A Co Louth designer who makes his own fountain pens has found a creative way of making his own products; embracing colour even though he himself is colourblind.
Ben Walsh launched Gravitas Pens in October 2020 and has seen his business grow from strength to strength, overcoming the unique obstacles he faces from being colourblind.
"I do see colour, but I don't see it as colourful," Mr Walsh said. "I don’t see it as saturated as everybody.
"So if the colour is not as bright, I could confuse it with grey very easily. And when there isn’t much colour, I can very easily confuse a blue with a green, or purple with the blue, an orange with a red, and so on."
Colour blindness is a condition which limits a person’s ability to recognise and differentiate between different colours.
It affects around one in 12 men and one in every 200 women.
Even though being colourblind does not have a negative impact on a person’s health, it can potentially affect people’s career choices. Professions such as pilots, electricians and air traffic controllers can require accurate colour recognition.
Being colourblind did not bother Mr Walsh until he went to study design in college.
"I was a little bit hesitant to tell my lecturers or my colleagues that I was colourblind," he said.
"A part of me didn’t feel adequate enough. I’m in a room full of wonderful artists and I’m not what they are. I didn’t feel like I was the odd one out, but I just felt that I wasn't good enough."
When he got to his final year in college, he said that he was being questioned why he was constantly doing black and white images in his work, steering away from colour.
Mr Walsh felt that he was left with no option but to tell his lecturers and classmates about his condition. The reaction to it was a welcome relief for him.
"Nobody blinked, it was actually brilliant," he said.
While working in kitchen design after college, Mr Walsh again mostly worked with colours that he was most comfortable with. At times, he asked for a second reference from a colleague when choosing colours. He said that he always told his clients about being colourblind, which was never an issue.
During this time, he began making his own pens as a hobby. which he kept up over a five-year period before going into it full-time after he lost his job as a kitchen designer.
"I decided to make it my career," he said. "Since it was my career, I got to choose what I wanted to do, and I kind of took advantage of it."
After starting off with developing ballpoint pens, Mr Walsh said that he decided to challenge himself further by making fountain pens. But in order to make his product unique, he stepped it up and began using colour in his design - lots of colour.
"Well to push the boundaries, I decided to use as much colour as possible," he said.
"I basically can see colour, but when it’s very saturated - I see it. So I decided to do as colourful as possible, and it’s worked pretty well for me.
"I did it to challenge myself to do something I hadn’t done before. Most of my pens are as colourful as possible."
As with any person starting their own business, Mr Walsh has had some hard lessons along the way, such as ordering the wrong colour, which, he said, happened on "many occasions".
"I now get second opinions on everything. I can also use technology to make sure that I have the right colour."
Most of his customers are from outside of Ireland; in the United States, the UK, Germany and Australia. Mr Walsh also said that his clients include a number of Irish people living abroad.
After learning to embrace being colourblind and finding success, Mr Walsh advises people, especially design students, who might also be colourblind to do the same.
"I'd say take a chance. It's made me a better designer, and it's also made me separate from everybody else. I'm unique.
"Think of it as a superpower because you have something unique."