Why We’re Blue

We’re getting bluer. Or at least our art is.

A recent article in the Daily Mail noted a study wherein artwork from the past 2 centuries was composited into a graph. At around 1920, there appears a definite uptick in the use of blue.

So what happened?

There’s speculation that are color preferences have changed, that subject matter has changed (which it certainly has). But I believe that it’s all due to the development of synthetic blue pigment in the 1700’s onward that was the real reason to our world becoming more blue.


Lapis lazuli was the ancient source for ultramarine blue pigment

First, a brief overview of how paint is made. Essentially, it is a colorant contained in a medium. This colorant is usually ground up something: earth, glass, minerals and such. Sometimes it’s an organic material that’s been dried and ground up. A great illustration of pigments throughout the centuries (and some of their side effects)is available here. The medium either dries (water-based) or hardens (oil-based) and the colorant left in place.

Natural ultramarine pigment

Natural ultramarine pigment

Now, let’s look back even further…back to ancient Egypt. Prior to this, blue pigment had to be made from ground up azurite or lapis lazuli. The Egyptians made the first synthetic blue pigment from a copper compound, calcium carbonate, silica, and alkali ash. This mixture was carefully fired and often, ground and fired again. It’s thought that the calcium wasn’t deliberately added, but was actually an impurity in the sand. Egyptian blue was a prized pigment and used to decorate tombs, molded into faiance beads and small artworks. But with the collapse of the Roman Empire and the

synthetic ultramarine pigment

synthetic ultramarine pigment

darkness of the Middle Ages, the technique to creating Egyptian blue was lost. The attempts to recreate it were missing that one important element – the calcium impurities in the Egyptian sand.

Artists were limited then to grinding up azurite, lapis lazuli for some very costly pigment, or use the less expensive (and less intense) smalt (cobalt glass) and indigo. Lapis lazuli was the basis for the revered blue known as ultramarine. It was so expensive that it was reserved for only the most precious works. The Virgin Mary gained her blue robes about this time as a testament to just how precious this color was.

Time and science marched on. In the early-1700’s Prussian blue (a deep blue pigment) became the first synthetic blue pigment. But it wasn’t ultramarine.

In 1814, Tassaert observed the spontaneous formation of a blue compound, very similar to ultramarine, if not identical with it, in a lime kiln at St. Gobain, which caused the Societé pour l’Encouragement d’Industrieto offer, in 1824, a prize for the artificial production of the precious color. Two men created it independently of each other in 1826 and 1828, and the world finally had an affordable ultramarine blue.

Henri Matisse – “The Dance”

Which brings us up to date with our graph. And then, a second bluing agent comes on the stage the Art Nouveau and Impressionist movements. A turning away from traditional landscape, portraiture, and holy subjects (the big three of traditional art), these new artists chose new subject matter and new styles – and made a lot of use of blue! Think Van Gogh’s “Starry Night, “ the myriad of Monet’s landscapes and water lilies, and Matisse’s use of large areas of shape and color. Even Picasso had his “blue period.” These imaginative canvases not only broke subject matter barriers, they used color in an entirely different way! And this non-traditional usage continues to this day!

Reading through the information about creating pigment the traditional way, and the paint’s interaction with light vs. synthetic pigment made me begin to think about the effects of the material itself on the piece of art. But that’s another topic



Posted in History

Photoshop – an Interview

Webdesigner Depot recently published an interview with Stephen Nielson, Senior Product Manager for Photoshop, discussing both the development history of Photoshop, and where it’s going to.   It’s a very interesting read, and I’d recommend you take a look at it.

Photoshop recently celebrated its 25th birthday?! Seems like just the other day that I was writing about their 20th (for another blog). Tempus fugits, indeed.  I’d wager that few designers today could imagine what Photoshop was like back in the 90’s at its origins. It was a FAR different piece of software than it is today! I began my design career back on Photoshop 3. (yes, that’s 3….not CS3, but the 3rd version)   Back then, there was only one undo, so you had to worked on a lot of layers and really tried to catch any mistakes immediately – or else risk ruining a couple hours’ of work!  You also had to walk uphill through 3 feet of snow both ways to save a file!  (ok, just kidding about that one, but it really was such a different, less complicated program than today’s version).

Even at Photoshop’s beginnings, it contained so many tools that allowed a designer so many options. One had a chance to know almost everything that it could do. I’d venture to say that now, no one designer is a complete master of all of its applications. And part of that is because Photoshop’s range has become so broad. (actually, this interview notes that is why Lightroom became a standalone app for photographers)

Me, I’m hoping that Photoshop will be around for another 25 years, and that I’m still here at the digital tablet (or whatever input method we’re using by then) using it.


Posted in Uncategorized

Maybe Google should have just used the now-discarded Olympics’ logo

Yes, we’ve all seen that Google has a new logo. My first thought was “what, did they decide to use Dick and Jane’s 1960’s school primer as inspiration?”  The second was “I’m hoping that they up the number of special occasion logos to 300+”

Say all you want about flat, clean looks…this font is flat and clean dead. Maybe that little upturned “e” has a bit of personality. Google’s colors will always and forever be those primary colors. But that combined with the mono-weight stoke make it look like something in front of a primary school.  I understand the transition to a sans-serif font (and y’all know how of LOVE a sans-serif font!). But there are so many better choices out there. Ones that have personality!

And that multi-colored “G” – what the heck?

The one bright light in this identity rollout is the animated balls – and they are just wonderful. Perfect feel, perfect movement. Maybe Google can just replace the logo with the little balls.

If you want to see their thoughts behind the logo, that’s all right here.  Although it IS better than their 90’s era beveled and embossed serif logo…

Then, there was the identity “roll in” of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics logo. You’ve heard about this one – a nicely designed logo (and its alternate for the Paralympic Games) that too closely resembled another nicely designed logo. Let’s face it – designers look at others’ works all the time for inspiration. But there’s a line between “inspiration” and “copying” and often those lines get blurred.


The search for a new logo is already on, and there’s some really lovely (informally proposed) work out there. My favorite is the “folding fan” that’s both visually interesting and a nod towards Japan’s history.


(read the complete story over at Gizmondo)

And so we watch how this design plays out. In the meantime, perhaps Google can consult with @vivakankan for a logo revision.

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s a Fine Line

The last year or so has seen the look of web design change dramatically as design elements have gotten flatter and leaner. While I still waffle of the “advance” of flat design (some of it’s lovely, some just leaves me … well, flat), I am loving the movement towards line icons.

A recent article in Designmondo really shows just how far artistically these little elements have advanced. What I personally like about them is that they embody my philosophy of clean and lean design. These in particular have a certain delicacy about them that I find visually pleasing and allows for enough detail that one actually doesn’t have to guess the meaning of said icon (no “mystery meat navigation” here!)

For example, there’s this lovely set of travel icons from Creative Market –

Another (FREE!!) set over at Web Design Blog

So look for me using these versatile and stylish icons in my upcoming web designs!

Posted in Uncategorized