DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:
Where does the color blue come from? That question struck in Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond one day while she was reading.
NANA EKUA BREW-HAMMOND: I was actually reading the Bible. I was reading about the temple furnishings in King Solomon's Temple. And I just remember pausing when it noted that there were some drapes in the temple that were blue, and I was wondering why that was significant.
FOLKENFLIK: So she started doing some research and learned an interesting tidbit - that secretions from a species of snail can make a brilliant blue.
BREW-HAMMOND: And this was used to dye, you know, the temple drapes and also, like, textiles of that time. And it was very expensive because a snail produced only one drop. So I was like, whoa; kids need to know about this.
FOLKENFLIK: So what did Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond do? She wrote a kid's book. It's titled "Blue." It's about, lapis lazuli, rocks mined in Afghanistan turned into jewelry or crushed to make eye shadow, about the indigo plant soaked in water and used to dye fabric. For our children's book series Picture This, we spoke with Brew-Hammond and illustrator Daniel Minter about "Blue."
DANIEL MINTER: Most of my work, I use the color blue. It's my go-to color - a deep, deep blue. And a lot of the people in my paintings have tones of blue within the skin. And I use that to show the depth of color within our skin and that beautiful blue that goes straight all the way to black and also has bits of red. It also has bits of green. And it's a complex color.
FOLKENFLIK: Daniel Minter illustrated "Blue" with acrylic paint and, yes, a lot of different blues.
MINTER: I can take one blue, say a ultramarine blue, and give that a thin wash. And you get a light blue. But as I layer, put on layer on layer on top of that, it gets deeper and deeper and darker. And then I begin to introduce other colors - you know, like a little bit of magenta to pull the colors out of it. So counting the colors of blue is difficult because there's light blue, darker blue. And then there's, you know, the indigo. And I used the indigo sparingly because it can get so deep so quickly. And so I used the indigo as my last layer of color.
FOLKENFLIK: Brew-Hammond writes this. Quote, "perhaps because blue was the color of the heavens yet so rare and hard to create on Earth, people around the world considered the color holy." On the page are Minter's illustrations of hands reaching, stretching toward the sun, hovered over a bowl of blue powder, cradling a snail shell.
MINTER: I'll talk more about the way the book was written, which I thought was really interesting, in that it had no characters. The only character that is consistent is the blue. The other thing that I saw as going through this is the human interaction with the color blue. So I began with the hands, the hands - it's the hands - with the kids reaching up to the sky to grab the blue, to reach the blue, and the other hands holding the water to catch the blue, to dip the blue from the ocean, and other hands - with the woman singing the blues, stretching out her hand, reaching - you know, reaching out - and then other hands, you know, making medicine from the indigo plant. So if you look through the book, it's all about the human interaction with this color, with the materials that create this color.
BREW-HAMMOND: That's so interesting. When you were saying that, Daniel, I was...
BREW-HAMMOND: ...Thinking to myself, I wasn't necessarily - it wasn't a conscious decision to not have a character. I was just so enamored with what I was learning that I wanted kids to walk away from this book with the wonder that I was feeling about the color itself. And so that was really what motivated the writing. But I think that it was - I'm so glad that that was the process - you know, even just listening to you just explain how you interpreted it. I think that it's a good thing that, like, we were each able to kind of work in our silos.
MINTER: One of the ways that I work is I do not want to talk to the author about the book because I want to trust the text. I try to give an interpretation of what is there. But I also wish to insert some of myself in there. I often wondered when I was a child, how can I get up to the sky? How can I get up there and touch it? My father would always tell me that you can't touch the sky. And I said, yes, you - well, why not? - because it's there. I see it, you know? It's up there. If I can get up there high enough, of course I can touch it, you know? So those kinds of things - you know, visions - come directly from my childhood.
BREW-HAMMOND: Yeah. As I was reading up on the history, I started to understand that, of course it was about the color and the fact that people, you know, have that wonder, like, you know, we want to kind of capture the sky. We want to capture the sea. But it then became about, you know, wealth and power, elitism and royalty. It also became about suffering and pain and brutality from the slave trade within Africa to the slave trade in America. So it is more than a feeling.
There're so many ideas attached to it - even the genre the blues. You hear people say things like, oh, true blue. There were - like, because blue was such a hot commodity, there were people who were peddling fake blues. So just kind of tracing those things back to some of these histories was really interesting and profound to me. They didn't just come out of nowhere. They're anchored in some historic realities that we're living with that we don't even realize. On some levels, it's just - it's unfathomable. It's like, you want to just go deeper and deeper and deeper.
FOLKENFLIK: That was author Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond and illustrator Daniel Minter talking about their children's book "Blue."
(SOUNDBITE OF BLEU TOUCAN SONG, "ANANAS")
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