Do you find colour confusing?
Have you have ever reached for the yellow ochre and then realised you picked up orange instead? Do you find it hard to decide exactly what a colour is? You are never sure if it is yellow green or khaki… green or brown? Do you ever hear other artists talk about nuances of colour that you can’t even see, and wonder how they do that? Do people question the colours you use? Have you ever painted a sky purple when you intended to use blue?
If any of this applies to you, it may be you have a degree of what is commonly called colour blindness.
The term, ‘colour blind’ is misleading. People often assume when they hear these words it means no colour vision, but that is not correct. More than 99% of all colour blind people can see colours. It is just that they see a narrower color spectrum compared to somebody with normal color vision.
Colour Vision Deficiency is a more accurate name for this condition, which is estimated to affect 8% of the male population in Australia and about .04 % of women.
If you are in the 8.04% with colour vision deficiency don’t despair. You can still be an artist … and a good one at that. Colour blindness is not the end of the world, it is just a different way of seeing the world.
An internet search will quickly show you there are, and have been many artists with varying degrees of colour vision deficiency, some of them quite famous.
Charles Meryon, is a well known 19th century French artist who dealt with his colour blindness by working as an etcher in monochrome. Australian artist Clifton Pugh failed the colour blindness test when he tried to enlist in the navy, but that did not stop him from becoming a three times winner of the Archibald prize.
This really is a case of the colour blind leading the colour blind, but here are my suggestions, tips for painting with confidence, even if you are like me, an artist faced with the challenge of colour vision deficiency.
1.Embrace the challenge. Accept the fact. It is certainly not an insurmountable handicap. Remember, the creation and appreciation of art is a personal and subjective process. You are free to paint the world as you see it, or even how you would like it to be.
2. Take advice. Listen to feedback. Ask for help. 91.96% of the population have full colour vision. They are a resource you can use. They can help you with your colour choices until you learn what works.
3. Limit the number of colours you use, especially when you starting out. Using a limited palette will stops you being overwhelmed by colour choices and makes it easy to maintain a colour harmony within your paintings.
4. Work tonally. For me, this is the big one. Aim to get the shape and the tone of your subject right. If you do that, you can use your artistic licence and paint in whatever colours you like. The colours you choose may not be realistic, but the image you produce will still be believable or accessible to the viewer.
5. Label your colours and/or always use the same arrangement of colours on your palette.
This blog is a reprint of an article I wrote, first published 2011 in Australian Artist magazine.