Monday, 8 February 2021

Singing The Blues

Did you know there's a new shade of blue available to artists? No, me neither. I heard a part of a radio programme and was so fascinated I had to go and check it out. The paint is called YInMn [or Yin Min] blue. It gets its name from the elements involved in its production- Yttrium, Indium and Manganese. These rare earth minerals are incredibly expensive, but a chemist, Mas Subramanian, was working with a team of scientists on semiconductors, at Oregon University, and serendipitously discovered this amazing shade. [some people call it Oregon blue. That's boring imho]

It is the first inorganic blue pigment in 200 years. When you think about it, other pigments - reds, greens, yellows, grey/black occur a lot in plants and animals. Think about cochineal and raspberry juice, pesto, turmeric, saffron, squid ink...But blue is usually found in minerals. The ancient Egyptians ground up limestone, sand and a copper containing mineral to make the shade known as, predictably, Egyptian Blue [ scientists researching the pyramids discovered that it emits infra red radiation]

Ultramarine, the heavenly blue - is made from the semi precious gemstone Lapis Lazuli - in the 13th century the pigment for the paint was so expensive, it was reserved for paintings of the Virgin Mary- Queen Of Heaven. The Flemish artists loved it too.

Indigo plants first grew by the Nile, colouring its waters - and its name, anil, means Blue. [so the Blue Nile is technically the blueblue]  Nowadays our jeans are dyed with synthetic indigo [aniline dyes]. Global demand for denim is such that we'd need to cover the whole earth with plants six feet high to satisfy demand without the synthetic stuff.

Cobalt Blue [around since 1777] is produced by heating cobalt and aluminium oxide- the colour used in Chinese Porcelain. And it is toxic if ingested.

But the problem many artists have is mixing red and blue to make purple- apparently most blue pigments contain yellow, so the resulting shade is always "muddy"

YInMn does not have this problem - and it appears to be safe and stable, so no issues with radioactivity etc. [I'm old enough to remember when people still had cans of lethal lead paint in the garage!]

The colour has been around for about 4 years now, but it takes a while for a pigment to be tested and considered safe. It is currently available to artists only as paint in tubes- not as a powder. I love this little film of the production [spot the Very British Kenwood Chef!] 

It was only passed for use by the US Environmental Protection Agency a few days ago. 
If you are an artist, but cannot afford the Real Thing, Crayola have brought out a 'YInMn inspired' wax crayon, called Bluetiful.
Well done Mas, for bringing some colour into these grey days...even if the discovery was accidental.


  1. How interesting! I had no idea that there was a new blue pigment!

  2. I heard this on the radio - such joy to be found in news like this now!! Will we remember the joy of wonder even after our news and our world goes back to busier broadcasts? I didn't know about the jeans thing though. I don't have any at the minute, and will not now be in a rush to get some!

  3. Have you heard of international Klein Blue - developed by the artist Yves Klein. He used to use it in a sort of performance body painting with models rolling about the floor. But actually if you see an IKB painting 'in the flesh' so to speak, it's stunning.
    Found your blog via a random rabbit hole sort of a search... such are joys of lockdown.

    1. Hello Mark, thanks for the comment. I read about IKB after I'd done this post! Been looking at your blog too. Much of lockdown seems to have involved discovering new treasures down Internet Rabbit holes. Do drop in here again sometime


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