Lost in Blue

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 alternate chapters. In the first chapter she links this with a discussion of cyanotype visions of the world. 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.

My working process was somewhat different from the previous project in that I started with existing physical images – cyanotypes – that were random and experimental rather than explicitly designed for this purpose. I then manipulated the images using Procreate on my iPad to fit three different extracts from Solnit’s text.


In my ‘Lost on the Way to Zennor’ sketchbook I had made a page of ‘Blue’ quotations from Solnit, matched with a collage of some of my ink and gouache doodles.

I had become increasingly interested in the cyanotype process as another photography-based printmaking process that I could do at home. I had booked my self onto a course with Karina Savage at Curwen Print Study Centre in Linton. These first cyanotype images were very experimental in exploring different textures – glass hangings, small sherry glasses, feathers, latex gloves, clingfilm, prisms, bubblewrap, netting, grasses and jewellery with different angles of exposure. Some of the images were produced on top of solution painted on with a brush so had brushmarks, other images were on pre-prepared paper and these produced different blue tones. But I really liked some of the textures and effects. I decided it would be interesting to use these rather arbitrary images and see where they led.

I used Procreate on my iPad for many of my most successful images in Illustration 2. It is a very flexible software that can produce many image variants quickly through blend modes, masks etc that can produce very evocative high resolution images from many different types of source image. There have been a lot of recent updates eg addition of text, more blur and selection functions and a sophisticated liquify mode. Further developing these skills is important in diversifying my digital work away from my pc and managing my RSI.

Theme 1: Blue light lost

My original inspiration for the project was the following text that I found calming and inspiring as I gazed out of our camper van window at the sea and sky of St Ives Bay.

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)

  • I selected the cyanotype that I considered the most evocative of ‘beautiful blue light’ as my base image, edited it slightly to give fewer glass circles and put the full text in the gap so that it was legible.
  • I then cropped the image to square in different ways and overlaid a much shorter version of ‘Blue is the light that gets lost’. Of these I like the darker more dramatic image with its glistening light and the text that gets lost.
  • The fourth version was then really minimal with just the word blue, leaving the light to speak for itself.
  • The final image has excerpts for the text in Optima typeface for elegance and to give a bit more information. I tried several darker versions to be more like the version 3 and need to work on this more to make the blues more varied and the text more shimmery as it is a bit bland.

Theme 2 The fable of the blue jar: innocence and freedom

For the second theme I used a different crop of the same cyanotype and a different text:

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 everything 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)

  • The first maximum image is the same image as Blue Light Lost but flipped horizontally and making a masked hole for the longer text to make it legible.
  • For the second maximum image I cut and flipped the running figure to make her more obviously a woman running towards the pyramid palace. I like the very stylised figure produced by accident from the splayed ends of the jewellery.
  • In the third Minimum image I further cropped the image and reduced the text to make it a more enigmatic commentary on whether the dazzling beauty of the pyramid was ‘innocent’ and whether the figure running after the glitz is in fact free.
  • For the ‘just right’ image I reduced the text from the original tale to something shorter and more poignant. I added a rather robotic blue vase for her heart. But I think this is quite effective as an evocative fairy tale image.

Theme 3 Melancholy Blue

Theme 3 ‘Melancholy Blue’ started with the same text as theme 1 ‘Blue that gets lost’ but with the rather intriguing latex glove dog shape image. Imagining the dog is called blue. In the inverted image experiment I like the Prussian Blue lines against the pale blue. This suggested whistful melancholy.

So I returned to my Solnit quotes and started to work with different text:

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, treated 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)

  • The first maximum version takes the full dog cyanotype and full text, with a transparent background for legibility.
  • In the second maximum version I cropped the image square to create a more claustrophobic feel. I shortened the text to focus on the idea of depression and threat of suicide. I wanted to reduce the contrast between the blue and very bright white. But the black and cream do not work. The dog shape also becomes less clear.
  • In the minimum version I keep the cropped claustrophobic image and reduced contrast but with just the word melancholy, letting the image speak for itself. I put a further overlay to reduce the contrast between the white and blue and make the blue a darker melancholic Prussian blue.
  • The final version then draws on the inverted image above. I wanted a more tangled melanchoilc mess where the word itself was more expressive. I overlaid a crop of the image with a clipping mask. I like this image

Earlier Photoshop versions: Blue is the LIght that gets Lost

These are my original cynatoptype photographic experiments in Photoshop/DXo FX before I had learned the cyanotype process. The first using Silver FX antique cyanotype effect looks rather like a Bible reading – reminiscent of some of the posters outside the many churches in St Ives. The second one is more dramatic. I like the bold verticals like bars of a jail enclosing/excluding the viewer with depressive blue. Somewhat reminiscent of Ed Ruscha. I need to become more proficient in Photoshop to make them look more interesting.

Further possibility

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

( Solnit A Field Guide to Getting Lost pp ??)