Colourblind artist Meghan Sims paints with full palette for first time with fascinating results

For the first time ever, colourblind artist Meghan Sims has tried painting using a full colour palette, and the results are fascinating.
In her painting Wrong Way, colourblind artist Meghan Sims attempted to reproduce a colour photograph on canvas. The results are similar, except for the woman's dress which she perceived as green and white, instead of red and white. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

When Meghan Sims was a little girl, she and her mother would sit down together, and study packages of markers.

"She would explain to me: 'This is corn yellow, this is butter yellow, this is sunshine yellow'," explained Sims.

Sims was born with a rare vision disorder called achromatopsia, which means she sees only a few feet in front of her, in greyscale and is extremely sensitive to light.

"And she would explain that this butter yellow was a little more softened, a little more subdued," said Sims. "So it was a memorization game."

Her disability left her craving connection, she said, and she found that connection through art. 

First full-colour paintings

Until recently she stayed away from colour in her pieces, choosing instead to paint mostly in black and white, with the occasional colour accent, mirroring what she sees with her own eyes. 

"I sort of kept the door shut there, because it was something out of my reach and I felt that I didn't need to understand it. It was a really bull-headed type of attitude."

Sims encourages people to also look at the photos and paintings through the greyscale filter on their cell phones. She says this mimics what she sees in real life. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

So Colour Blind Colour, her first full-colour exhibit now on display in the lower level of the Kitchener Public Library, is a significant departure for Sims.

She covered up the labels on her paint tubes and using just her eyes, tried to mimic the tones in photographs on canvas.

For an artist with only has a second-hand understanding of colour, the results are remarkable. She manages to reproduce colour well, and when she's wrong the results are fascinating. 

Until recently Meghan Sims stayed away from colour in her art, choosing instead to paint mostly in black and white. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

In one painting Wrong Way, a woman wears a red and white striped dress in the photo, but on canvas, Sims painted the stripes green. 

To the average eye, the colours couldn't be more different. But for Sims, the tones are very similar. 

"If you put complementary colours beside each other, they will – from what I've heard – they pull against each other. And coming from tonal vision, they look exactly the same."

In some of her paintings, one misread hue can change the entire feel of the piece, such as in this piece, called Gaukel Green. (Glodeane Brown/Culture Fancier blog)

The exhibit has been a success, half the paintings have already sold. They will be on display in the basement gallery at the Kitchener Public Library until Oct. 27. 


Jackie Sharkey is a producer for CBC News in Kitchener-Waterloo and an occasional guest host. She has been been based in Kitchener, Ont., since the station was created in 2013, after working for CBC in Kelowna, B.C., Quebec City and Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.