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.|
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.
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–John and Ann