Colorful Thoughts: Blue!

Time for another color!  Let’s talk about blue.  It’s my second-favorite color (green is the first) and my car, wallet, and eyes are all blue.

If you missed last week’s purple post, we’re talking about colors from an author’s point of view.  The context is how they are used in writing, particularly fantasy, as that’s my area of experience.

Like purple, blue is uncommon in nature, although we see it a bit more often.  There are no truly blue orchids, for example, but there are other blue flowers, like bluebonnets and bluebells.  There are also blue gemstones, like sapphires.  Like purple, a lot of the blues we see in nature are structural, though, and not pigmentation.  (This means that the color is created using an optical illusion, based on the way light reflects off the material, and that the material is not actually blue.)  The sky and water are both clear, but look blue when the light reflects through and off of them.  Most blue birds (blue jays, bluebirds, blue and gold macaws, etc.) are also structural in color, not pigmented.

Unlike purple, however, consistent blue dye has been available for a long time in the form of indigo.  While it was available, it was also expensive in medieval Europe.  This means that if your fantasy is history-parallel, pale blue is okay for everybody, but rich, vivid blue should be reserved for people with money.  (That’s where the name “royal blue” came from – royalty wore it!)   In some fantasy, you may also see blue used as the color of scholars.  I’m not sure what the origin of this is, but it does appear from time to time.

Blue eyes are natural, which is different from purple, but they are limited in their range.  (This is also a structural color, rather than pigmentation, which I didn’t know until I was researching this post!)  Generally, blue eyes are seen in people of northern Eurasian descent.  For a long time, blue eyes were very unusual, as they come from a recessive gene.  You see them much more often now because we have artificially selected for them as a species – people with blue eyes were uncommon, and so considered beautiful, thus they had a better than average chance of having offspring.  This means that we see a much higher frequency of them now than would be common in older times.  Use this how you will; I have no problem giving fantasy characters blue eyes, even if it should be a rare trait.

Moving away from today’s genetics lesson and into the realm of magic, blue is usually associated with either water or air.  You’ll sometimes see water spirits displaying some form of blue coloration, in their eyes, hair, or dress, although they may also tend towards green.  Air spirits may be blue as well.  Using blue with a magical creature of whatever nature may spark thoughts of water or air in your readers, so keep that quality of the color in mind!  Blue is also associated with calmness or sadness, characteristics that can overlay a being or person with blue traits.

Ah, blue.  So cool, so soothing, and yet somehow so sad.  Maybe the sadness is because most of the time, blue is really just a trick of the light!


11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. deshipley
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 18:11:28

    Blue eyes aren’t truly blue?! I’m intrigued! Is that exclusive to blue eyes, are all eyes colors like that, or some in between combo?


    • Leigh Townsend
      Feb 10, 2012 @ 16:45:32

      I’m not sure of the answers to your questions, although they are very intriguing. I honestly just learned that fact last night, when I was confirming the natural “range” of blue eyes. 🙂


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