We know not everyone sees the world in the same way. But do we ever really think about it?
An offhand remark can be life-changing. My boyfriend, Brian Brooks, is red-green color blind, and asked me one day if I could label his watercolor tray so he would stop mixing up reds and greens and browns. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
I set out to discover, capture, and communicate the difference in the way we saw color by creating two oil paintings showing Brian’s palette through his eyes and mine.
About Color Blindness
Color blind people are technically referred to as “color vision deficient” or CVD. They can see some colors, but don’t perceive the full color spectrum that color normal humans can see.
Most have a weakness in distinguishing reds, greens, and browns: this is called red-green color blindness or, more technically, protanopia or deuteranopia. It is among the mildest of handicaps: you can’t be a pilot, and your clothes might clash.
What does it mean to mix up red and green?
As an art student, Brian was frustrated with the idea of color mixing in painting classes, and turned to printmaking, which is based in black and white. He later built his career on graphic design and drawing, forms of art whose colors are fixed and easier to deal with than an open-ended palette. In the early 2010s, he began prolifically painting.
He had a watercolor tray where the order of the colors was especially confusing, and he had me label it because he was always mixing up the red and green.
Think about that for a minute, if your color vision is normal.
Red and green are opposite hues.
If these could be mixed up, Brian must be seeing something completely different than what I saw.
What did his world look like?
After painting the labeled tray in full color, I set out to paint it through his eyes.
This blue and gold rainbow is widely understood as an accurate depiction of one type of red-green color blindness; specifically, in Brian’s case, deuteranomoly/deuteranopia.
How did I Simulate Color Blind Vision While Painting?
A simulator app called “Colorblind Vision” helped me to see in real time while painting.
Since color blindness is on a continuum, and the app showed the most severe form, Brian corrected me as I went along to best approximate his own vision. The painting I made to simulate Brian’s vision has a little more red than the color blindness filter.
I created this animated GIF that alternates between a color normal and color blind view of both paintings.
How different is it to be another person?
It’s so easy for me to think I see Brian’s blind spots, but really it makes me aware of how many I must have too. If such a big difference in actual vision–our clearest indicator of reality itself –is barely noticed, how can we even imagine the differences in our experiences of life?
8 thoughts on “Painting the Palette of a Color Blind Artist ”
I always wish I could by glasses that I will be able to see like my oldest son see world. I would had better understood his feelings. Maybe one day somebody will make them. He is the same kind of colorblind than your boyfriend
They don’t have glasses for this, but they do have viewer apps that can see through a smartphone camera and translate everything into color blind view. The one I used for this post is no longer being updated, but there’s now another one one called “Chromatic Vision Simulator” or CVSimulator.
I would recommend looking at deep purple flowers, makeup/nail polish, and different kinds of food.