What I’ve Learned From Feeling Blue

Blue Is More Than Just a Hue. It’s The Color of My Life

Image courtesy of Unsplash

I don’t do blue.

I’ve never bought a piece of blue clothing, never worn blue jewelry, never owned blue suede shoes. It’s just never been my hue.

Until I started painting, that is.

The first time I ever put a brush to canvas, I was a very tired mom of two very young boys. I’d been itching to do something creative with my brief moments of free time, so I signed up for a six-week evening drawing class. I loved sitting and sketching, thinking about lines and angles and shapes. But as I made marks on the page in various shades of grey, I realized I was longing for color.

So I registered for a Saturday morning beginning painting class. Our first assignment: choose a small object and fill the canvas with the image. The hitch? We could only paint in one color, plus white and black to create shades and shadows. We could choose from red, blue or yellow. My hand hovered over each of the paint tubes as I imagined my New Zealand greenstone necklace in each of the primary shades. Then I settled on blue.

My painting turned out fine — not a bad effort for a neophyte. But my spontaneous color choice that day kicked off a whole new relationship between blue and me. As I started painting regularly, I put blue on every canvas I brushed. If I didn’t under-paint the whole surface in a cool, light blue, then I combined multiple shades of blue to create oceans that were dark and roiling or that glinted with vibrant turquoise. I painted blue vases, blue skies and blue chickens. After a lifetime of ignoring this color, I found myself not just wanting, but needing, some shade of blue in almost every one of my paintings.

As I thought about my newly discovered penchant for blue, it began to make sense. I grew up in New Zealand, an island nation surrounded by water. I watched the ever-changing Pacific Ocean almost every day for the first 16 years of my life, whether driving back and forth to school or spending hours at the beach on the weekends hunting for seashells.

Without quite realizing it, I think that water, which ebbed and flowed with a rainbow of blues, became part of my DNA. In the years that I’ve lived outside New Zealand, the times I’ve been most aware of a nearby ocean, lake or bay is when there isn’t one. Without at least a daily glimpse of liquid blue, I feel left-of-center, fundamentally off. When I lived in the high desert of Santa Fe, the endless, ever-changing skies was my ersatz ocean, but I was perpetually lost in that sandy city with no body of water to help me find my way.

Joni Mitchell was so moved by the spirit of blue that she wrote a song in its honor:

Blue, songs are like tattoos.
 You know I’ve been to sea before.
 Crown and anchor me,
 Or let me sail away.
 Hey, Blue, here is a song for you.

(Blue, copyright Joni Mitchell, 1970)

I’m no poet or songwriter, but the least I can do for a color that has inspired, challenged and moved me is this:

Hey, Blue, here is a post for you.


Willow Older is a nationally and internationally published writer and a professional editor. She lives in Northern California where she runs her own editorial services business and publishes a weekly newsletter called Newsy!.

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