3.1.2 Blue: Maximum, minumum and ‘just right’

Use an image and a piece of text to create maximum information or detail. Next, strip back the design to maintain the same meaning or effect but with minimum visual content. Find a point between these two positions where there’s just enough information or detail.

For this project I decided to explore one of Solnit’s key themes in ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost: Blue. She uses the title ‘Blue of Distance’ for alternative chapters, in the first chapter linking this with a discussion of cyanotype visions of the world and the cover of my paperback copy has an atmospheric abstract watery watercolour landscape on the cover – much like my view over St Ives Bay where we were staying. I had also become increasing interested in the cyanotype process as another photography-based printmaking process – and one I could do at home and had booked my self onto a course with Karina Savage at Curwen Print Study Centre in Linton.


In my ‘Lost on the Way to Zennor’ sketchbook I had made a page of quotations, matched with some of my gouache doodles. This identified three main text possibilities:

Blue of Distance and Depth: The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that gets lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colourless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the colour blue. ( Solnit A Field Guide to Getting Lost p29)

Cyanotypes (Prussian blue) and melancholy: This world was realised in the cyanotypes, or blue photographs of the nineteenth century – ‘cyan’ means blue, though I always thought the term referred to the cyanide with which the prints were made. Cyanotypes were cheap and easy to make, and so some amateurs chose to work in cyanotype altogether, some professional photographers used the medium to produce preliminary prints, traeted so they would fade and vanish in a few weeks’ time: these vanishing prints were made as samples from which to order permanent images in other tones. In cyanotypes you arrive in this world where darkness and light are blue and white, where bridges and people and apples are blue as lakes, as though everything were seen through the melancholy atmosphere that here is cyanide. ( Solnit A Field Guide to Getting Lost p34

Not the right blue’ ideas of unreachability and yearning from a story by Isak Dinesen about the daughter of a shipwrecked merchant obsessed with blue chinaware. “although she bought many hundred blue jars and bowls, she would always after a time put them aside and say: ‘Alas, alas, it is not the right blue.’ When her father suggested maybe the blue she was looking for did not exist she said ‘O God, Papa, how can you speak so wickedly? Surely there must be some of it left from when all the world was blue.’ After decades she finally found an old blue jar from the Chinese emperor’s summer palace. When she saw it she said that now she could die, and when she died, her heart would be cut out and put in the blue jar. ‘And eveything will be as it was then. All shall be blue around me, and in the midst of the blue world my heart will be innocent and free, and will beat gently…’ ( Solnit A Field Guide to Getting Lost pp 125-126)

Yves Klein Leap blue ( intense Ultramarine) globe and colour of the void, space and death. In 1957 Yves Klein painted a globe with his deep electric blue (intense Ultramarine), and with this gesture it became a world without divisions between countries, between land and water, as though the earth itself had become sky, as though looking down was looking up…Painting the world blue made it all terra incognita, indivisible and unconquerable, a ferocious act of mysticism’…1960 Leap Into the Void

Cyanotypes: maximum

with text

Photos minimum