author: Jim Tigwell
author: Jim Tigwell
Once, when I had more workspace and time, I painted models. I also have protanopia, which is a form of colourblindness. I don’t see monochrome, and most colourblind people don’t, that’s incredibly rare. But the colours you see aren’t the colours that I see when we look at something. What’s more, understand that colourblindness is something which people are born with. This is the way the world looks to me. I have no framework for understanding how it could look any other way. Reds, greens, and browns all blur together, and so do blues and purples. But none of this is a reason not to paint, it just means that there are a few extra obstacles which need to be overcome. It can also turn out to be an asset. So I want to outline the biggest challenge, several strategies for dealing with it, and how colourblind painting can lead to a unique art style that doesn’t make people wince when they look at your work.
The biggest challenge I found was that I couldn’t trust my own perceptions. What looked absolutely fine to me often made people with regular vision want to vomit, either because it was a brown and green mess of nothing, or because it featured an array of colours in a clash so terrible it made the Trojan War seem like a civil discussion. It made me doubt every colour selection I ever made, and still does to some extent. However, there are a number of ways of handling these doubts and creating a finished product that looks like what you want, rather than what you see.
Learn colour theory. People with regular vision can benefit from it, but as someone who’s colourblind, it becomes utterly imperative, in the same way that someone who’s tone deaf but wants to play music needs to learn musical theory. No matter what kind of colourblindness you have, it means you can’t trust your instincts for what looks good, so don’t. Use resources like colour wheels and Colourblind Artist to help you select your colours, rather than eyeballing it. Understanding what makes colours analogous and what makes them complementary can make the difference in achieving your vision. More than that, look at the kinds of combinations that other painters are using, whether that’s from the art section in the back of codices or online. If the palette looks nice to other people, there’s a good chance it could work for you too.
Label everything. All of my art supplies have labels, and they’re labels that I trust. Once you understand the theory, use that to sort your paints, so that you have an idea of what goes well with what, and don’t need to consult the charts every time. The names are what matters, not what they look like to you, and they become especially important when you have four different greys or five blues, because it’s not just a matter of picking blue, but which blue and why.
Keep it Simple
That brings me to my next point, which is that it’s usually best to keep your palette simple for a model. More colours doesn’t mean better work, so don’t worry about only having three or four. If they work well together, it’ll show. Similarly, keep mixing to a minimum. Trying to make the right shade is often going to prove more frustrating than rewarding, and reproducing it will be even harder. Skilled artists often find mixing to be a challenge and colourblind ones will find it moreso.
Realize that you’re not alone. When you’ve looked at the theory and picked some colours from your collection, consult with artists in the community on whom you can rely. Paint a rough model and put it up, and don’t be afraid of feedback. But also don’t ask, “Does this look good?” Be specific. Have a vision, and work to make that vision a reality. The more adjectives you can employ, the more people can help you find what you need as far as colour selection. Don’t just look for a red, look for a vibrant red, or a muted red, talk about what you want to do with it, and why. Sites like this one and the rings it’s attached to are full of people who are interested in exactly the same things you are, and giving them the opportunity to help you can help them learn why they make the colour decisions they do, not to mention that they get to see your finished product and say “I helped with that.”
It’s not all about compensating for deficiencies, though. Colourblindness can create some artistic opportunities, because colourblind people focus less on the colours and are able to focus more on patterns, shading, and technique. Here are a few of the ways in which colourblindness can be an asset.
Value, Not Colour
Award-winning artist Bonnie Auten is colourblind, but you can’t tell from her work, can you? In an interview, she talks about how she focuses on value, the light and darkness of a colour and its relation to the colours around it, rather than the relation of the colours themselves. A focus like this can lead to a unique aesthetic for models which artists with colour vision may not grasp. “For many artists, colors sing to them.” She says, “Colors sing to them so loudly that they cannot hear value whispering.
Similarly, using a simpler palette can force you to develop your technique. Brushwork, highlighting, drybrushing, and shading often say more about the model and artist than an impressive array of colours. Your technique can make your models shine, and it’s an area where you can focus your innovation, rather than trying out new colours.
Painting isn’t the only aspect of modeling available. Modding is just as important, and sometimes more, so take advantage of that. All that time you didn’t spend mixing that perfect shade of green? Use it to combine bitz or gel or green stuff to create something that no one else’s piece has. Even a small palette is going to look great on an innovative accessory.
In conclusion, being a colourblind artist isn’t impossible, but it’s different from being a regular one. For me, using colour is about subtlety and explanation, rather than instinct and feeling. I can’t trust that it just looks good to me, but if it does look good, I can tell you exactly why. In its essence, it’s not that different from being a regular artist. Everyone wants their work to have subtlety and technique, to have it be planned with a coherent vision and have an organized workspace. But for the colourblind artist, those things are often essential, because otherwise we’ll spend more time hunting for the right colours than actually painting. I hope I’ve managed to give some insight into what it’s like to see through my eyes, and if you’re a colourblind artist, please comment below on some of the techniques that you use to work around it and make unique pieces.