Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Painting myself into a box - the colorblind artist

I am partially colorblind, or perhaps more accurately, color confused. The cones in my eyes that detect red and green are either missing or are calibrated differently or are deficient in some aspect. Consequently I have trouble accurately detecting colors. 

There are various types of colorblindness. True colorblindness (the inability to detect any colors except black and white) is extremely rare. Likewise, the inability to detect blue and yellow is also relatively rare. Red-Green colorblindness is the most common form of colorblindness, but even within this subdivision there are additional subdivisions and different degrees of genetic expression.  Not all Red-Green colorblind people see colors the same way. Click here for a site describing different types of colorblindness. 

My particular expression of Red/Green colorblindness goes thusly: I cannot see purple. Likewise, pinks are extremely difficult for me to detect. If colors are intense I have a better chance of identifying them correctly. Conversely, pale colors are a pain to identify. 

Anything short of pure green will probably look yellow, or beige, or grey, or red, or ?  There are some colors that are simply impossible for me to identify—I simply can’t say.

My ability to see a color is also affected by the size of the color’s area—large areas are easier to identify than small areas. (The tiny red, green and amber lights on computer equipment drive me crazy. There is no way I can tell what color they are.)

Colors also change for me. The red paint in the tube may look green when I put it on the palette, and perhaps brown when I apply it to the canvas. (Mixing paints can be an insane adventure.)  

Distance also affects color. If I back up from a painting to get a different perspective, there is the possibility the entire color scheme may change. If I walk towards what appears to be red foliage I may discover when I get closer that it is actually green. (As an aside, I have trained myself to sometimes be able to change a color in my mind. If I tell myself, “That can’t possibly be scarlet, it must be brown,” then the color will sometimes change from scarlet to brown.)

Is it any wonder that I have eschewed color in most of my art? In future postings I’ll talk about coping as a colorblind artist, colorblind artists who have achieved at least some modicum of success, and the problems of being a monochrome artist in a polychrome world. Check out another of my posts in this series: Adaptive strategies for colorblind artists

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