Galleries

1 Response


March 23, 2023

Very interesting read and informative

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