I was recently approached by a young artist by the name of Sarah who is drafting a paper on colorblindness. She asked if I would entertain her questions for her research paper. Honored, I replied with the following. Best of luck to you Sarah, and I hope you find your way back to the west coast.
1) How long did it take you [after you found out you were color blind] to accept it?
My acceptance came only a month after the acknowledgment of my colorblindness. I was participating at the Washington Boat Show in DC when everyone commented on the bright red carpet. I, however had no issues with the carpet as I saw it was a little more brown than red. A vendor at the show was selling sunglasses with a red tint to aid with colorblindness and I tried them on. I gazed with amazement at just how different my art appeared, let alone other things that I had trouble seeing. I was depressed for only about a month after the fact. My acceptance was based on the subjective nature of art. Who is to say my art is any better or worse than anyone else’s? Who is to say that what I see as beautiful is any more or less beautiful that what you see? It is all about the eye of the beholder, no?
2) When did you first feel okay/comfortable with it? (Do you?)
I absolutely feel comfortable with my colorblindness. As a matter of fact, I feel as if it is actually a blessing. It is easy for me to cope with my disability in my medium. Whenever you descend into the ocean, the first color to leave the light spectrum is red. So basically, what I see is what you would see if you were diving with me.
3) What did you first create or photograph with joy and pure creativity, regardless of your ‘disability’?
My all time favorite painting has to be Islamorada Setting. Not only do I have an emotional attachment to the piece, but everyone comments on how vivid the colors are. When I hear things like that I know that I have transcended my mild lack of color vision and created a more widely seen world.
4) You’ve obviously become a successful artist, especially for being color blind. What was it that wouldn’t allow you to quit, that kept you tied to your photography and art?
My overwhelming love of undersea life and creating something someone has never seen keeps me going.
5) What was the ‘worst’ experience you’ve had being color blind? The ‘best’?
Once when I was in elementary school the community was opening a new public pool. That summer my school had an art contest where we were invited to paint a picture of the pool and we could win season passes to the pool. My teacher hovered over me and sneered, “Pool water is blue, not purple. Can’t you tell the difference?” My answer was no, I am actually using a blue crayon, not purple. I rolled the crayon in my fingers to reveal the horrible truth. My masterpiece had been colored in PURPLE! Needless to say I didn’t win the passes, but I never gave my confusion of colors (purple and blue or green and yellow) a second thought until recently.
6) How do you feel about the color(s) you can’t see, or can’t see well?
At times, frustrated. It is very easy for me to create a piece of art or illustration that has some very offending colors. Oh yeah, and there was the time I purchased a purple truck, thinking it was royal blue. Man, was that royally embarrassing!
7) If – in a completely hypothetical universe, where everything is done right – there were somehow a cure for color blindness, or some treatment that would allow you to see red, would you take advantage of it or even be curious?
Absolutely not. This is who I am. This is what makes me. Sure I can’t fly an airplane or see some silly dots in a colorblind test, but my character is that much stronger because of it. I would hate to imagine a uniform universe where everyone sees the same thing.
The world though my eyes is my world and I never want to give that up. It will forever be mine.
Later in your scholastic endeavors, you will undoubtedly be asked by a professor to explain what your idea of reality is. He or she will ask if you think reality is based on matter, time, religion, happiness, science or even art. I don’t think the answer is that easy. Reality is a fourth dimension of perspective. While you best friend will base her reality on her strong religious beliefs, your other friend may base his on art. Yet another will stand firmly that reality is based on the tangible. However, I believe reality is based on all of those individual perspectives intersecting as a single understanding that there is no single understanding. What I see as art, as beauty, as ‘real’ is only once piece of the puzzle. And If my piece of the puzzle looks different than yours, thats cool. It still fits in that once particular spot on a greater level.
I found an interesting t-shirt design from TShirtHell.com today that made me giggle. What I love about this shirt is that it spits in the face of colorblind artists like myself, taunting them that there is much more to see (even on a simple t-shirt website). Truth be told, I can’t read the shirt, but I am sure it says what it proclaims on the product page.
From a web design perspective, you may find it frustrating to compensate for a ‘disability’ (read about Mr.Lee’s unfortunate shopping experience at W3.org). The frustration is that if you are not colorblind, you cannot tell what those folks can and cannot see. If you are a colorblind web designer you can’t tell that your color scheme clashes. Trust me, there have been plenty of times when I have placed two colors on the canvas that made non-colorblind people grasp their eyes in pain from the unnatural color combinations.
So the t-shirt is a great tool to help you cope with your ‘disability’. Wear it proudly. If someone asks you to take the inappropriate garment off, simply quip “I’m colorblind and see nothing wrong with this shirt”.
I say, f**k the colorblind! Myself inlocluded!
I wanted to share some examples of what I see when I view my own art versus what a non-colorblind person might see. Since my eyes lack sufficient red cones, I do not see red or green very well. Being protanopic is something that I share with 10% of the male population and is considered a disability. However, I am still waiting on my handicap parking space. 😉
Read more about being a colorblind artist here.
Being a colorblind artist myself, I have arranged a series of tips that I find helpful when painting and dealing with my ‘disability’.
Yeah, get over it. The first instant that you find out that you are a colorblind artist, you might be angry or feel jaded. I know I did. I had always wondered why red lights at intersections were such a dull color. I actually confirmed that I was colorblind while at an art show. People were remarking on how beautiful the red and orange hues really popped out at them. I, however, didn’t see it that way. After that day I came to the conclusion that my art was a lie. My eyes were lying to me!
I tried to paint a little more red in my art to overcompensate, but that only netted very unrealistic results. Then I got over it. Colorblindness is who you are and how you see the world. Much like your artwork, it is how you ‘see’ the world.
The Trouble with Portraits
Portraits and colorblind artists do not usually mix. Especially if you cannot see red very well. Imagine painting a portrait for a customer only to hear them say “Grandma looks the way she did at her funeral. Why is she so pale?”
Not being able to see those cheery red cheeks in your customer’s photo of Grandma Jean doesn’t translate well when you control the color in a portrait. A good solution for this is to paint in black and white. It’s a classy twist that allows you to be a little more creative.
Make It Your Gimmick
When I show my art to a potential customer I explain to them that I am an ocean enthusiast. Protecting the ocean is one of my goals when I paint along with education, awareness, and helping other charities such as DAN and Breast Cancer Awareness funds. I also explain to them that everything I paint is how you would expect to see it underwater. Never will you find a creature out of its native ocean or breaking its behavior patter.
This statement pales in comparison to ‘oh yeah, I’m also colorblind’. Watching the amazement of a potential customer is always flattering and it is usually followed up with a statement on how I should call myself the Colorblind Artist. And yes, I have found some level of success with my disability. So in your artist statement or the next time you have an opportunity to talk to a customer about your art, throw them a curve and admit your colorblindness and educate them.
Lock, Load, and Label Your Pallet
If you are red-green colorblind like I am and you decide to paint blue and purple on the same canvas you will find it hard to discern the differences between the two colors. Fear not! The color’s name is printed on the tube!
Seriously though. If you cannot tell blue from purple or light green from yellow label your pallet. Use a Sharpie or pen to label the paint on your pallet so you know which paint is which. Eventually you will know exactly where that Cadmium Blue is and will allow you to avoid using Dioxazine Purple when you don’t mean to.
Educate Yourself and Others
Here is a quick run down of some colorblind triva.
- Colorblindness is considered a disability.
- Colorblind people should not fly airplanes as there is a colorblind test that can tell if you can see the red and green markers.
- Not all colorblind people see just in black and white.
- There are three types of colorblindness: Monochromacy, Dichromacy, and Anomalous trichromacy (which is split into three categories: protanopic, deuteranopic, tritanopic)
- 10% of men are protanopic (red-green colorblind)
- Colorblindness is hereditary, so blame your mom and dad.
- While underwater the first hue to leave the spectrum is red. So when you are 20 meters underwater what a protanopic colorblind person would see is the exact same as what a non-colorblind person would see.