Art Unboxed

Art Unboxed Prussian Blue

I have been fascinated by the different colors on an artist’s palette for along time. Many artists limit their colors to a certain range of colors, or use only three colors to mix all of their different combinations. I use more colors than most.

I am a fan of what are called convenience colors (colors that can be mixed but you buy already mixed to save time or for convenience). Yet there are a few colors I try to always keep on my palette, at the top is Prussian Blue.

The first painting which used Prussian Blue is said to be the entombment of Christ by Pieter van der Werff in 1709. It was the first synthetic blue invented since the recipe for Egyptian Blue was lost. Baroque painters fell in love with Prussian Blue, but it was Japanese artists in woodblock prints that made it shine. The abstract painter Pablo Picasso used it in his blue period.

It’s also been called Paris or Parisian Blue, it was named Prussian Blue because the Prussian Army adopted it for their uniforms. The history of Prussia is too vast to cover, but for this article we will condense it considerably and say it was a nation that is now part of Germany. One of the reasons Prussian Blue is important is that as a synthetic pigment, it was far less costly to use than blue made from grinding Lapis Lazuli, a semi precious stone.

As a watercolorist I will admit many have gravitated away from it because they say it is not as lightfast as other blues, but I still use it. Many have went to Cobalt or Phalo Blue and while nice colors, they are not my favorite. I enjoy Prussian Blue both for its versatility and richness.

I am a huge enthusiast of the hue of Prussian Blue, whether dark, light, or muted. It’s considered a cool blue, meaning a blue with a green bias to it. Since most of my watercolors are preserved in sketchbooks, portfolios, or displayed digitally, lightfastness (basically meaning it won’t fade exposed to light) is not a concern for me.

I also use Prussian Blue in acrylics, it’s my favorite all around blue in art. In fact my admiration of Prussian Blue didn’t start with watercolor, it began with a medium that I don’t paint in any more, oil. For years as a child and an adult, I watched Bob Ross list his colors which featured Prussian Blue prominently.

Prussian Blue, like Yellow Ochre, Venetian Red, and Olive Green have a uniqueness about them that for me help create a signature to my paintings. While I want to avoid getting into a rut where all of my paintings look the same, these colors reflect my style and are a huge part of my palette and paintings. It’s good to put some thought into your colors and palette, as long as you avoid the temptation to overthink it. At the same time, when all is said and done, it reverts back to the simplicity of the crayon box when we were kids, your favorite colors are the ones you use most.

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