Artists and their Use of Colours

Artists and their Use of Colours



Long before synthetic colours come into existence, colour pigments were grinded from natural substances for artists’ use. Artists in those days, had to work with limited colour palettes to produce their masterpieces. Artists and their use/choice of colours were closely associated with trends and technology. Akin to fashion, Artists used colours that were novel in the market and they would go at all costs to acquire the colour pigments. Here we are to uncover some fun and interesting facts about colour that might just surprise you!

Ultramarine (Lapis Lazuli)

A deep blue colour pigment founded from natural gemstone, lazurite imported into Europe in 14th century is more precious than gold during its time. Artists in that period would use a relatively small amount of ultramarine as final coat or glaze due its costly amount or opt for a cheaper alternative blue made from copper azurite, but Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer would spend a fortune to use this colour as a distinctive part of his scene. One notable work of Vermeer with ultramarine would be the girl with the pearl earring painted in 1665. Its rich blue colour mixed with lead white covers a large portion of his masterpiece. This shows the Artist's intent to reveal the colour as a focal point in the midst of the warm yellow and black background.

In 1889, one of the most famous works of Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night was also adorned with ultramarine as well. This deep blue, superlative colour, though expensive, is a well loved colour by Artists.

Indian Yellow

The first bright yellow in history – Indian Yellow was originated in India and later imported to Europe in 15th century. It was allegedly believed to have derived from the urine of cows on a strict diet of mango leaves. However, this process caused these cows to be malnourished, which was later banned in Europe in 19th century.

Indian Yellow was widely used due to its strong, pervasive colour that is contemporary to other colours. In Joseph Mallord William (J.M.W.) Turner’s Sun Setting over a Lake (1840), Turner uses Indian yellow to depict the colours of the warm temperature of the sun. The bright yellow moon of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night also had this colour peeking through (BBC, 2018).

Carmine (Red)

Albeit most colour pigments were made from minerals such as yellow ochre from iron oxides, the earlier mentioned, Ultramarine from Lazurite, red was found from a different organic source. One of the first bright red in history, carmine was made from the extract of cochineal, a tiny scale insect that lives on cacti (My Modern Met, 2018).

The Jewish Bride by Rembrandt in 1666 was painted with this red colour. 

the jewish bride

Colours form a major part of our lives. Our eyes are accustomed to the blue sky of the day, the green grass on the road and if you are a fruit person, like the old saying goes, 'a (red) apple a day keeps the doctor away'. Learning to use the right colour in painting in vital and if you are an Artist or an Art student, you know how important colour theory is in Art. At LACA, we teach you professionally and helps you to grow your hobby or craft in a progressive manner. 

If you're a beginner looking to learn Art, join us for our Oil painting Beginner I to allow us to journey together with you.

Oil Painting Beginner



Blue & White Company. (n.d.). The Blue of Vermeer... Retrieved from

BBC. (2018, September 6). The murky history of the colour yellow. (K. Grovier, Ed.) Retrieved from

Maldonado, D. V. (2018, February 2). Retrieved from

My Modern Met. (2018, September 26). (J. Stewart, Ed.) Retrieved from

 BBC. (2018, September 6). The murky history of the colour yellow. (K. Grovier, Ed.) Retrieved from





Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published