The Artist's Road  World Map

Getting Blue - Perspectives No. 59

 

Getting Blue
Perspectives No. 59

Photograph of Cobalt Artist Paint


   Where would painting be without the color blue? It is so easy to obtain artist paints of any hue these days that we forget that in the time of both Michelangelo and Titian, a pure, vibrant blue pigment could only be made by laboriously cooking and hand-grinding a stone of lapis lazuli into a fine powder, and then adding oils and binders to make it into a suitable paint. Called “oltramarino”, it was made from surpar, the very finest lapis lazuli from Afghanistan. It was the most expensive paint material in the world, and so not always readily available. In those days, it was not uncommon that a commissioned painting would have to remain incomplete until the expensive surpar could be furnished by the wealthy patron.
 
   It was not until another blue was discovered that artists had any other choice. This new pigment, nearly as valuable to artists as oltramarino, originally came from Persia, now Iran, and in English was called "cobalt", a corruption of the German "kobald", or gremlin. Discovered by silver miners, it was hated because it attracts deadly arsenic. It also has a propensity to change colors upon heating, and so was used in invisible inks. In high-temperature uses, however, it is very stable and produces a brilliant deep sky blue color. Thus, it became a highly-prized glaze used by the Persians on their tile and the Chinese on their porcelain ware.

   Although it had been used in impure forms in pigments since the 1500s, it wasn’t made into a pure artist’s pigment until the nineteenth century, by a scientist named Louis-Jacques Thenard. It was and still is, an expensive pigment to use. But why? Modern mining operations and efficient industrial processing should have made cobalt relatively inexpensive by now. Part of the answer is that the U.S. has no domestic supply of the metal and imports 20% of the world production each year. The main reason, though, is that cobalt is far more in demand for industrial uses than artistic ones.
 
   In a chart of pigment information contained in James Gurney’s book, Color and Light, we noticed an interesting remark after “cobalt blue”. It says, “Expensive due to use on jet turbine blades.” This prompted a little more research which revealed cobalt’s true story. From a company mining and selling cobalt called Idaho Cobalt, we found a confirmation of the other more extensive uses of cobalt:  “Cobalt is an essential alloying element in high temperature super alloys used for casting airfoils and structural parts in jet turbine engines. . .
Substitution for cobalt in jet engine castings will probably not occur and cannot be considered as a meaningful solution to the cobalt supply problem."

  
Cobalt is considered a “strategic metal” by the U.S. Government. Its uses include solar panels, wind turbines, rare earth magnets, communication satellites, geothermal and hydrogen energy production and storage, cell phones, tablets, laptops, hard disc drives, vitamins, prosthetics, and cancer treatment, just to name a very few applications.
 
   Ironically, this demand may eventually drive the price of cobalt to the point where we come full circle back to the days of Michelangelo, where artists will have to either forego the use of cobalt in their paintings or do as he did and ask their affluent patrons to supply it for them!




blog comments powered by Disqus


Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
Become an Artist's Road Member Today!

The Artist's Road LogoClick here to become a Member and enjoy access to all the in-depth painting and travel articles, videos and tutorials. Guaranteed!

Search the Site
Pay-Per-View Articles

New! If you're not a Member of The Artist's Road, some of our articles are available as Pay-Per-View.

Click here to find out more!

Perspectives

Not ready to become a Member yet? Subscribe to our free email postcards, "Perspectives". Enter your email address here.

New Member Content

Autumn's Last Breath, 16x20", oil, © Paul KratterVoices of Experience:Paul Kratter

 

John Hulsey Teaching in Tuscany © J. HulseyThe Painter as Teacher

 

The GIft of TIme, 30 x 40", Pastel, © Kim LordierVoices of Experience:Kim Lordier


Paint Strokes in Oil by John hulseyCreating A Vision

 

 

  Forest of Fontainebleau, 1834, Camille CorotThe Charm of Fontainebleau

 

Pain(detail) America Window, Stained Glass, Art Institute of Chicago, Marc Chagallting with Glass

 


In th
Carrieres de Lumieres II, photograph © J. Hulseye Footsteps of Van Gogh-Part II


 The Irises, 1889, Vincent van GoghIn the Footsteps of Van Gogh


  John Hulsey Paints in the Studio BoatThe Studio Boat

 

Clearing Off, Charlotte ComanThe Women of the Hudson River School

 Wood Ducks II, Oil, © John HulseyWood Ducks II Step-by-Step Oil Demo

 Water Lilies (Nenuphar), 1895, Isaac LevitanThe Allure of Painting Water Lilies

 
 Custom Colors for AbiquiuCreating Custom Tube Colors

 

         Landscape with Sunrise by Claude MonetThe Perspectives Archive

and MUCH MORE!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Artist's Road Store
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.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

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.
About Ann
     About John
 Hulsey Trusty Studios

We are also regular contributors to the Plein Air blog at Artist Daily.

TAR logo