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!


  2. angel

    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.


  3. Susan

    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.


  4. amanda2u

    Thanks for sharing this Thorny! It was so fascinating to learn how you see things. I’ve been told before that my grandfather was color blind but I didn’t really know what that meant at the time. But, I do remember that he didn’t wear alot of color. Mostly blacks and browns for clothes. So….I guess my green eyes would just look a little darker, huh? LOL. Thanks for educating us!



  5. Well, that explains a few things. Here I just thought you were eccentric.

    I’m kidding!

    Seriously fascinating stuff, kid. I get that it’s all perfectly normal for you, but I’m impressed and I’m looking around now trying to see what would be different if I saw the world like you do.


  6. Ivan

    This is all very interesting, T. Thanks for explaining it, :)
    I knew someone who had trouble with browns and never knew how it might work.


  7. This is really interesting, Thorny. I’m glad you posted it. I tried that color simulator on a couple of my book cover designs to see how you might see them. One of the covers is mostly all red tones, and the simulator made it all green tones. There wasn’t any loss in contrast or detail, and it actually didn’t look too bad that way. It just changed the “feel” of the cover from warm to cool. Very interesting to see through someone else’s eyes. :)


    1. Yeah, Jazz said that’s what the simulator does to red and pink — which is why he thought I see white people as green. Mostly it’s all about the contrast on book covers. Words might disappear or be hard to read, torsos blend together, or I just can’t connect enough shapes to know what is actually pictured on the cover at all. It the same with some, uh, other photos and, er, videos. :roll:


  8. Sammy2006

    ah..so some would say that you are “color blind” Thornton…I would say that your soul is a tapestry of rich and beautiful colors that draws others to you and allows them to experience the true beuaty that is you!


  9. My husband is protanopic. He feels your pain. He did a speech and a paper on color blindness in videogaming for a couple of college classes last semester. =)

    (Incidentally, he says World of Warcraft has really cool colorblind features in now.)


  10. Lisa

    Very interesting post because my husband is color blind. Actually, he has the same problem with red and green colors that you do. He seems to have more problems with green colors.

    I went with him to an appointment he had at an ophthalmologist once. The doctor asked me to come in while he was testing his eyes. It was very interesting for me to find out how he sees certain colors. Sometimes he will ask me what color this or that is, but I guess I never gave it much thought until then.

    Oh, and by the way, my husband happens to be a mechanic. So he does have to deal with wires sometimes. No problems so far (never had to stop a bomb either). :D


    1. Honestly, it’s other people that make me self-conscious about what I see, so when I ask Jazz or someone else to tell me what color something is or if my clothes match, I’m nervous about how I’ll be seen or questioned. Most of the time, I don’t really care if something’s red or not.

      LOL @ the mechanic bomb tech, Lisa :lol: Let’s hope he never gets at those wires!


  11. Tame

    what an interesting and insightful look into your world, Thorny! Thank you so much :) I have some colour-blind patients of ‘various variations’, and one who is an artist (oils and B&W portraits), and this is another insight into their world, and how they live in it.

    Just another wonderful aspect to you & your world!


  12. That was really interesting – thank you! I know someone who’s red-green and blue-yellow colour blind (I think that’s it anyway). He plays a lot of computer games but has trouble with games where the rarity/value of an item is shown by colour – blue & purple look the same because the writing is the same depth of colour. And there are red herbs to be picked in green grass – World of Warcraft. I think they did start working on making it more user friendly for people who are colour blind but I’ve not played in a while.
    Watercolour does seem to involve a lot of colour mixing. Could they let you do pictures in one colour (I can’t think of the word for the technique, sorry) – it’s fun doing them that way and they can come out quite striking.


    1. I have a terrible time with some computer and video games! Mostly because of how things blend together. I’m best at them when I’m a secondary character who can get a job to do — like go build that thing — while someone else does the important stuff.

      It’s the same with watching TV or movies. Sometimes I miss the details completely.


  13. Great post – what a thorough put-yourself-in-someone’s-shoes description. I have an uncle who is M-cone absent ans a Master’s degree in visual perception and I still don’t think I could have done as clear and empathic a job.

    It looks like there are some robotic color sensors out there (including instructions for build-your-own) like this one https://secure.vvhosting.co.uk/cobolt/store/eric_viewItem.asp?idProduct=274 but I have no personal knowledge of any of them.


    1. Well damn! Look at that! I’m not sure I’d buy it from a site like that — looks a little questionable — but that there’s something like that out there means I have some googling to do! :D


  14. Karen Candido

    I have a different version of color blindness, yes I know rare for a woman, I see the colors green, red, black and white too well. When the colors green and red are next to each other they flash and look like they are strobe lights next to each other. Let me tell you how fun Christmas is!
    When its black and white I will be reading a word, or typing, and when I got the next word I can still the imprint of the 1st word. Nothing too horrbile and I have gotten adjusted to it but still a pain.
    Its amazing how different eyes are for everyone. Maybe you and I can make our eyes work together so we can see! LOL
    Thanks Thorny for letting us see the world through your eyes :)


    1. mc

      That’s so fascinating. The reading thing sounds like a major pain, but you have such a good attitude about it!

      A question for you and Thorny: when did you realize you were color-blind? In the sense that it’s your normal, so how did you realize that others weren’t like you?

      This is a really cool discussion.


  15. Havan Fellows

    Very interesting, and congrats on you for overcoming what could possibly be a hinderance and being so open with people like me who honestly want to understand but are too nervous to ask. And is it wrong that hearing how Jazz and you interact brings a smile to my face? Oh yeah…and I would love a green lion *winks*.


    1. I was actually nervous to publish this post! And you never know, there could totally be green lions on some alien planet somewhere. With blue giraffes and orange hippos ;)


  16. Shell

    Awesome post, T! I tested myself to see if I could get the peppers in the second photo correct when going by your description. I failed, I’d be at a loss with the orange and yellow, they’re so similar. And for the record, I think you see the world better than most, color blind or not. :)


  17. mc

    Thorny, this was fascinating to me. I have to echo Susan65 in that this is a super explanation of color blindness; I don’t have a friend or family member with it, but I don’t think I ever understood as well as I do now.

    I really like the links; the difference between being M-cone deficient and absent is telling.

    Such an interesting topic, especially since vision is such a personal thing, color aside. (I read recently about people who have face blindness – eg, you never remember a face, and everyone is always a stranger to you.)

    Great post.


    1. I think I saw something about that face blindness! There was a girl who had it, but one day actually saw a man’s face clearly every time. She figured it was fate telling her he was the one for her, so she dated and married him. I really really hope she can see their kids.


  18. You again reminded me of the JL Langley book – With Abandon. In that Matt is color blind (for a lack of better word).
    Thanks for clarifying how the colors appear to you! Knowledge always prevents Foot-In-The-Mouth disorder… LOL! Now at least I won’t make a completely faux pas if someone tells me that they are color blind.


    1. I so WISH there was a device like Matt had in that book, but I’ve never found one. There are apps for your phone that will show you an enhanced picture using the camera and there are apps for your computer that will tell you what color your mouse is hovering over, but nothing that’ll tell me my socks are different colors. I have to ask Jazz to do that :)


  19. Tam

    Wow. Interesting. Not something anyone in my family experiences so I’ve just never thought about it. Thanks for teaching me something new.


  20. Susan65

    This was probably the best explanation of color blindness. My uncle is color blind and as a kid i thought he just saw in black and white. Thanks for sharing…i have always benn curious about it.


    1. Do you have colorblind cousins, Susan? My grandfather was colorblind, my mom wasn’t, but I am. It follows the X chromosome, so men (because they only have one X) are more likely to be colorblind than women (because they have two Xs).


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