Thursday, February 12, 2009

Having eyes, see ye not?

Mark 8:18

When I was about 12 years old, I went to the eye doctor for the first time. I had been having trouble seeing the blackboard at school, and so I was past due for a pair of glasses. As part of my eye exam, I was shown a set of plates like the one above, and asked if I could see a number in each plate. Naturally I thought the doctor was crazy. Why would he show me a plate with no number in it and expect me to see a number? Of course my diagnosis of crazy doctor turned out to be wrong, and I was told that I was colorblind. Apparently the number 6 is in the graphic above, but I can't see it for the life of me.

At the time I was getting into painting a little, having watched just a bit too much Bob Ross on PBS. Knowing that I was colorblind meant that I had to find a spotter to help with my paintings. I needed someone to tell me if I was using the right color for things. So I turned to my little brother who was also my best friend at the time, and I would seek his advice. I would later discover that he was colorblind as well, and it would seem that he is even more colorblind than me. So I gave up asking his advice.

A couple years later I started studying iconography. There were a few missteps early on. When I first mixed Sankir, which is the base color for the face, I was a little heavy-handed with the green, and after hours of painting, I showed the icon to my dad, and he asked me if it was supposed to be Kermit the Frog or the Incredible Hulk.

It's been years now since I have heard a comment like this, and more often than not it seems like I hear people compliment me on the colors in my icons. I have to laugh a little because half the time I can't even see what it is that I've done. In times past I refused to tell people about my colorblindness for fear that no one would want to order icons from someone who couldn't see the colors he was using. But in recent years I have started to tell people about it.

Of course everyone likes to quiz me on what color shirt they are wearing, but once that novelty wears off, everyone wants to know how I do what I do without being able to see what I do. So I thought I would share a little of that. The first thing to remember is that tubes of paint have labels. This is very helpful to me. I have also spent a fair amount of time studying color theory. I not only know what happens when you mix yellow and blue (thank you ziplock), I also know what happens when you mix yellow and orange (a trade secret I am not willing to share). I can't necessarily see what happens when two colors are mixed, but I know what is happening. I know a lot about which colors are strong colors and which ones are weak colors so I can gauge proportions when mixing colors. I have also come to depend on technology to a certain extent. I will sometimes use the color picking tool in photoshop to see what color something is. Once I have done that I can try to replicate the formula using what I know of theory. But more often than not, I just paint. I don't think a whole lot about what color something is unless there is some particular significance to the color that is being used.

In the rules for an iconographer that I was given, there is a rule that states "When you have to choose a color, reach out to the Lord inwardly and ask His counsel." While I can't say that I always do this consciously, I don't think a lot about what I think would look nice. I prefer instead to pick a color without thinking about my preferences. An iconographer is supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit. I have a hard time saying that my work is the work of the Holy Spirit given my struggles to remain prayerful and attentive, but I also know that there is nothing that I can do personally to insure that my colors will appeal to anyone. All the theory and practical considerations aside, there are so many times where I just can't see what I have done. I can't tell you how many times I have been asked what colors I used on something, and if I can't remember I usually can't even make an educated guess. So I am left thinking that the Holy Spirit must be doing something through my hand. And my prayer is that as I continue in this work, my influence will diminish and the influence of the Holy Spirit will increase.