Color-blindness and Hobbying – An Essay

I would imagine that most people find out they’re color-blind one of two ways – firstly; an optometrist gives you a color-blindness test and determines “yep, you’re color-blind”, or (and I suspect more commonly), in Kindergarten you reach for a crayon and happily color the ocean or sky purple. Everyone sitting at the table looks at you in disbelief, and you attempt to shrug it off – “oh yes, I meant to do this”. I think you can figure out which scenario I fell into.

When people find out you’re color-blind you’re typically faced with two possible scenarios. Some of the time, people will say “oh my – that’s awful – how do you cope?” (fine, I guess?) and somewhat more commonly, “You’re color-blind? What color is this? [points to an object]”. The second scenario is also one of my kid’s favorite games. The thing about either scenario is color-blindness is a weird thing to describe to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. It’s just a thing that I’ve lived with since birth. I’ve never known what it’s like to not be color-blind, so how do I explain lacking something I’ve never had?

In my case, I’m affected by a type of color-blindness called Protanomaly, which I’ve learned is a form of red-green color-blindness, and affects approximately 1 in 12 men. Basically, the rods and cones that detect color in my eyes pick up too much green, and not enough red. I’m classified as Moderate to Strong Protan, which means my red receptors aren’t working nearly as well as they should. For me, if something doesn’t contain enough red to make it inherently red, my eyes just don’t register the red color. Interestingly, I can’t read red text on a black background (and vice-versa). It’s essentially invisible. Another interesting thing I’ve discovered is to me, some greys look pink, and some pinks look grey. I learned this when I asked my wife where my pink sweat-pants were and she had no idea what I was talking about. She then endlessly mocked me for knowingly wearing what I assumed were pink sweat-pants.

There is apparently a form of color-blindness that’s extremely desirable to camouflage manufacturers, where you can instantly spot someone wearing camo in its intended environment. These color-blind individuals can then take a good camo pattern and make it great. I can safely say I’m not in that category; I’m more like a t-rex. If it’s not moving, I can’t see it. When I played paintball on a semi-serious team (a lifetime ago), I found the only games I was good at were the ones involving brightly colored inflatable bunkers played on astroturf. The second we got into the woods, I was done for. (Except during the outdoor winter matches, where the trees have no leaves. However, paintballs freeze in -15 Celsius weather and become rock hard, so it takes a lot of the fun out of it)

Almost all of the time, color-blindness is genetic. It moves in a zig-zag pattern; color-blind fathers pass it on to their daughters. The daughter typically isn’t color-blind, they’re just carrying the color-blind gene. Then, if they have a son; BAM! He’s color-blind. That’s how I got it, and that’s how my grandkids will likely get it. I wish my mother had mentioned earlier that I was probably color-blind, because when I tearfully asked her about my purple-colored ocean she told me my grandfather made mistakes like that all the time. Apparently, her brother (my uncle) is also red-green color-blind so I guess the color-blind gene is super-strong in my family. I’m honestly not sure what would happen if my daughters also had daughters; if the color-blind gene would remain passive, or would it disappear entirely? Maybe I should’ve paid more attention in science class.

I guess the easiest way to describe color-blindness is momentary frustration. It’s not something that bothers me enough to make me angry, and it doesn’t depress me enough to make me sad. It’s like a coffee table that you stub your toe on every so often, it happens just often enough to remind you it’s there. When it happens, for a moment I’m frustrated about the table and then life goes on. Most of the time, the scenarios that frustrate me aren’t that big of a deal – I just tend to avoid those scenarios wholesale. Kind of like avoiding going into the room with the coffee table altogether. But every so often, you want to sit in that room and use the coffee table – so what then?

Color-blindness glasses: These used to be extremely rare, and extremely cost-prohibitive. They’re a lot more common now but are still pretty expensive. If you’re red-green colorblind like me, they apparently work really well. Except there’s a small snag – Thanks to shoddy genetics I also have strong astigmatism, which can’t be filled in a color-blind glasses prescription. (or via any online discount glasses manufacturer apparently, I’ve tried). So I’m relegated to clip-on attachments for my daily driver lenses, and at that point, what’s the point?

Color-blind filters on devices: This only works for electronics that support it. My iPhone has it, and some videogames I’ve played have it as well. Unfortunately, neither of these software color corrections seem to work well for me. By oversaturating the red on my iPhone, it makes everything else look weird and way too vivid/vibrant. (while at the same time washing out the reds I do see, turning them into a murky pink color). Most color-blind modes in videogames enhance maybe one or two elements but leave everything else as it was. Effectively, I see no difference by enabling or disabling color-blind mode. So I end up leaving it turned off. Besides, these only fix electronics – what do you do the rest of the time?

I learned at a very young age to not rely on my assumption of color, and only trust the facts. In the beginning, I just ignored crayons that didn’t clearly indicate which color they actually were. For example, “Orange-Red” is safe, but “Bittersweet” was out. (These are almost the same color, but you can’t really know unless they’re side-by-side). Over time you gradually learn what colors can be used, based on what others are already doing with them. Then, you have to memorize the color names that aren’t immediately apparent and trust that they work.

This works great when we’re talking about coloring with crayons, but what else? I’ve basically been told by my wife that I’m no longer allowed to pick paint colors for our rooms. There was an incident at Home Depot where I picked a room color and was assured that the color I’d chosen was in fact “Dinosaur Green, and there’s no way we’re painting our room that color”. So now, if I don’t have specific instructions to get a specific color, I just rely on the opinion of the person working there. I bring in some photo samples of rooms I think look nice, and they tell me what color to pick. I also tend to stick to tried and true coordinated colors for my clothes, as one time I wore what I thought was a nicely coordinated pair of khaki pants with a brown coat, and I was asked “Are you going on safari?” There are some unavoidable situations, however – like when I’m running networking or telecom cables. I say unavoidable because punching down network cables is part of my job these days. Manufacturers use colors to identify what cable does what, and if they haven’t done a great job color-coding, I have no idea if a wire is brown or green (and sometimes orange, for particularly badly colored cables). Thankfully it seems to only be a problem for the cheaper ‘white-box’ cables; bigger brands like Superior-Essex have excellent colors and it makes using them really easy. When I was in college we were learning how to punch down a 25-pair telecom cable (so 50 individually color-coded wires in a large bundle) and I asked the teacher what to do if you’re colorblind – his answer was “God help us – find a different career”.

And so I did end up in a different career than expected, at least for a time. For about six years I worked as a photocopier technician, and for the last three years at that company, I was the color photocopier and print specialist. Woah – hold on a minute, what? Yes – it’s true. It started innocently enough: I was asked if I wanted EFI Fiery training, and me not knowing what a Fiery was, said “sure that sounds interesting!” Turns out, a Fiery is a dedicated computer that tells the photocopier how to behave like a full-fledged printing press with Pantone color matching. Thankfully, what I discovered was I didn’t have to know colors – just how to Pantone color match. Because every site I supported only cared about an extremely specific set of solid colors; I was never tasked with changing needs like “increase the brown in this image”, or “decrease the red” – it was always “I want my solid color to look exactly like this”, which I was completely capable of doing. I’d print the intended color, and compare it to my Pantone charts. If it wasn’t perfect, I’d adjust individual values until it looked right, and follow up with the site contact who could confirm my results. This worked because while my perception of color is off, all I had to do was make my print sample and the official Pantone color look the exact same. I survived the three years and my clients were extremely happy with my work. In the end, I left not because of the color-blindness, but because we were starting a family and my long work hours were really taxing on our home life.

I like to explain my color blindness with crayons and purple ocean, because crayons tend to use unconventional names like Madder Lake, Wisteria, Thistle, Tumbleweed, Fuzzy Wuzzy, Shadow, and Timberwolf. What the heck does any of these color names even mean? (To be fair I pulled these from Wikipedia as I don’t currently have any crayons, and apparently, some names like Madder Lake were discontinued in 1935. For the record “Madder Lake” is apparently a red color, and is also the name of an Australian prog-rock band from the 70’s) So that’s fine, except not all of these ambiguous names have been discontinued, a lot of them are still being used today.

Games Workshop, where I obtain most of my hobby paints is equally guilty for giving their colors strange names. I’ve learned that this is by design, not to intentionally screw colorblind people, but for copyright and legal reasons. Apparently, you can’t copyright “Goblin Green” because everyone has a color named “Goblin Green”. So you come up with a name like “Waaagh! Flesh”. Waagh! Flesh isn’t the only offender by Games Workshop – there’s also Ogryn Camo, The Fang, XV-88, Incubi Darkness, and Dawnstone (to name just a few). In Games Workshop’s defense, they’ve gotten a lot better at making their paints colorblind-friendly. For every obscurely named paint, there are at least a dozen paints that include the actual color in the name. I suspect this has to do with the “shiny happy new Games Workshop” of the last 4-5 years, versus the “We make stuff – buy it!” Games Workshop of days-gone-by. They’ve also organized their paint by core color on their website, so you can see all of the paints separated by their actual color instead of just by their fancy name.

This explains why almost all of the miniatures I paint are the Games Workshop Approved (tm) color schemes. For example, my Thousand Sons army is Thousand Sons Blue, trimmed in Retributor Armor, with Ahriman Blue accents. Stock, vanilla, Magus-Did-Nothing-Wrong, Post-Heresy Thousand Sons. And don’t get me wrong, they look great. I’m super happy with them. But on /r/thousandsons, every so often I’ll see an alternate color scheme and I’ll drool over them, jealous of people who have their colors figured out. Because that’s one of the minor inconveniences of being color-blind; I can tell when something looks really good – I just can’t replicate it myself without paint-by-numbers direction.

The same holds true for my Dark Angels, Skaven, Sylvaneth, Goff Orks, and really, every other army I’ve ever painted. They all follow the chapter-approved, Duncan Rhodes two-thin-coats schemes. Because when I go off script, I can tell when something is wrong, but I have no idea how to fix it. Thankfully with YouTube and blogs like this, there is no shortage of painting tutorials out there, and they’ve become something I heavily rely on. Midwinter Minis, a YouTube wargaming channel has become one of my favorite channels because Guy, who runs MWM, is color-blind himself. He actually gets what’s involved in trying to do this hobby, with the exact same color limitations I have. I was so impressed with his channel I actually supported him on Patreon, and I don’t support anyone on Patreon. (It helps that he and I share a common interest in armies as well).

So that’s how I deal with color-blindness when I hobby; I like to follow the directions and stay on script. In a perfect world, there’d be a lot more tutorials out there for working out every codex variant chapter/army color scheme, but until then I’m honestly happy painting things in the default colors. They look great and are clearly what drew me to Warhammer. I’ve been modeling and painting for a lot longer than I’ve been playing, and that was due to reading (and drooling over) issues of White Dwarf when I was a kid. Thankfully, there’s a lot of great content creators working hard to provide painting tips and advice. Some of my favorites are Midwinter Minis, Duncan Rhodes Painting Academy, Goobertown Hobbies, and obviously Games Workshop themselves. While not all channels are colorblind-friendly, as long as they give me the colors in a followable format, I can figure them out.

Author: Greg

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