Saturday, August 06, 2005

How do colorblind artists avoid making mistakes?

Here's the big question. My sense, from a few conversations and emails, is that colorblind artists do one or more of the following:

1) Work in black and white or monochromatic color schemes. Can an artist or illustrator make a career of this?

2) Limit their pallet to colors they can distinguish.

3) Ask other people (particularly wives) if anything looks off.

4) Use color theory or a set of basic guidelines to make reasonable choices. Here's a place I could really use input from experienced artists. Once in a while my teacher drops some general tip ("The shadow on the underside of the nose is typically warm, because it's receiving reflected light." or "It's better to err on the side of making shadows too warm on the figure to avoid making your subject look dead.")--I collect those tips like like pearls, but they seem to come randomly. It would be helpful to compile a list.

5) Use software that allows them to identify or choose colors more easily. I've posted links to color identifiers for Macs and PC's, but the Mac one (Color Quest) is mostly in Japanese and isn't always accurate (according to my normal-vision friends). It ID's colors in English, but the names aren't clear ("dull red", "deep purplish gray"). Also, part of the problem is that it identifies one pixel at a time, and neighboring pixels may be different.


At 3:48 PM, Blogger Stuart said...

I use a combination of all those techniques, especially limiting the pallet. I stick to primary colours, or if I'm drawing, black and white. Understanding colour theory is a must I suppose, and I would say my lack of confidence comes from my complete lack of understanding. In graphic design it's more of a case of "what colour goes with what", and that's not something they teach in design school, because everyone knows (they can see it). I'm sure my co-workers must get sick of me asking what colour things are, and I find Whatcolor extremely helpful in that regard, as with checking out the RGB breakdown. Also if I'm doing print work I have to sometimes work in RGB rather than CMYK because Cyan and Magenta mean nothing to me.

At 8:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Color theory, combined with the tools linked to in the sidebar: WhatColor and ColorQuest. Those are invaluable in making sure the color I've got is the color I want.

At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Christopher Smart said...

I'm actually pretty lucky. I am red-green colorblind but paint underwater scenes. Why am I lucky? Because the first color in the spectrum to be absorbed by the ocean is red. So what I see is what others see.
But yes, I do still ask for help when I forget where I put purple on my pallet!

At 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is kind of tricky to explain, but you have to train yourself to recognize what the "real" color looks like to you. Like so much of art, it's learning to see, rather than look. Even colorblind people have a perception of "red", although it will vary from person to person. Learn to recognize what that is, and you'll be in better shape.

My biggest problem is that I was diagnosed very young, so I gave up trying to identify which colors were which. To this day, I take a lot of color cues from environmental suggestions (yellow school buses, red fire trucks, etc).

At 11:51 PM, Blogger Stuart said...

Have you had any success trying to learn what colours look like to you? Is it even possible? I have tried, myself and I just can't do it. Show me a pale pink piece of paper and put it next to a pale blue piece and the only difference I'd be able to see would be if one was darker or brighter than the other.

Cues are another big factor when it comes to guessing colours. Lush grass to me looks orange, but I've never made grass orange in a picture.

At 9:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been relatively successful, but I'm also only mildly colorblind.

At 9:50 AM, Blogger Purple Skies said...

I sometimes describe the experience of being colorblind as never having learned my colors, because that's how it feels. I think if I stare long enough at some brownish-greenish-something-or-other, it will become evident.

And sometimes I'm right--I say, "Well, that looks sort of yellowy-peachy-tan," and my normal-vision friend will say, "Yeah, that's what it is." So part of the learning process for me is learning when I can trust my own impressions--and when I can't.

Lush grass looks orange to me, too, though at this point I "decide" it's green without even thinking about it. In fact, I often do that. I second-guess myself, relying on context clues and "what makes sense" to try to determine a color. It's a bit like the beginner's mistake of drawing mental symbols instead of drawing what they actually see.

From a physics standpoint, I wonder how green grass can look orange. One class of colorblindness tends to shift everything toward the red end of the spectrum, which I suppose could do it... but then wouldn't I tend to see blue as purple as well (usually I think that purple is blue)?

At 10:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also think that grasping what reds and greens look to you is the key...I've learned over the years to "smell" the colors I can't see, meaning that I've learned to identify color situations where I think reds or greens are probably present and use those colors on the palette. I know I've hit paydirt when my painting looks chromatically ambiguous to me in the same way the model does.

Plus, don't forget the value of value. If your values are spot on you can get away with a lot of weirdness in Hue and Chroma and your painting can still work.

At 6:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have worked for many years as an illustrator and Graphic Artist. it has be agonizing and painful and many mistakes nearly cost me my job.

Older now, I see the beauty of a very limited palette and trying to paint in a non realistic more whimsical style. That said, the limited palette paintings are more of a niche thing and I wouldn't recommend trying to make a living doing it.

There are so many subtle fleshtones that we colorblind artists have no clue about. Green tones and beiges that are indiscernable. Even shadows and highlights have such subtle shades of purple and blue mixed that our eyes miss.

These colors that we can't see reveal form in many cases. It is too stressful to second guess every color that you see and wonder if you are missing something important that is obvious to most people.

I recommend to all colorblind artists to use your talents with your handicap in mind. Work in black and white monotones. Try pencil, pen and ink, black and white paintings with maybe one color to give some accent.

Try other mediums like wood, stone, metal where color is a non issue. Art should be enjoyable vs. stressful. God didn't intend you to see color like everyone else, so take the hint and work with your strengths vs weakness.

A person born without legs shouldn't try to become a marathon runner or a blind person a photographer. The two aren't compatible with eachother.

I like color like many of you do, but the color I see and you see isn't the reality. If you wish to use color in your artwork, work in a very simple style and try to use the primary colors vs. odd mixtures. Think symbols vs. realistic.

Don't torture yourself with your art trying to second guess every color you mix or see. Is that yellow on the green side or orange side. Spare yourself that pain, life is hard enough and if you are to succeed, work smart.

At 12:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Red-Green colorblind artist. I think you need to respect the fact that you cannot see colors correctly and give up having a colorful impact in your paintings. We don't have the luxury to travel the path of the same training as those with normal vision. We have to adapt to our own methods and share with others. You need to concentrate on value, not color. The only way to paint for we artists with colorblindness and not constantly second-guess every color and color relationship we put down is to paint in the classical style. The Classical style or Indirect style is what the Old Masters used. The first layer consisted of the entire painting completed in black and white. This is the base layer called "grisalle". Then after it was dry, clear oil colors were glazed on top of the black and white painting. Certain Oil paint colors are transparent and others are not. You need the transparent colors for glazing over your black and white painting. It tells on the tubes or you can do some research to find out. This technique is unsurpassed. Acrylics also work with this technique. Don't drive yourself crazy trying to paint like people with normal vision. You will just stress yourself out and never produce anything. We can't trust our eyes for color, but with our handicap we have advantages when it comes to value or tone.


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