Helping Color Blind Art Students

The art room is typically a place of refuge for all students to feel like they belong, and have success in creation. This isn’t always the case for color blind students. Being color blind can bring on a lot of anxiety in a subject that places so much emphasis on color. A color blind student in the art room may begin to dread and even hate projects. Memorizing the color wheel isn’t a very fun task, either. There must be a happy medium!

Although the color blind students that I’ve had were quite mild and a non-issue in the art room, I know there are other art teachers out there who have taught students with severe color blindness and may have some creative solutions for others who may have a student who is difficult to reach in this area.

Please Share!

Any creative adaptions or modifications you’ve made for color blind students in your art room?

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Katie

    Color deficiency may also be terminology used for children with color differentiation difficulty as based on the color wheel.  It is good to know there are various degrees of this as well as various types of color blindness.  One may not be the same as another.  I check with the school nurse who does vision assessments when children enter school in kindergarten.  The nurse again rechecks the following year if a differentiation issue is noted during the testing.  So, one additional piece I give the color deficient artists is the written word for the color along with the color to modify.

    • Katie,
      Researching a little bit more about color blindness and the different types and degrees would be really educational for all teachers to help better understand their students. 

  • I have had several children over the years that are color blind.  For the most part it was never a big issue as they were aware of it and would read the color off the marker, crayon.  If it was a material that was not labeled they would ask myself or a table mate what color was where if they were not sure.   If something ended up a different color and another student pointed it out I reinforced that grass does not always have to be green and the sky does not always have to be blue in art! :)

  • One of the most talented students I’ve ever taught is colorblind. He has amazing skills in drawing and illustration and I have no doubt that he will meet his goal of working for Pixar someday. He is a junior right now and is already looking into colleges that will accomodate his disability. But I have always been fascinated by his colorblindness and we found this site that helped me to see colors the way he does. It’s been so enlightening! 

    • Thanks for sharing this, Mallory. Very fascinating, indeed.

  • Ronda Sternhagen

    I have had a number of color blind students from 6th grade through 12th grade. By this time, they have mastered reading the color names on the art medium as one of your other readers mentioned. If they are interested in creating a piece with “the right colors” I have helped them make a tracing of a sketch for the piece and have color coded it…just like a “paint by numbers.”

    Whenever I have a student like this, we generally dive into a conversation about who is right? Perhaps “we” are color blind and this student sees the colors in the “correct” way. It sort of boosts them up and makes them feel like it really isn’t that big of a deal…it’s who they are, they have (or will have) learned to adapt, and we go about our business of being artists. Isn’t that what makes art special? We all have our own solutions to the “problems.”

    • I love the way you put this, Ronda, it’s the ultimate lesson that art is in the eye of the beholder and it’s more about creation than being “right” about a color. 

    • Great comment, Rhonda! I have quoted a part of your response in our recent article about color blindness ( and included a link back to this article. I hope you are okay with this, Rhonda? (If not, I will remove it immediately). Feel free to contact me at amiria [at] Thank you! :)

  • Becky

    One of my best friends has pretty severe color blindness, and he is also a graphic designer. He told me that when he was in college, he was able to do really well by memorizing the numerical codes of the colors in his digital design programs. Just something I found really fascinating!

  • Tamsyn

    I’ve taught a few colour blind kids. One thing that I found helped was giving them a “buddy”, another student in the class they trust and can ask for support if they want it. I also have labelled pencils so the student knows what colour they are using (berol have nice ones). I also encourage their drawing and tonal work so they feel comfortable and secure in Art. When teaching y8 (13yr olds) portraiture I go into depth about how the eye is constructed and how it functions (like a camera) and how we ALL see colour dufferently, then I talk, to the whole group, about colour blindness so everyone is aware of what it is and everyone feels comfortable with it.

  • WOW! Everyone has great suggestions. I actually read this article recently as I was doing some research for this post, and they made the case that Van Gogh might have been color blind… This might be a nice encourager for a student as well:

  • Jackie Hummel

    Years ago I had a severly color blind student who memorized all color combinations and went to a college for 4 year degree in graphic art and is working at that same college in the admistrative building as their graphic artist.  

  • I had a severely color blind student who joined my advanced painting class halfway through the year(!) thanks to a genius counselor LOL.  He didn’t TELL me about the color blindness either.  We were doing landscape painting and mixing different greens … needless to say with the red green color issue he came up with mud, mud, and more mud.  I thought he was playing around, and felt really bad when he explained it to me!

    Given the curriculum, I simply assigned different projects to him for graphite, charcoal, conte,  or monochromatic painting.    He actually did pretty well.  He did use some color in his work but we kept it simple as his color blindness was so severe that mixing paints was just an exercise in frustration!

  • Jen

    I teach K-8 art and have had students with different levels of color blindness, but rarely know that it is a problem because of some of the ways I organize my room. One of my first students with a visual impairment could only see different shades of grays, so I put some systems into place then and continue to use them. The way I organize my paint was put into place when I had this student. I had these wonderful light blue trays donated to me from a hospital that I wrote on with black sharpie. I created a section on the trays for each color of paint, wrote the names of the colors on each space in rainbow order, and placed small containers of paint in the space with that color name. The students are very respectful and make sure to put the paint away in the correct space. The writing on the colored pencils and crayons was sometimes too small, so when the above student was older, we wrote the labels larger with tape.

  • Lisa Blum

    I have had MANY color blind students over the years.  Since my own husband is color blind I can usually spot them in Kindergarten.  Over the years they quickly adapt to reading colors or asking myself, and aide or another student.  I have had 2 students in my many years however that really couldn’t see any color.  So for a high school project with one of them I asked if he was game to creating an artwork as he saw the colors instead of adapting the colors.  I cut off the ends of colored pencils, he printed a color photograph he really liked, and he went to work.  It was really cool at the end and gave me a better understanding of how students with colorblindness really see.  If you ever have a chance to try this I would suggest it.  But usually those students really like to draw or paint, they create in black and white color schemes.  Most of the time you can adapt your project to help them be successful!

    • Lisa,
      What a powerful story about how you allowed the high school student to simply paint the way he sees colors. This is one of the best solutions I have heard, by far, especially for older students who are ready to move into “their own” when it comes to making artwork. I imagine this student felt very empowered by your mentorship and confidence in him as an artist!

    • TH3_FRA53RS

      My son is ‘red green’ colour blind and is starting GCSE Art. He is talented but is finding his current teacher isn’t happy having to deal with his colour blindness. Giving him a hand full of oil pastels in the colours she sees in a still life for him to complete his work, does not really work here, does it. I understand she has a curriculum to teach but, can’t there be adaptations? I am an artist and I find it fascinating that he see’s things differently. Shouldn’t this be embraced? Trying to TRAIN a colour blind student to recognize colours we see can’t be right? Colours work differently for them, their world is different!

  • dmasse

    thanks for posting this! we just found out that our son is moderately color blind. great comments and info:)

  • Jessica Young

    I have two colorblind students right now, and how I modify my teaching strategy for them is I talk out loud as I pour the paint of give them a colored paper. (I.e., “here’s the red paint, and here’s the green.”) Both of my colorblind students are very bright, so the moment I tell them what color is what, they remember. When I teach about warm and cool colors, I have a game where each student gets a colored star (laminated paper with a magnet on the back), and has to decide if it’s a cool color or a warm color, and then put it on the appropriate side of the chalkboard. As I pass out stars, when I get to the colorblind student, I’ll just say, “here’s a blue star,” or something, and no one even notices, but the student then knows the answer :).
    ~Jessica (

  • Carmen Mes

    Here are a few examples of my son’s artwork, done at age 2, 4 and 3 from left to right. That’s me on the far right with my long ponytail ;) As you can see, in the middle picture, he colored the mom and the daughter in “pink”, according to social convention. Because he is red-green colorblind (deuteranopia), he sees pink as grey.
    Sadly, in 4-year-old kindergarten, he is already shying away from art-related projects. His drawing has actually regressed significantly since he drew this picture of our family. Thank goodness for the art teachers out there who care to foster creativity in colorblind students!
    If you are interested in seeing how colorblind individuals view the world, there is an excellent free app available called HueVue, which allows you to convert any photo to what a colorblind individual would see, according to their type of color deficiency.