Colour Blind Artists

Colour blindness is not that uncommon, around 8% of men experience some form of color deficiency, while only about 0.5% of women are susceptible. It therefore follows that over the years there have been a number of practicing artists and great masters that have had difficulty distinguishing colours.

History of colour blindness

DotsIn 1798, colour blind scientist, John Dalton put forward the first idea of colour deficiency as a condition. The standard colour blindness test, a circular plate covered in spots with hidden images, numbers and letters was devised by Dr Isihara in 1917. So prior to this identifying any artist as colour blind is a matter of conjecture.

Many of the likely candidates such as Constable, Turner, Cezanne, Picasso and Van Gogh have been put forward but there is no proof that they suffered for their art. In most cases it is pure speculation and mainly based on their use of a limited palate and bright colours.

Simulated colour blindness

Van-GoghIn 2012 Kazunori Asada created an app that simulated colour blindness and used it to explore Van Gogh’s paintings. The system uses a filter to increases the intensity of the hues and by giving pictures an extra boost, it illustrates perhaps how the artist himself envisioned his works. Although to be honest, for me there is no difference between the sets of pictures, which I guess proves it works.

The colour blind theory

It is true that someone who has experience of colour deficiency would be more likely to employ less colours but other factors could just as well play a part. Things such as cost, availability and personal preference are good enough reasons too .  From my own experience all of these have at one time or another been the case.


Lets be honest, why put down six shades of green when you can most likely only see three anyway. My advice to the colour blind artist is accept it and paint what you see. If you feel the necessity to try and capture the real light, plan ahead with this in mind.

Always set out your palate the same way so you don’t lose the oranges or purples and confuse the browns and greens. If possible use tubes of paint as these come with the names on; once you’ve unwrapped watercolour blocks it can be difficult to identify.

The colour wheel

the-colour-wheelStudy the colour wheel and colour theory, this will help when deciding which colours to use alongside each other and ensure you pick a more logical scheme for your painting. A knowledge of opposites, harmonies and complimentary colours takes a lot of the guess-work out of painting and helps to produce a more balanced picture.

Remember at the end of the day, it’s how you see the world, so don’t feel compelled to replicate what you can’t see. If like me, you see green, ginger tom cats and bright pink, storm clouds then why not paint them that way. Those in the know believe that colour sighted people don’t all see hues the same, so why worry.


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