Nameless - Perspectives from The Artist's Road


Perspectives from The Artist's Road


Pond in a Garden, Tomb of Nebamun

Pond in a Garden, Tomb of Nebamun
(with artificial lapis lazuli)

   Next in our series investigating the colors we use to make art, is the color blue. Today, blue is ubiquitous, in our pigments and in our language. We can’t imagine a time when the word blue was not in our vocabulary. But, this was not always so. Many ancient cultures (and a few isolated native cultures still today), did or do not have a word for the color blue! Ancient Greece, surrounded by the blue Aegean and lit by the vast arching blue of the sky, did not have a word for it, even though their world was dominated by it.

   We don’t know why blue was unnamed for so long. It appears from the historical record that it may have been unrecognized as a distinct hue, not seen as being too different from green or light gray. It's unthinkable today, looking up at a bright blue sky or a vast expanse of deep blue ocean, to not have a word to describe those colors. This brings us around to how important language is to our ability to recognize and describe our world. If there is no word for something, even something as large as the sky, the result may well be that it is rarely spoken or written about. It is just that big, hulking mystery above our heads during the day. At night, ablaze with fascinating stars, it was often historically described as black, no matter what color it actually was. The ancients knew black and white. Language is vitally important to our ability to conceptualize the universe, and so it is important for our ability to make art.

   The first pigments used for painting were generally made from what was readily at hand—the ochres, charcoals and umbers of the earth. Gradually, white, red and green colors appeared, still derived from natural sources. It was a huge intellectual leap by the Egyptians to make a synthetic blue pigment, but at least they had a word for it, “hsbd-iryt”, or artificial lapis lazuli, discovered and produced with the encouragement of the Pharaohs to be used for art. The word preceded the object. And that word came from their knowledge of, and desire for, expensive lapis lazuli, the mineral which was mined far away in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the technology to make synthetic lapis lazuli died out with the fall of the Roman empire. If one didn’t have lapis, there was no blue to color anything with and therefore, no reason to describe it. Much later, the Romans invented a word for the imported lapis, “oltramarino”, meaning "beyond the sea", an imprecise word to describe the as yet undefined color blue. That name would stick and come down to us as the color "ultramarine".

   In the next few weeks, we will be bringing you more fascinating tales of the discovery of the pigments we know today as blue as we follow the winding path towards a world where blue finally has a name and the world-wide demand for blue pigments explodes. In the meantime, read a little more about some studies on human color preferences in Blue Skies.

Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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A Primer on Night Painting - Nocturnes

Nocturnes - A Primer on Night Painting

Filled with inspirational examples by the masters of nightime painting, this little book is sure to fire up your creative energies. Never tried painting at night? We show you how it's done with a step-by-step-oil demo and a tale of night painting in the wilds of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Primer on Night Painting - Nocturnes is a 7 x 7" PDF download with 40 pages of text and images. It includes a gallery of paintings by masters of the nocturne, information to inspire and encourage you in your plein air nocturne painting, an illustrated step-by-step demo and tips for working in pastel and oil. Also available in a softcover edition. Check out the tools and other products that we use in our own art and travels in The Artist's Road Store. We only offer things for sale that we enthusiastically believe in.







About Us

Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
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