As some of you know, I have a secret. I'm colorblind. Not black-and-white, but the red-green sort that's commonly known to affect men, but occasionally shows up in .04% of women. I could go into the biology behind it, but suffice it to say that my dad is also colorblind and my mom is a carrier of the gene. If I ever had any sons, they'd all be colorblind by default.
For years, I was convinced that admitting my so-called "disability" to others would make people think less of my art, but now I'm learning that this isn't true -- if anything, it's the opposite! But like so many things, perceptions are formed early on and can be hard to shake. Even now I find myself reluctant to mention my colorblindness for fear of being seen as a novelty. I would much rather be known for my skill or my subject-matter than as, "The Colorblind Woman Artist".
So back to the beginning. How did I find out that I didn't see color like everyone else? There may have been a few signs here and there, but it wasn't until I went to the eye doctor for prescription glasses at eight years old that I was formally diagnosed.
Trying on mom's glasses. Little did I know I'd have my own pair soon.
I remember looking at all these funny cards with spots on them, and being asked to follow a path, or say what shape or number I saw. Most of them didn't seem to have anything on them but spots, and after about the 5th spotted card or so I suspected it was all some sort of confusing game to make me look silly. I then remember overhearing that in addition to being nearsighted I was "colorblind" and thinking to myself that this wasn't true, because I certainly could see color! But grown-ups had all sorts of odd ideas and it wasn't my place to contradict them.
There were some things that I began to wonder about, though. Like maybe all those "extra" crayons in the 64 crayon box actually weren't spares, as I'd always thought, but distinct colors. Colors that I couldn't see.
I actually thought that most crayons had "spares" in case a kid lost one.
It didn't seem to matter much, though, because when a school activity called for "green" all I had to do was look for the crayon with a "green" label. (Although I must admit, I harbored a bit of resentment for kids who absentmindedly peeled them off.) Most markers and watercolor sets had labels, too. I rarely if ever mixed any colors, and had an interesting predilection for brownish-orange or blue:
I also apparently had a predilection for adding flying "M"s in my work
Another trick I learned was that if I didn't know what color to paint something, I could either show it in shadowed silhouette, as seen above...or else do the entire painting using a single shade, as seen in this ambitious piece:
Even though I enjoyed painting, much of what I did at this point was still in pen or pencil, as I felt I had the most control over what I was doing. That said, I didn't worry too much about color, and had just about gotten used to the fact that I didn't see it perhaps as well as everyone else. So what if I couldn't tell the difference between two shades of pink? So what if I accidentally wore mismatched socks?
Then I became a teenager and....everything changed.
(Part 2, Continued: http://lauragyoung.blogspot.com/2014/04/on-being-colorblind-artist-part-two.html)