Hey peeps, if you enjoyed my previous post about yellow, here I’ll talk about another primary color, the ever-enchanting BLUE.

The most popular color, that is, at least according to polls across US and Europe. One recent study by Spoonflower ranked blue, again, as the No 1 choice in US.

Designers know this, too. Most of their clients will choose blue for logos, because blue suggests honesty and loyalty. Let’s dive into the symbolism of blue and why so many people choose it. 

I’ve always wondered why so many of our fellow Earth dwelling humans would go for blue as a favorite color, but I have a theory. At least I used to, until I read another article, but I’ll come back to that article shortly.

Here’s my theory:

My hypothesis starts from that big thing above us, called sky. It is, by far, the most prevalent natural occurrence anywhere you would turn your head around. Unless you live underground like a mole and never popped your head above the surface, the sky will always be half of the big panoramic view in which you navigate every day (the other half is the earth beneath your feet, with all its happenings).

So, if the sky is blue (well, most of the time, depending on the weather), and you catch a glimpse of it above your head on a daily basis, that’s a damn good reason to like blue. (Familiarity leads to preference). And I’m not just talking about nowadays. This blue sky has been going on for… as long as Earth has been around, like, um, 4.5 billion years I guess. So I’m assuming humanity has learned to associate the sky with blue and freedom and supernatural and transcendent since ancient times.

Can you see blue if you don’t have a word for it, though?

Yeah, like I said, I’m assuming we associate blue with sky and freedom and I’m assuming that’s what people have been doing for millennia. But here comes a story that will turn my theory and your expectations upside down. This really cool Radiolab episode talks about several studies on how ancient people saw the colors around them.

Long story short, ancient languages did not have a word for “blue”. Not Greek (Homer describes the “wine-dark sea” in Odyssey), not Chinese, not Hindu (Vedic hymns talk incessantly about the skies, but no mention of blue…), not Hebrew, not Japanese, and so on. Everywhere you would look, the ancient texts described purple, red, black… but not blue. Except… the Egyptians, because they actually had developed a method for producing a blue pigment, through some really cool chemical reactions involving the most ubiquitous material they could get: the sand (more on this in my next post about blue). So the Egyptians did have a word for blue.

The verdict is still out there.

Yet…, if there was no word for blue in most languages, how could people know it was blue? There’s a lot of controversy around this story, including some unverified studies of a tribe in Africa that allegedly has a hard time seeing blue because they don’t have a word for it.

Of course, the fact that there was no word for blue in ancient languages doesn’t mean that people couldn’t actually perceive blue. Right? At least according to this post, the linguistic relativism is irrelevant. Ancient people might have seen the blue color, but still did not have a word for it.

In any case, my theory that people like blue so much because they’ve been naming the big thing above them as “blue” sky for millennia…  still remains open for debate.

  Blue is a beloved color, for a myriad of reasons.

  Let’s start with the basic impressions of blue:

  •   Blue as in the sky. Did you know that we see the sky as blue not because there is a sort of a blue pigment in the air particles, but because of the way the light gets scattered through the atmosphere? Blue is scattered more than other colors because it travels as shorter, smaller waves. (according to this NASA short article).
  •   Blue is the ocean, the water (another big thing that many of us living on the seacoast see on a daily basis – and paint… like my masterpiece below :)) ). Both water and sky blue will give you a sense of infinity, freedom, liberation. Majestic feelings, no wonder why blue is so revered. 
  •   Blue flowers are more rare than other plant colors, and most plants that we see today as blue have actually been cultivated to appear like that, through scientific methods. The flowers that naturally have a blue color don’t actually have blue pigments, but rather change the petal color through pH variations. Check this article out for more on blue flowers. Blue flowers suggest uniqueness, preciousness
  •   Some birds have impressive blue colors, like the bluebird species in North America, lots of birds in South America like parrots, macaws, plus the well-known peacock, etc. Their unmatched beauty elevates the blue color to a royal status. 

  If you think that flowers have a unique method for producing the blue color, think twice. The blue feathers have no blue pigment, either, just like flowers don’t carry a blue dye in their petals. We actually see a blue coloration in the feathers kind of similarly with how we perceive the blue skies. Kind of similarly, but not quite: according to the Smithsonian institute, it’s called a “structural color”, because light interacts with the 3-D arrangement of the feathers, making the red and yellow cancel each other out, while the blue light gets amplified.

  Nature plays a lot of tricks on our eyes. Especially when it comes to blue.

  •   In the winter, your shadow on the snow will look bluish. Impressionists painted the shaded areas and shadows primarily in blue hues.
  • There are also spectacular blue pigments, either from natural or synthetic sources. More on those in my next blog post (blue pigments deserve a separate chapter).

 The photo below shows a sample of art supplies and materials from my studio. The blue rock inside the mortar is genuine Lapis Lazuli semiprecious stone. The tube with the white cap on the right hand side contains the actual lazurite powder after a piece of the stone was ground. The other vial with the black cap also has lazurite powder, from Rublev Colours – a more refined and purified version with an intense blue hue. The pastel sticks on the bottom of the image are my favorite brand: Sennelier.

More on the story of Lapis Lazuli blue and how it reached my studio from a far away place on the other side of the world, and then up on some icons that I painted, in my next blog post about blue pigments. 

  The more abstract meanings of blue

  •   Blue can symbolize honesty, loyalty.
  •   It is also the symbol of freedom, as the sky is a place of free flying and infinity.
  •   Blue is stability and strength, because the blue sky will always be there. Mountains in the distance are aways blue, and they are always going to be there.
  •   Johannes Itten said that “blue is always passive”. “Blue is contracted, introverted. As red is associated with blood, so is blue associated with the nervous system”.
  •   Blue is passive because it recedes in the background. Leonardo da Vinci discovered that as objects are more distant from the eye, the more bluish they appear, due to the interposed layers of air particles.

  That’s why blue is a beautiful color as a background and many TV stations will have blue as their backdrop, behind the TV hosts. A room painted in blue feels more spacious than a room painted in red or yellow, which can feel more “snug”.

  • Blue is silence, tranquility. Blues calm the mind. Strong blues induce clear thoughts, while pale blues are soothing.
  • Blue points to transcendental, to another dimension. It is a spiritual color, aspiring to the infinity. In iconography, Virgin Mary is represented with red outer garments and blue clothes on the inside. This signifies her original human nature (the red) and her heavenly nature (the blue). Read more about the red color in this post
  • Blue is cold, red is warm. Winter has more blue tones than summer. A lot of blue in a home can make you feel more chill than if your walls were painted in yellow or other warm colors.
  • Blue in a room induces sleep and relaxation (maybe people want more blue in their homes because they instinctively would like to counteract the stressful pace of modern life?)
  • Blue is nautical. Next to white and off-white or beige, it’s a refreshing combination evoking the seaside and the coastal atmosphere, taking you back to vacation nostalgia. The coastal interior design is rooted in this type of color palette: 

  Blue has a lot of cultural meanings, as well.

  • Think of babies and how we dress them differently, if they are a boy or a baby girl. Blue is masculine, pink is feminine.
  • Blue-blooded means aristocracy. On the other hand, a blue-collared worker is a manual laborer.
  • In different societies, blue has various meanings. Blue is holiness in Judaism, it conveys patriotism on many flags, it’s the color of liberalism in US.
  • Blue is the color of confidence, reliability and professionalism. That’s why a lot of companies use blue in their logos ( Think Walmart, Facebook, Ford, Dell, American Express, etc). 
  • Blue curbs appetite, but increases productivity (and guess what: it’s the most used color in offices – now you know why!).

Blue has so many variations. Blue can also veer into greenish or purple, but I’ll leave those hues for a separate discussion. Here are just a few examples of blue colors and their meaning. 

I still like to think that the reason why blue is the most preferred color is because… it’s up there, in the sky. It’s stable, immutable, eternal. The sky never goes away.

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