Winslow Homer, “Flower Garden and Bungalow, Bermuda.” Watercolor on paper, reproduced as art print. Source: etsy.com via Wrenaissance on Pinterest
Cerulean. adj. From Latin caeruleus, dark blue. First known use in 1662. Resembling the blue of the sky. From Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary.
When most artists want to paint a sky, cerulean blue is most likely the first watercolor pigment they think of using. Interestingly, the color was only invented in the early 19th century and was first sold as an artist’s color in 1861 by G. Rowney. Cerulean blue (color index PB 35) has the chemical name of Cobalt (II) stannate and is the result of heating tin salts with cobalt. It was invented at around the same time as the other modern cobalt pigments, including cobalt blue and cobalt green.
Cerulean blue was quickly adopted by the Impressionists, who enthusiastically experimented with all the new chemical compounds that were being developed as color pigments during the Industrial Revolution. Monet’s Gare-St. Lazare station series is frequently cited as being one of the earliest professional uses of cerulean blue in art.
Cerulean blue is often described as a neutral blue, or even slightly on the green side of the blue spectrum. Personally, I find it to be a reddish blue when compared to my other favorite sky pigment, manganese blue. As watercolor pigments, both granulate in washes, but cerulean to me has a more delicate and even pattern as it settles, while manganese tends to form rivulets.
Top: Gradated wash of Holbein Cerulean Blue watercolor. Row 2, L to R: Cerulean with Cadmium Lemon; Alizarin Crimson; Cadmium Orange; Permanent Magenta. Row 3, L to R: Opera; Cadmium Yellow Medium; Potter’s Pink; New Gamboge. Row 4, L to R: Vermilion; Jaune Brillant; Cadmium Red Medium; Hansa Yellow. Row 5, L to R: Naples Yellow; Violet Grey; Yellow Ochre; Dioxazine Purple.
The graduated wash at the top shows cerulean blue’s fine-grained reticulations. Don’t you just love the lively, clear lime greens formed with cadmium lemon and Hansa yellow? The cleanest violets in the chart are formed by mixing Opera, alizarin crimson and Permanent Magenta with cerulean. I think mixing cerulean with the warmer reds on the chart gives some great shadow tones for painting flesh, while the warmer yellows and earth yellows result in some yummy, earthy, olive shades.
How do you like to use cerulean blue?