What Color Is That?

I got to thinking about writing all this up when my friend Shell sent me some photos of paintings she’d done. I tried to explain about how I saw them and asked her what she thought about me writing a blog post about my vision. This is what she said:

“You should do that on your blog, it’s interesting and oddly enough it made me think of people in general. We all are blind in a sense, not color blind per se, but our environments and pasts blind us to the way we see certain things and situations and brightens the way we see others.”

Bell Peppers

Which is which?

So, I’m colorblind.

Specifically, I have Deuteranopia or a red-green vision deficiency because I’m missing the M-cones (medium wavelength cone cells in charge of seeing greenish colors) in the retinas of my eyes. It’s not that I can’t see red or green, but that I can’t tell them and their variations apart so easily as others can. As an example, the bell peppers over there? I can only guess at which is which and that’s only based on green being darker than red, being darker than orange, being darker than yellow. That’s it.

I’ve always been this way, so I don’t really know what I’m missing. Sure, sometimes it’s a pain like with making sure my clothes don’t clash and it took art teachers when I was a kid a while to stop telling me lions weren’t green and just let me do my thing. I’m aware of the fact I don’t see things exactly like everybody else, but I’ve got ways of keeping things right that usually involve labeling. Find the red ball in a field of green grass, though? You find it or we’ll be here all day.

One of the first things Jazz asked me was what things looked like to me. It really wasn’t easy to describe, but the darker and lighter method kind of worked. “That’s lighter than this, but darker than that.” Then he had some fun pointing at different things and asking me what color it was. (He’s easy to please.) And then he asked me what color he was. Telling him darker than me but lighter than my friend Sarah who’s black wasn’t as happy-making.

Bell Peppers

Green is darkest, then red, orange and yellow.

So I went looking for some way to show him what I see and discovered Daniel Flück’s Coblis website and his Color Blindness Simulator. Now it’s not exactly perfect to how I see things, but it’s pretty close. If you go there and click on “Green-Blind/Deuteranopia” you can see some pencils close to how I see them, but you can also upload photos of your own to compare. Here are those same bell peppers using Daniel’s simulator >

One thing about the simulator is that it’s not really accurate for me with photos of people. White folks, you are not green! You’re just not as pink to me as you might think you are. This Vision Simulator from the Causes of Color website is more accurate for me with people. Just select the little photo with the wasp in it and then select “M-cone absent” under the Red-Green Deficiency. The background change is more like what I see with lighter skin tones. (Anybody darker is just…darker.)

Now one thing I can say is that once someone tells me what color something is, gives it that label, I can remember it, obviously, but not necessarily apply it to a different object. They just might be different enough that I miss it. I get pink and white mixed up a lot, especially if it’s a “baby pink” that’s really pale. I’m not good with subtle, but that doesn’t mean I won’t believe a certain someone when he says I look scrumptious in pink ;)

What I know from experimenting with other people is that I see most blues normally. Turquoise and cobalt might be really similar, but it’s still blue. My skin is pale and my hair is blond, but they look pretty similar to me. My eyes are blue, though, and I can see that just fine, so they’re my favorite part of me.

  • I can drive — had to prove I could tell the traffic lights apart — but driving at night in areas where there are a lot of lights (shopping areas or downtown), especially when it’s raining, is a headache I’d rather avoid, so someone else drives.
  • If I like some piece of artwork, it’s probably more due to shapes, textures or some other technique than it is to color choices. My watercolor class has been driving me insane because you mix colors a lot more (it seems to me anyway) and I’ve been making a lot of brown without realizing it until critique time.
  • It’s easiest for me to see photos that are black and white because of the contrast, but increasing contrast in photo editing software sometimes helps me see details in a color photo more clearly.
  • I don’t use highlighters in my textbooks because underlining pops more.
  • I probably don’t need to say that Jazz selects the fruits and veggies at the grocery store because unless I can squeeze it or thump it to know it’s ripe, I usually can’t tell :)
  • I prefer my Valentine’s cards to have black or white words in all that pink and red and purple or else you’ll have to read it to me, and I like white lights on Christmas trees best.

Something to be aware of is that what I see or how I identify something isn’t necessarily exactly how everyone with a color deficiency (even the same deficiency) will see or identify that same thing. Like Shell said, our pasts color our presents and we’ve all learned how to see things and explain them to others differently.

46 thoughts on “What Color Is That?

  1. Thorny, I don’t know if you know but 8% of men have red-green color blindness as the gene for it is carried on the X-chromosome (so with women, it’s about 0.13%).

    An old friend of mine had deuteranopia and he worked as a spray painter in the auto repairs industry, meaning he would have visually match paint to the car’s existing paint work… Oddly enough, he was of the best in matching the colors up. He even spray painted a beautiful jungle scene with tropical birds etc, on his daughter’s bedroom wall. When I asked how he did it, he said he could tell by really small differences in the intensity of the various shades of brown which were greens, reds and pinks. Amazing!

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing this with us and giving us a glimpse into how things may look through your eyes. It is quite interesting to see the differences with the simulators you shared.

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  3. Fascinating and informative post, Thorny. Thank you so much for sharing these personal parts of your life. It’s one of the many things that make you so very special and wonderful.

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