I made this painting recently based on a study that I did down on the Edisto Island a couple of years ago in the fall.
“Dawn Light, Edisto”, oil, 8 x 10”, © Mary Bentz Gilkerson
October is one of my favorite times of year to be on the Island. The light then is spectacular. The color of the sky and the ocean becomes this rich, intense cobalt blue.
It always reminds me when I see cobalt of that time of year in the Southeast, between October and March, when the angle of the light shifts and gets lower. You have that really rich orange colored light, which leads to those super intense cobalt blues in the sky.
I love painting those.
And I love painting this particular time of day, early morning before the lights even come up before the sun’s fully risen into the sky.
So I sat on the front porch that morning, sipping a cup of coffee and quickly sketching in what I saw literally unfolding in front of me. The color of the sky before the light came up, was super dark and rich and blue. indigo almost so dark it was black. And then as the sun began to rise that indigo shifted to cobalt and became a whole range of blues in the sky.
That color blue says fall to me. The rich cobalt blue that fills the water and sky with the taste of blueberries, the color of a flock of blue birds rising out of a field, or the salty taste of the sea.
Cobalt blue pigment
Now my saying that cobalt blue is one of my favorite colors may surprise some of you who know me really well, especially my students, because I don’t paint with cobalt blue.
Instead I use a mixture of ultramarine and phthalo blue that comes about as close as you can get to cobalt.
And I don’t use cobalt because it’s is a really toxic pigment. It’s out of my studio and off of my palette. The truth is you can mix cobalt from a simple combination that doesn’t have any of that toxicity, that also gives you the ability to mix that huge range of blues that you’ll see at any one time in the sky.
Take a look at this cyanometor.
I love this tool. It goes back to the 18th century when a visionary scientist/artist climbed to the top of a mountain in Switzerland to try to document the way that blue changes in the sky from the top to the bottom.
What he left out is that the blue changes as well, depending on seasons, it changes from side to side, meaning where the source of the light is as well.
So you’ll have a really cobalt, ultramarine blue at the top and something that’s a whole lot greener towards the horizon line. You’ll have a more intense, cooler blue on one.,left or right side, depending on where the sun is and a warmer range closer to the light source.
The key is to remember don’t mix just one in blue for the sky capture, at least 10 or 12 different blues. And you’ll begin to capture the richness that is even a plain sky without any clouds.
There are a lot of pigments out there. Some of the oldest ones like ultramarine blue used to be made from minerals, like lapis lazuli, a really expensive stone.
That is the reason that you have so few blues in medieval and Renaissance painting. But the blues that are there, they are luscious. And blue became the color of royalty. Then later scientists developed synthetic blue pigments like the modern ultramarine blue, actually a little bit more intense and again, safe.
Modern ultramarine pigment
Phthalo blue is another more modern synthetic pigment that we use a lot. Super, super intense, some would say a little too much.
But when you have those two blues, you can mix almost all the rest, especially if you have that double primary palette and you use the warm red, the cool red, the warm yellow, and the cool yellow to slightly alter and adjust those blues that you mix.
I’ve got a short tutorial on how to mix blues for the sky here.
You don’t need a whole pile of tubes of blue. You just need a warm and a cool, you just need ultramarine and phthalate blue. I hope that you will get in there and explore all of the possibilities that there are in blue.
What’s your favorite blue? Let me know. I’d love to hear. Happy painting everybody. Remember, stay resilient, your hands and paint on.