How to Write a “Recipe” for The Color Blue (and The Benefits of Painting in Jeans), According to Artist Heather Day

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Denim Every Day—our quest to reimagine denim in every which way—continues. As part of that, we asked our friend and artist Heather Day to create a few exclusive miniature masterpieces inspired by our shared favorite color. During an afternoon at her San Francisco studio, she told us about her obsession with the color blue, why she likes painting with unexpected tools and how she started creating color “recipes” she works from.

Was art a part of growing up?

Thanks to my parents, I learned to treat everything like a potential art supply. I’d cut up cereal boxes and build robots. My parents encouraged me to try mediums like pastel and paint before I even knew what they were. I like that my love of art didn’t start with supplies. It was more about exploring.

You’re in San Francisco now—have you always been a California girl?

Not quite, but I grew up in Hawaii near the water. I lived in Chicago and Baltimore for school, and it changed the way I worked. I was obsessed with urban decay, so I started painting with more grays and fewer blues. I’d say that when I moved to San Francisco, my love of color exploded, and my palette grew brighter.

Your blues pop off the canvas. How many shades of it do you think you’ve painted?

Blue is unlike any other color. You can create deep, transparent layers, so each hue is unique. There are always new shades to make. I’m obsessed with that color, and I think it goes back to growing up in Hawaii. was determined to learn everything there is to know about blue, from its history to the science of mixing up different shades.

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An artist’s life hack: Heather groups her supplies by type and keeps them spaced out so she has to move around as she works.

You work mostly with paint now. What are some signature elements of a Heather Day piece?

Saturated colors and different tools for applying paint. As my confidence grew creatively, I began using other objects as brushes. I bought rags at hardware stores and loved the range of markings. You can soak up the paint, wring it out, swoop it across. Another characteristic of my work is using paint like ingredients and always starting with a color recipe.

Color recipe. You’ll have to explain.

Just like cooking, it’s a list of hues you’d combine to get a specific color. I started doing it watching the sun set at the Smith River in California. The colors on the water changed so fast, I couldn’t have mixed them up even if I had my supplies with me. Instead, I wrote down the way the colors shifted, like “yellow ocher to sailor blue.” I always revisit those notes when I start to paint. It’s a way to give vocabulary to the visual.

You’re known for big paintings, even some murals. Did your creative process change when you made the smaller prints for Madewell?

My process changes with the medium! With huge pieces, I’ll place a big canvas on the ground and sit on the floor or over it and let my body dictate the motion of the work. I recently started making smaller paintings to challenge myself and find that same rhythm. When I made the Madewell prints, I sat at my desk and really focused on each one. I would pause, hang it on the wall and let it kind of marinate in my mind and in the studio. The next day, I would know if the paintings were done or needed more work. Each one is totally unique. 

Do you have a clothing “uniform” of sorts?

Jeans. There’s nothing more versatile, plus, pockets! I’d rather hike in jeans than leggings. I keep two pairs at a time in my studio just to work in. That’s my style when I’m not painting too.

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Says Heather, “I don’t want to be a painting factory. I’ve been asking myself, ‘Am I doing this work for me?’ That’s why I named the Madewell series ‘I Made This For You (And Me).’

Shop the Madewell x Heather Day™ Limited-Edition Art Print Set and see more Denim Every Day reveals.

Check out Heather’s work and her Instagram.

#denimmadewell #denimeveryday

Photography by Jen Kay