09 May 2012


I love blue. It's been my favourite colour ever since I was little. And I especially love cobalt blue glass. I collect it whenever I can get a hold of it; I've been known to buy certain kinds of wine just because it comes in cobalt blue bottles. And there they sit on my kitchen window sill (I think the wine itself was okay; I had to drink it just to empty the bottles. The yellowish tone of the wine spoiled the blue).

A painter friend of mine once corrected me, when I complimented him on the beautiful cobalt blue tiles on his studio floor; they're ultramarine blue, he said, not cobalt. I didn't want to contradict him, as he's a really amazing painter and knows what he's talking about; and of course he was absolutely right when it comes to paint colour names - that particular hue is ultramarine. But in the back of my mind I had this niggling thought that I'd heard it called "cobalt" blue when it comes to tiles, and a few years later, when I got into pottery, I found out why.

See, in glass, and in glazes, it's the actual mineral cobalt that gives it that bright, gorgeous blue. In paint pigment, cobalt blue is fainter, not nearly as brilliant as ultramarine, which is derived from ground-up lapis lazuli - or it was, once upon a time, until the Victorians found a synthetic substitute which was much cheaper (from what I gather, being cheaper than ground lapis lazuli isn't a particularly difficult feat to achieve). But when it's in something see-through, cobalt is amazing.

I don't know what it is about it that draws me the way it does. Especially when the sunlight shines through it, it just gives me a little stab of pleasure to look at it. Blue, I heard somewhere, it actually physically calming; they've done studies with horse boxes painted blue and painted red, and the horses in the blue boxes cooled down much faster after a race than the ones in the red. Also, flies will sit on a red surface, but not on a blue (or at least will choose a red surface over a blue if given the option). Go figure. I guess my genetic makeup doesn't include a whole lot of housefly.

Not that I don't like red - I'm wearing a bright red shirt as I'm typing - but blue, there's just something about it. And not just cobalt, or ultramarine blue, either. Another favourite paint colour of mine is phthalocyanine blue (next time you've taken too big a bite of your piece of toast, try saying it: f-thay-low-sigh-a-nine. Phthalo phthalo phthalo. Hey, I didn't tell you to spit crumbs all over the table!). Phthalo blue is like Prussian blue before the latter dries; I've always loved putting down a swath of Prussian blue, and then I'd get all disappointed when it dries to its ordinary duller shade. Phthalo retains that "pow!" For some folk, it's a little loud - so much for blue being calming.

Oh, and that green bottle sitting on the windowsill, I bought that particular wine for the shape of the bottle. And I do love how the green sets off the blue - don't you?

Life, the Universe, and Shades of Blue. I'm gonna sing the bluuues...


  1. This post helps me a lot. I'm just learning the differences. Your bottles do look nice in the sun light.

  2. If you click on those links in the text, the wikipedia article on the different kinds of blue has a clickable chart on the bottom with all different kinds of blue!

    But for painting, the one thing to remember: ultramarine & cobalt are "warm" blues (mix well with red for purple); prussian and phthalo are "cool" (make killer greens). Straight-up phthalo (with just white, no other colour) is my favourite sky colour, but I know quite a few others who love ultramarine for that.

    Did I mention I love blue? ;)

  3. I'm really glad you love blue - you balance out my friend Holly who doesn't like blue at all. I love blue as well - there is something totally uplifting about it, isn't there? And I totally get buying a bottle of wine for the bottle, not the wine...LOL

  4. Well, it's not like I *dis*like the wine, either... :)