Classic Blue – SPECIAL 2020 EDITION


Just when I thought I’d wrapped up the adventures of blue, global colour influencers – Pantone went and made it the colour of the year! So I thought we should address why this colour has made it to top billing for 2020. Colour, like art, is always a great reflection of the times. It can be an iconic symbol for the technology and emotions of the time. So what does Classic Blue say about how we feel about the world in 2020?

What kind of blue is ‘Classic Blue’?

Pantone describes the blue as…

A timeless and enduring blue hue, PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue is elegant in its simplicity. Suggestive of the sky at dusk, the reassuring qualities of the thought-provoking PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue highlight our desire for a dependable and stable foundation on which to build as we cross the threshold into a new era.

Imprinted in our psyches as a restful colour, PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue brings a sense of peace and tranquility to the human spirit, offering refuge. Aiding concentration and bringing laser like clarity, PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue re-centers our thoughts. A reflective blue tone, Classic Blue fosters resilience.


That’s a lot to ask of a blue! In short it’s a bit brighter than navy blue. A bit braver than your dad’s work suit and a ltlle less military than navy. While the quote is designed to create visions of a ‘new era’ not many of us are feeling brave enough to be racing into a blue abyss. I think the key word is refuge. That is the thing we are all craving in a world gone a little too crazy and out of control. In a world where we are feeling ripped off, forgotten and misrepresented, teamed with the latest environmental catatsrophes going on all over the world, it is no wonder we are all seeking a little refuge. Stability and resilience feels like a safe place to be. Familiarity is our friend. Blue is easy to understand and easy to please.  Now that technology has provided easy ways for it to be produced, it is no longer a colour reserved for royalty and higher spirits. We can all get access to a little safety, even if it’s the colour of our year planner.

As the Vice President of the Pantone Colour Institute quotes 

“We’re returning to classics because everything has been chaotic in the world. It’s not about doing it like you did in the past, but reinterpreting it.”

So there you go, a non-confrontational hue. Safe and dependable. Timeless and enduring. Exhausted by battling everything and everyone we art retreating back to the classics. Escaping back to a colour that reminds us of times gone by. When the world seemed simpler and a whole lot safer.


Time to retreat

History shows us that humans will always retreat back to the ‘classics’ in style and colour after a war. While we have not had a World War, many of us feel we are living in an era of conflict and injustice. When this happens we go back to our idealised versions of yesteryear. We grow fond memories of a time we didn’t live in, when, from the outside looking in, the world was fun and safe. It’s why Gen X thinks fondly of the fifties and Gen Y are reinventing the 80’s.

Oath of the Horatii by Jacques-Louis David 1784. (Note the use of blue on specific figures).

The French did it back in the revolution days when artworks of patriotism were painted to instil alegance to the government. David’s artwork ‘Oath of the Horatii’ of 1784 is even painted in a style called ‘neo classical’ depicting a Roman legend. 

The Pan Pipes by Pablo Picasso, 1923.

Even Picasso revisited a new Classical style as a retreat from the impending World War painting serene figures in pared down landscapes. One example is ‘The Pan Pipes’ of 1923


The great escape

Blue has forever been a colour to ellude to escape, be it spiritual forgiveness from the heavens above or from Mother Mary draped in her Ultramarine robe of riches.

French artist of the 1960s, Yves Klein believed it “represented a kind of freedom”. Known as Klein Blue, he believed the colour had ‘a quality close to pure space and associated it with immaterial values beyond what can be seen or touched’ .

Yves Klein and his famous blue.
Yves Klein and his famous blue.

The big beyond

Which brings us to another reason blue may befit 2020. Not only as a retreat, and escape but an icon of ‘beyond’. The big blue, be it sky, oceans or space has always represented that which we do not understand. In 2020 we have been surprised, that for all our advancemences in technology and science there is still so much we don’t understand. Never so sharply have we been reminded that the natural environment we live has been misunderstood by many. Our monumental mismanagement has sent us falling into a chasm of loss and dismay rather than freedom. It is the blue of an endless well. For the younger generation we feel the weight of the burden they feel for a future that seems as dark as the deep blue night sky. There is a hint of saddness. A blue that we should bare for everyone’s sake.

While this may all sound grim, I’d like to think that the new blue (what’s old is new again) is not gift wrapped with a ‘doomsday’ label. I’d like to believe that the blue is a ‘safe’ blue because we have better things to think about. That it is not a statement of who we are, more so a statement of what we value.

A sea of ‘classic blue’ will fill retail shelves in 2020.

While the marketers will make everything you see on the retail shelf this year in the non gender ‘classic blue’, most of us already have it. Blue is the most favourite colour in the world. It’s a reliable ‘go to’.  I’d like to rename it to ‘Refuge Blue’. The colour you already have! No need to buy a new lounge or seek out a new outfit. It’s in your home somewhere, in the ink of your pen, in your favourite pair of jeans. It’s a colour that is with us always, but it is a colour that we must work hard at always keeping present, be it a clear blue night sky or the clean ocean depths.

David Attenborough takes gives us an environmental view on what it means to be ‘blue’ in his Blue Planet Series.

David Attenborough shows us the importance of taking care of our planet in his Blue Planet series. The irony is that blue rarely exists in nature. Scientists can only detect less than 1% of the animal and plant kingdom having any blue pigment. The blue we see in nature is more often an illusion. The blue is made up from reflections and how our eyes interpret these reflections. Ahh, and there’s the lesson for all of us. Throughout time blue has been a representation of reflection. Of visions of unattainable beauty. Artist’s have been lured by it’s colour for centuries, fueled by it’s unattainability and scarcilty. Matisse spent two weeks wages on the purchase of a blue butterfly. Something that would always remind him of the beauty and illusion of colour.

Today we know better. We know that blue will always need a little help. We have to pay attention to it, keep it clean and uninfected in order for it to shine. Now is the time to don our blue work overalls and muck in so that our blues of the future will be positive and clear.



When blue is not blue

Did you know there is a distinct lack of blue pigment in the flora and fauna kingdoms? Birds that appear blue, make use of tiny pockets of air in their feathers to scatter light. Their feathers absorb all the other non-blue wavelengths of light, causing a more pronounced and brilliant blue. These reflective ‘tricks’ to produce blue are common in the natural world, and the reason we see ‘blue’ in animals and nature.

Fish have the advantage of scales, which provide good surfaces in which to produce reflective iridescent colours. Perhaps the most glorious sample of this is the Blue Morpho Butterfly. It’s wings consist of microscopic scales, just like a fish. These scales reflect up to 75% of blue light reaching them, scattering them at large angles. By flapping their wings rapidly, they create flashes of light that deter predators. This reflective quality makes them visible from extremely long distances and they they can even be seen up by low-flying aircraft.

The Blue Morpho Butterfly has microscopic scales that reflect light and provide its iridescent blue appearance to the human eye.

On very rare occasions a living organism has been found possessing a real blue pigment. One such example is the mandarin fish, with large swatches of blue skin. Microscopy revealed the presence of chromatophores (light-reflecting cells) on its skin containing blue pigmentation.

The mandarin fish (Synchiropus splendidus) is a bit like an aquatic humming bird and contains a ‘true blue’ pigment.

Check out this little video to show you how animals trick you to see blue > 5 mins watch




I have a guest blogger!

Artist and NW Coast Native Pigment & Paint Technology Specialist, Melonie Ancheta will be bringing you her expertise and introducing you to a blue called Vivianite. This amazing blue is a traditional pigment of the North West Coast Native people of North America. You’ll discover how significant this blue is in their culture and all its secrets. Make sure you check out the upcoming blog!




This blog focuses on one of my great passions … colour. I will bring you tall tales and tidbits about the origins and uses of  colour and how it impacts our world. Colour has held many great powers throughout the ages. It plays many a leading role throughout history. It has been a killer, a saviour and a revolution maker. I thank the pioneers of colour who continue to pursue inventive ways for how colour can improve our lives. It is because of them that we can all be Colour Warriors and stay bright beyond beige. Thanks for joining me on the amazing adventures of colour!

Colour Warriors is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on
© Kristine Ballard 2020