“Really? Who doesn’t use Ultramarine Blue! I never knew anyone who doesn’t consider it a staple. Intrigued! Is there a reason?” — S.B.*
(*In response to my previous blog post in which I said, right at the end, that I almost never use ultramarine.)
Well, you do now. <cue: smile>
I really, truly, genuinely, rarely use ultramarine. I definitely don’t consider it a staple. As to the reason why: I simply don’t like it enough.
If used unmixed, it’s instantly recognisable; you look at a painting and tick the mental “that’s ultramarine” box. It’s a learning-towards-brash bright, brilliant blue. It’s not a sea blue. It’s not a sky blue. It’s not a river blue. It’s not deep-dark shadows blue. It’s the blue of fabric, of Virgin Mary’s dresses, not landscape.
Cennino Cennini, the 15th century Italian artist who wrote on the techniques of the great masters in The Craftsman’s Handbook, describes ultramarine as “illustrious, beautiful, and most perfect, beyond all other colours”. [He was writing about genuine ultramarine, of course, created from lapis lazuli, not French ultramarine, a pigment invented in 1828 by the colourmaker Jean-Baptiste Guime (no prizes for guessing what country he lived in).]
What blue is my favourite then? It used to be Prussian blue, but phthalo turquoise may well have moved into that spot. Prussian is still my go-to dark blue and stormy-sky blue. I also use phthalo blue (I love its staining quality), cerulean blue, cobalt teal. In some seascapes I use every blue I’ve got, and that includes ultramarine. But it’s rarely a starting point blue.
Could I live without ultramarine? Most likely. Though it feels almost sacrilegious saying so down: my least-favourite blue is ultramarine. And now I have I’m feeling guilty for not loving it enough, and might just have to try painting and mixing with it once again to see if I can’t love it a little more.
What’s your favourite and least favourite blue? Post a comment below and let me know.