Seeing Red

“It’s like a red rag to a bull!”B1 bull

No it isn’t.

Bulls are colourblind – they don’t ‘see red’, so they must be getting angry due to some other reason. I have a radical theory that the bull becomes a little irate because some guy in a tight spangly outfit wearing a Mickey Mouse hat is waving a massive rag in their face – and all this after the guy’s mates have just been stabbing the bull with pointy sticks. Only a theory though – I can’t truly know what the bull thinks or how he sees. So, what is it like being colourblind?

I am colourblind. I’m guessing you are probably not, though I may be wrong. I can’t possibly experience what it is like to have ‘normal’ colour vision, but then to me, ‘normal’ is how I see colours. I’ve never known any different – who’s to say the ‘Normies’ are not all wrong?!

So yes, I am colourblind; but do you know what?….  I quite like it! It doesn’t make me mad. It doesn’t hurt me or detrimentally affect my life. Of course, it has ruled out one or two careers paths for me (eg electrician and pilot were apparently off the table), but it hasn’t really caused me any harm. Or has it? Could I still become a successful author/illustrator?

Anyway, where did it all begin?

The First Signs

I never really noticed I was colourblind in my early years – why would I? The signs first appeared on a walk through the park with my mum. There was a group of ‘Cubs’ taking part in some sort of outdoor activity; my mum turned to me and asked:

“Would you like to join the Cubs, Ben?”

“No thanks.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t like brown.”

Do you see a 29? 70? Or nothing?!

(For those unaware, the uniform for ‘Cubs’ is definitely green – it is the older ‘Scouts’ who have a brown uniform.)

The seeds of doubt were sown and hence, not long afterwards, I took a trip to the local doctors with my mum for a more formal test using the colour-spot ‘Ishihara’ plates which I’m sure most of you have seen before – they are circular areas containing dots of various sizes and colours. To ‘Normies’, there will usually be a very apparent number, letter or shape in the collection of dots (if you fancy having a go, there is a quick test of 8 plates here). What I hadn’t realised was that us ‘Specials’ can sometimes see things that you ‘Normies’ can’t! I remember at the doctors, I said I could see a picture of a teapot, but my mum was adamant that it was a milk jug – it was then that the doctor explained that due to my colourblindness, I was able to see an additional long spout and handle! Woohoo – I had super powers! Try it yourself on the plate above – apparently some people with colourblindness can see a ’70’ – I can’t see anything (incidentally, on the ‘test’ link above, I saw ‘nothing’ on all 8 plates!)

A much more detailed investigation at the opticians culminated with him pointing at a Christmas tree in the reception area and saying:

“What colour is that?”

“It’s green. It’s a Christmas tree.”

“Ah, but you only know that it is green because it is a Christmas tree. If you didn’t know it was a Christmas tree, you would see it as grey.”


Sorry Mr Optician, I don’t think I’ll be coming back to see you again.

Practical Tips

Once I was aware that I was colourblind, it was pretty easy-going. There are some minor effects in daily life, so for any of you out there who want some examples as to how I cope with being colourblind, here are some practical tips that I have picked up along the way – and please do share any tips you have:

  • Learn to be tolerant and patient – when people hear for the first time that you are colourblind, it is mandatory to immediately play at least 10 rounds of the popular game “What colour is this?”
  • Learn how to buy clothes. You essentially have 4 choices here:
    • Take a ‘Normie’ with you – they’ll be able to tell you what shade of lilac you are about to purchase!
    • Ask a shop assistant – when you ask “Is this shirt blue?”, they will shoot you a puzzled look. Follow up with “It’s just that I’m actually colourblind and can’t tell” and they will usually be very helpful, fuelled by guilt.
    • Read the label – you will become familiar with clothing manufacturers who actually print the colour of the garment on the label – very useful
    • Go on, live a little – if you like the look of it, just buy it and wear it. Who cares that what you thought was pale grey is actually dusky pink?!
  • Improve your memory for snooker – you may be aware that at the beginning of a frame, the brown ball is on its spot at one end of the table and not with the all of the reds in the big triangle at the other end. Then, simply remember where the brown is after every shot! I cannot tell the difference between a red and brown ball, which may be why I’ve never found myself up against Ronnie O’Sullivan.
  • Choose your crayons carefully – this is probably the biggest one for me at the moment. I have often found some fantastic crayons or markers that feel just right, but unfortunately can’t buy them because I don’t know what colours they are! A big thank you to those manufacturers who print the name of the colour on the pencil – a huge help!
I can read colours!

I can read colours!

And what about digital art? Well, I just have to take a punt, or ask my wife, or even use an app on my phone that I can point at my PC screen and it tells me what colour I’m looking at! Whilst I find choosing colours hard when illustrating (particularly digitally), I don’t think it has detrimentally affected any chances I have of becoming an author/illustrator – and purple sky with orange grass may actually be more appealing in a picture book!

Let me know if you have any practical tips for being colourblind, or even if you fancy joining a campaign to get all crayon manufacturers to print the colour names on their products! We can change the world!

Until next time.



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