This month, Word Carnival carnies are exploring our own freakiness and how we use it to build stronger brands – and how you can do the same! As soon as we’d chosen the theme, I knew exactly what I wanted to share…the “tell me something I don’t know about you” quirk that affects my life every day and in dozens of ways, that’s the hardest to share and yet wants to leap out and be known at opportunities like this:
I am a colorblind artist.
Ok, that’s the shock-value version of the statement…the one that’s not really fair to either you or me, and yet is strangely the easiest for most people to “get” because it’s oversimplified and puts me into tidy boxes. You probably know someone who’s “colorblind”…up to 1 in 10 Caucasian males are. I know which questions come next: “How do you DRIVE?” and “You know your shirt is pink, right?” It can be tiring, but not offensive.
The REAL story is that I have a color vision difference in which some of the retinal cones that perceive colors in the green-yellow-red portion of the light spectrum are faulty; this can be called daltonism (after English chemist John Dalton), deuteranopia, or the more detailed but still misleading “red-green colorblind”. It is true that for me certain shades of green can be indistinguishable from brown or yellow, that some reds can look brown, and pink can look gray. Violet, lavender, purple, and blue can all seem quite similar to me as well, since the red wavelengths are weak or stripped out. Real live rainbows have only two stripes for me: blue and yellow. It’s also a little indirect to say I’m an “artist”, since the potential image or association of me trying to mix paints, for example, wouldn’t be accurate. As a graphic designer, I’m fortunate to have digital tools to help me sort out colors. I’ll get to those.
How Do My Quirks Help Me?
I’ve known that my color vision is different since I was very young. It’s genetic; my maternal grandfather was kept from flying military aircraft because of it, so my mother had me tested very early. (Each of the few times I’ve seen a new eye doctor, the test is always standard because of my gender, and each time they try to break it to me gently, as if I have a disease. This amuses me, and relieves them when I share that I already “know”.) Because I have never been able to trust exactly what my eyes are telling me, I have lots of other strategies for figuring out what’s what, and they actually make me a BETTER designer:
- Purple is usually DARKER than blue. I have to know and notice qualities beyond the obvious or the easy-to-take-for-granted. That way of thinking helps me identify colors even when I can’t actually see them the same way you do, AND helps me problem solve more generally by approaching from various angles and paying attention to the relationships between things rather than relying on a given thing alone.
- A green tiger? How DARING! I once painted a picture of a tiger, taking unusual effort to be detailed and accurate, only to be praised for my maverick use of green when I’d really just meant to use true-to-life orange. At that time, I was crushed, but what the experience freed me to do is not be so attached to the “proper” or “normal” colors of things, and be a little more experimental. Fortunately the Universe seems to favor happy accidents over catastrophes, and that’s how I found out that brown and pink actually look good together.
- Art imitates life. No need to reinvent the (color) wheel: if I need a design element, I find it and photograph it, and then I can sample from it. This works for capturing colors, textures, patterns, and more. For me, this is faster and more efficient than trying to conjure colors out of my imagination and digitally mix them up. From a philosophical standpoint, it also brings an element of life into the design, which is attractive to me.
What If I Need Help?
I do, first of all. I do need help. Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, I have resources for getting the information I need. My top 3 are:
- The Color Detector app by Mobialia uses my Android smartphone’s camera to identify colors within a very small focal area on the screen. When I have the color I want within that area and click, Color Detector gives me HTML, RGB, and CSV codes for the nearest color in its vast library. It even shows the color’s name (and will speak it out loud if enabled!). Since it’s using a camera, the quality and quantity of light affect the accuracy of the read, and the flash sometimes just washes out the area so that it reads white, but this tool is great for capturing reference points and getting me close.
- The Rainbow Color Tools add-on for Firefox, by Heather Arthur, is an amazing tool that any digital artist or web designer can appreciate, regardless of how their retinal cones are installed. This tool has a standard full-spectrum color picker, a Library feature that lets you save and build a library of favorite or often used colors, and even a site analyzer tool that’ll instantly collect and display the palette of colors used on the website you’re on when you activate it. The feature I use most often, however, is the Inspector: it puts a box next to my cursor that analyzes each pixel I touch, showing me the hex code for that color (hex is an HTML color system…for example, black is #000000). For grabbing colors from photographs, Photoshop will also show me individual pixels and various ways of expressing them digitally.
- Asking a human is much more subjective, but the emotional/relational feedback is priceless. Female ones are best (99.5% have perfect color vision), so my wife gets the occasional oversight request from me. My other resource is the client themselves. In general I like to approach design projects in a collaborative energy anyway, so as a natural extension of that I like for my clients to be in the “art director” role some of the time. After all, it’s THEIR identity we’re playing with, and there are SO many more variables to consider than simply “Is this the right color?”. In a color-choosing session, I’m working overtime to notice relationships between colors, note precisely the codes for which colors we like, consider what objects in the real world have similar colors or properties that we might be able to photograph, etc. It’s a chore, to be quite honest, and if I haven’t openly divulged my color vision difference, it carries the constant anxiety of being “found out”. I think this post is part of my journey into sharing that detail more openly AND trusting my tools and problem-solving skills enough to let go some of that anxiety when I haven’t shared.
That’s all well and good, but what about YOUR quirks?
Consider this a case study in how to re-approach and re-frame your more unique traits into something that works FOR you. As a small business owner, YOU are deeply a part of your business, so even something like being right-handed but left-footed is a quirk you can use. Analyze how that shapes your decision-making or skill diversity. Draw attention to the experiences you’ve had as a result of your quirks, and the tools you employ to reinforce or counter-balance them. You and your quirks are beautiful, and they are precisely what highlight you from the crowd. Come out and own them, because after all, the world needs your originality. You just have to grow into it.
This post is part of the May 2012 Word Carnival — a monthly group blogging event specifically for small business owners started by Tea Silvestre, the Word Chef. Check out the rest of this month’s excellent lineup here.
Also, there are approximately one million bajillion articles about “color blindness”, many of which are great. The Wikipedia entry on “Color blindness” is quite good as a starting point if you want to know more on the technical end.