Ice Blue


As we brainstorm month after month to bring you a meaningful hue for each Arc En Ciel issue, our attention has been drawn to colors that reflect the natural progression of the seasons.

Last month, we featured Spicy Mustard - a bold, hopeful, deep yellow to capture changing leaves and the passing warmth of summer. Now, as the chill of winter begins to take hold, we're shifting gears toward a cooler palette.

Enter Ice Blue, a color to reflect the shifting hues you see in frost, icy waters, glacial scenes.  Like ice itself, Ice Blue is a color that you can't hold onto for long.  It melts, shifts, and shines between a myriad of tones. December brings a decadence with it that can't be matched, and with that, we present prized blues that have played hard-to-get and for that been admired far and wide.

From Ultramarine, which is associated with the shifting seas, to Lapis Lazuli (the mineral make-up of which translates to heaven), to pale, watery blues, the Depo presents our color of December. We've selected some evasive, evocative, ethereal and energizing stories of blue to charm you with this month. Banish the winter blues by welcoming this ice, Ice Blue, baby.

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Tumbling a tiny lapiz lazuli gemstone between your palms is a warmer way to get a close-up look at what appears could be a tiny sliver of an expansive glacier. These stunning stones put off rich, varied blues with hints of shimmer (Image: Source 2).

In Daniel Smith Watercolors, the Lapiz Lazuli pigment is a subtle blue-grey, with a classic color that is light reflective (due to an irregular, angular pigment particle shape). And the shimmer? A touch of golden pyrite.

Lapis lazuli is typically a blend of three separate minerals. In addition to pyrite, Lapiz lazuli contains deep blue lazurite and white calcite. Lazurite, contributing that ultramarine-esque hue among the trio, is a deep to greenish blue tectosilicate related to sodalite (tectosilicates are the largest mineral group, comprising nearly 75% of the Earth's crust)(Source 3). Check out the Lapis Lazuli that the Toledo Gem & Rock Hound Club let us borrow at the bottom of this post. You can see the three minerals shine deeply.

Lapis lazuli is found in limestone in the Kokcha River valley in northeastern Afghanistan. This area was the source of lapis for the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations, as well as the later Greeks and Romans. In addition to the Afghan deposits, lapis is also extracted in the Andes near Ovalle, Chile; and to the west of Lake Baikal in Siberia. Right here in the United States, you can find the brilliant gem in much smaller quantities from mines in California and Colorado (Source 4).

Mining for lapis in Afghanistan has been reported as taking place as early as the 7th millennium BC. Lapis was highly valued among Indus Valley metropolitan civilizations (3300–1900 BC), and Shortugai was a major mining and trading colony of the civilization in Afghanistan. One very notable use of lapis lazuli? The adornment for the eyebrows and other features on the funeral mask of Tutankhamun. The name lazurite is derived from the term "Lazaward", which means heaven in Arabic, alluding to its blue color (Source 6).

At the end of the Middle Ages, lapis lazuli began to be exported to Europe.  It was used by some of the most important artists of the Renaissance and Baroque, including Masaccio, Perugino, Titian and Vermeer, who often reserved this most prized and expensive pigment for the clothing of the central figures of their paintings, especially the Virgin Mary.

Daniel Smith’s Lapis Lazuli contains at least 80% pure gem pigment, which is mined in the mountains of South America; specifically Chile, where the Ministry of Mining declared lapis lazuli the National Stone in November of 1984 - fourteen years before this Daniel Smith watercolor hit the market. The color has an almost three-dimensional effect; completely different from the predictable blue of synthetic ultramarine pigments. Daniel Smith brand does not purchase any pigment they cannot guarantee a 15 year supply of, ensuring unmatched color consistency tube-to-tube.  

Lapis Lazuli is one of Daniel Smith’s Primatek colors; a series of straight-from-the-earth pigments that bring natural world complexity to the artist’s palette. These colors granulate more extremely than others, giving them a more textural and rich look on both cold- and hot-press watercolor papers.

Another lapis product made by the company is Duochrome Lapis Sunlight, a luminescent watercolor that shifts from reflective green to blue. Watercolors can sometimes fall flat, due to the way they dry down into papers and surfaces, rather than sit on top like an acrylic or oil paint would more so do. Nature has optical surprises in the colors that you see, and luminescent colors can help watercolorists achieve these just as well as painters using other mediums (Source 5).

Daniel Smith’s luminescent colors add that glimmer found in nature that regular colors can’t match. Consider a silvery spiders’ web, clouds aglow at sunset, or the sparkle of snow and ice. Made from mica pigment, the product shows best as a glaze over darks or mixed with other colors for a bit of glow. At the SLS tradeshow, Daniel Smith owner John Cogley gave Jules and Lindsay a little watercolor tip that many artists he works with have begun using these shimmery options to add a wetness to the eyes in their portraiture work. Perfect for a warm smile or, in the spirit of this email, an icy stare.

The Art Supply Depo carries 77 colors in the Daniel Smith line in regular stock. The Duochrome and other luminescent colors can be custom ordered in either shop.

We pride ourselves in having the products our customer want available, and that’s a huge reason custom orders are possible and encouraged! At either location we have about 15,000 art supplies in stock, but Depo staff have access to over 70,000 additional products. Don’t see what you need? Ask! We’re happy to help and can often get exactly what you want shipped to the shop in just one week (Sources 3-6).



So how did more modern painters achieve the beauty of lapis lazuli, but with less of a trek and in some cases, for a lower cost?

Rather than by accidental discovery or a twist of fate that results in the arrival of some art supplies, the invention of synthetic ultramarine is very well documented - likely because it was in high demand and often requested of chemists to produce. 

Ultramarine genuine, made from the semi-precious lapis lazuli was so costly that by the 19th century it was infrequently used. The cost, however, could not outweigh that the color was a vital component in a balanced palette. Warm colors certainly do need cool blues to temper them.

The beginning of the development of artificial ultramarine blue is attributed to Goethe. In about 1787, he observed the blue deposits on the walls of lime kilns near Palermo in Italy. He was aware of the use of these glassy deposits in decorative applications, but Goethe did not mention if it was suitable to grind for a pigment (Source 8). The blue deposits were also taken from the Saint Gobain glassworks soda furnace by M. Tessäert, who was reportedly the first to suggest to the The Society for the Encouragement of National Industry in France that a method for making a synthetic ultramarine should be investigated. He gave his blue samples to Vauquelin, who published in 1814 that these blue masses were similar in composition to the costly lapis lazuli.

In 1824, the Society offered a six thousand franc reward to anyone who could develop a synthetic alternative to ultramarine. Two men came forward within several weeks of one another: Jean-Baptiste Guimet, a French chemist, and Christian Gmelin, a German professor. The prize was fiercely contested, with Gmelin claimed he had arrived at a solution a year earlier but had waited to publish the results. Guimet countered that he'd made his discovery two years prior but—like Gmelin—had not publicized his findings (Source 9). The committee awarded the prize to Guimet, much to the displeasure of the German gentry, and the artificial blue became known as French Ultramarine.

From the workarounds of the times describe above, to innovative methods today, blue continues to surprise and delight. Above, we spent a little time enjoying making our own glacial mess using a palette knife to push around Golden Ultramarine Heavy Body, Golden Fluid Iridescent Pearl, and a series of mediums - including the glass bead gel and molding paste, which are super fun to experiment with.

Below, in a particularly interesting icy installation, Birmingham-born Roger Hiorn brought a crystal cove to the UK. Reminiscent of a sharper-edged igloo, Seizure 2008 transformed a derelict South London flat into a sparkling, crystal-encrusted blue cave.

Hiornes flooded the location with 95,000 liters of boiled liquid copper sulfate. And, much like his innovative predecessors discussed above, his goal was to let the materials shine brighter than his own decision-making. Thus, he let the copper sulfate alone to do its magic for three weeks. When Roger returned, he was elated that during cooling, crystals had grown along every surface.

Seizure and the sparkling, ultramarine results, was nominated for the 2009 Turner Prize. Named after English painter J.M.W. Turner, UK's most publicized annual prize presented to a British visual artist under the age of 50 by the Tate Gallery (Sources 7-9).



When Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs came to MOMA, gallery-goers raved. According to Newsweek, the Guardian’s Jason Searle described it as “a joyous and fascinating exhibition…I eat it with my eyes and never feel sated.” When a similar collection of Matisse’s cutouts were shown at London’s Tate Gallery, it became the most popular show ever mounted there.

In 1941, Matisse was diagnosed with cancer and after operations was wheelchair-bound. Rather than let a wash of blues overwhelm him, he turned to 'drawing with scissors' to create some of his most celebrated works in what would be the final decade of his life.

One of the most immersive works - pun not intended - of the MOMA show was The Swimming Pool, an expansive, room-filling cut-out that surrounds the viewer. Composed for Matisse's own dining room in Nice, France, this wall-mounted "pool" resulted from his no longer able to visit his favorite swimming pool in Cannes. Matisse declared, “I will make myself my own pool.”

"Indeed, this nearly fifty-four-foot-long frieze of blue bathers silhouetted against a white rectangular band was designed to adorn the walls of Matisse's dining room at the Hôtel Régina in Nice. At the time of its creation, the artist was restricted to his bed or to a wheelchair, and he conjured this lyrical depiction of the natural world for his personal enjoyment.

Read from right to left, beginning and ending with a representation of a starfish, the contours of the diving or swimming forms eventually dissolve until the blue shapes define the splashing water and the negative white space represents the abstract figures. In a dynamic interplay with the background support, each bather flows rhythmically into the next, sometimes breaking free of the horizontal band in a graceful arabesque. Matisse combines contrasting viewing angles—from above looking down into the water or sideways as if from in the water—so that the different postures of the figures themselves determine the composition as a whole (Source 10)."

In addition to the pool, we love Matisse's use of blue in La Gerbe and The Parakeet and the Mermaid.  Another local artist, Sally Rumman, loves his late-in-life cut paper works so much that it inspires her jewelry. Above, Sally's Matisse-inspired cut acrylic mix-and-match earrings appear in their ice blue variation. Available at Art Supply Depo Toledo, Sally's creations also come in coral, white, and black. Here, they are featured with gorgeous jewelry by Crave and Rachel Najarian, as well as glacial-looking, lovely smelling soaps from Finchberry.

Want to create your own Matisse-style works? The acclaimed artist created his cut-outs in a simple but surprising way; rather than using colored papers, he painted individual sheets with a variety of Linel gouache colors. After drying, he surveyed the sheets, chose the color he desired, then cut a shape to fit his overall artwork. Matisse used pins to secure the cut forms; for small formats the artist would work on a board while sitting in a chair or in bed. For larger compositions, Matisse's studio assistants would pin cut forms to the wall as he directed.

For your own project, pick up paper, wood gallery panels, T-pins and scissors (for young kids, we carry and recommend Milan brand, which cut paper but not hair!). For gouache, which is a water-based, opaque, quick-drying, matte paint that consists of pigment, binder, and often a white pigment or filler to increase opacity, we carry Holbein brand in Toledo, while BG carries Linel (the brand it's said Henri himself used).  

Wanna know more about gouache? Pop in when Stephen's working. He LOVES the stuff, and might even share his fave signature blue with you!



An icy alternative to white paper? Our 22x30" sheets of Stonehenge Pale Blue 100% Cotton Paper. We have a saying around The Depo that "white isn't always right" when referring to a paper or canvas surface. Why are so many canvas surfaces and papers bright pure white, when not many things in the natural world are?  

Using a toned paper surface is a fun alternative to building up an entire range of values to create a rendered image. Simply add in your highlights and shadows with a drawing tool, and let the paper surface show through for your middle values.

Stonehenge makes a wonderful pale blue that reminds us of the delicate light frost of the early winter season. 

Stonehenge was created in 1972 specifically as a 100% cotton deckled paper for the printmaking community, made to rival the more expensive European mouldmade papers. It was quickly adopted not just by printmakers, but by artists across working in a broad spectrum of media.

Over the years it has gained worldwide recognition as a paper that works wonderfully across as a range of other fine art applications. This versatility, combined with its affordability, has helped Stonehenge become our most popular artist paper for students and professionals alike.

The paper of choice of many members of the Colored Pencil Society of America, Stonehenge has the ability to take multiple layers of wax-based and oil-based colored pencil without any buildup, allowing colors to penetrate and absorb into the surface of the sheet. 

Stonehenge is also an excellent silkscreen paper with its ability to take as many as 50-75 colors, printed one color at a time, and maintain perfect color registration as a result of its incredible dimensional stability.

We have become enamored with gems & minerals and how they have created the worlds most precious palettes. If you're falling in love with rocks like us, you might want to check out Toledo's own rock club, the Toledo Gem & Rock Hound Club. They let us borrow the beautiful lapis lazuli photographed below. They are a great educational resource, they offer classes, demos, have all of the equipment for stone cutting + polishing and have an entire metalsmithing studio in their clubhouse. They are a true Toledo gem. Check them out! 

Reference List

  1. Glacier image is part of a set of photographs taken at or near the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina by Dominic Alves via Flickr at
  2. Image courtesy Wikimedia, from the Walters Art Museum of Baltimore, MD where these lapis lazuli cylindrical seals inscribed with cuneiform from the Mesopotamian era are held.  
  7. Image of Seizure 2008 by Roger Hiorn courtesy Ben Grantham at