The color Cerulean, a light sky blue, is traditionally made from the PB35 or PB36 pigments. It’s a semi-opaque, granulating, green-toned blue with limited range of values, erring on the side of being light-colored. It’s nonstaining and highly liftable, making it a good choice for skies (if you like granulating skies). Personally, I usually like a less textured sky – but Cerulean has other uses as well, such as being a beautiful textured green mixer, and muting earth tones into cool, granulating browns.
Warning: Be careful to look at pigment numbers. Some brands, like Mission Gold, call their PB15 Phthalo Blue “Cerulean.” Don’t make the mistake I did when I first started painting, and get “Cerulean Hue” (from Da Vinci or any other brand), made from Phthalo Blue + white. PB15 is not the same color, and will not have the same granulation/magic/mixing properties.
Gradient: A highly granulating gradient between a middle green-blue, to a pale sky blue. Doesn’t get very dark.
Opacity: Semi-opaque. This is the most opaque color in my palette (and it’s still not THAT opaque).
Glazing: Glazes to medium cornflower blue.
Lifting: Back when I only knew about wet-paint lifting, I didn’t really understand why Cerulean was considered an especially liftable paint. If anything, it lifts less cleanly than a Phthalo and makes less realistic cloud shapes. But when you do a dry-paint lift (scrubbing with a wet paper towel on dried paint), WOW, I See It. It’s like erasing a pencil mark, quick, easy, and gets completely white as if I never painted there at all!
Comparison to Other Brands
Daniel Smith – Cerulean Blue Chromium
Daniel Smith offers a Cerulean (similar to Da Vinci’s offering) as well as a darker, greener, more granulating Cerulean Blue Chromium.
I find the CBC is more interesting as a mixer but less suitable to skies.
I found the color mixes for Cerulean to be surprising and lovely!
Lemon Yellow (PY175)
Range of granulating teals, mints, and yellow-greens. I especially like the cool mint foliage color (similar to Cobalt Green). I found it difficult to keep the lemon from overwhelming the blue.
Monte Amiata Natural Sienna (PBr7)
I was expecting either green or gray and didn’t get either – it’s staunchly simultaneously tan and blue! The balanced mix, with its granulation that looks like reflected light, gives me the impression of looking through clear water to the sandy bottom of the pond.
Transparent Red Oxide (PR101)
Love the clean brown and the medium brownish-tannish-blueish grays, perfect for rocks. A tiny touch of TRO in mostly blue gives a nice gray cloudy cast to the sky color.
Pretty complementary, resulting in a range of soft dove grays, brick reds and slate blues. Similar to the mix with Perylene Maroon.
Potter’s Pink (PR233)
A super-separated, granulating purple-cloud sky mix.
Alizarin Crimson Quinacridone
I actually like this better as a sunset cloud mix than PP; it’s still granulating because of the Cerulean, but not as wildly so because ACQ is non-granulating, with a nice purple that is bold but not over-the-top.
This is also a cloudy-sky mix for me, but much darker and stormier. Still like ACQ the best.
There’s something so interesting about these greens and blues that don’t quite ever mix. It’s turquoise but a much duller shade than, say, Cobalt Turquoise. If I’m being uncharitable it looks like pond scum.
My Overall Review
I initially avoided genuine Cerulean because everyone always talks about it as a sky color, and I don’t usually prefer granulating skies. (I also didn’t get the big deal about lifting until recently.) What I didn’t realize is that there’s another side to Cerulean: in addition to being a sky color, it’s a lovely granulating mixer that makes vibrant textured foliage greens (with yellows), cool browns (with warm earth tones), and interesting grays (with oranges/red-oranges). I think it was important for me to wait to try this until I liked granulation, but once I did: wow! I love nearly every mix I made with it.
I am still disappointed when I try to use it in skies, because it’s always duller than I expect, but the mixes are A1.
On my palette? Not on my main palette, but on several of my theme palettes.
Favorite Version: Da Vinci Cerulean Blue Genuine. I find it the most useful as I like its bright skies as well as its gently granulating mixes. DS Cerulean Blue Chromium is an interesting “special effects” paint when you want a ton of granulation in your mix, but it doubles down on the things I dislike about CG, i.e. being very muted.