Black and Blue and an Indigo Bunting

When is blue not blue? Ask any Indigo Bunting and they will tell you, "When it is black!" This is because the feathers of the diminutive Indigo Bunting are not actually blue, they are black, and only appear blue to us when they are in direct sunlight. Their feathers are structured of materials that refract, or bend sunlight in such a way that only the bright blue light spectrum is reflected back to our eyes. When the bird is in shadow or indirect light, we see the true feather color and they appear black. Without getting too technical, the birds perform an amazing light trick–their feathers change the angle and speed of the light that hits them, and thus, we perceive blue.

The Indigo Bunting's feathers appear blue only in direct sunlight.
The Indigo Bunting's feathers appear blue only in direct sunlight.

Which brings us around to the larger issue of perception. What we see and interpret as real in the environment is subject to constant change. The Indigo Bunting is an obvious example of this changeability, but it serves as a reminder to those of us who are often plein air painting that we are not painting things, but light, and must always be vigilant. We know that the light is changing hour by hour as we paint en plein air. We know also that the light is changing season to season. What is difficult to do, is to be able to perceive those small changes and get them down on canvas or paper.

Monet achieved this through the sheer hard work of changing canvases by the hour each day. He set himself an assignment and went about it with enthusiasm. Eventually his ability to perceive even the smallest changes in color and value became supremely acute and gave him the skill needed to tackle a monumental study of light in his waterlily series.

Not everyone would want to repaint the same landscape repeatedly throughout the day, but, we recommend painting something nearby, perhaps in your own yard, every day as an exercise to tune up perception. And while you are out there, keep an eye open for nature's little reminder–the Indigo Bunting.

If you would like to read more informative and interesting articles, please join us on The Artist's Road.

–John and Ann


Related Posts:


Plein Air Painting Blog
John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.