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True Colour Expert

What it Takes to be Great

By 11/04/2013February 22nd, 201924 Comments

This is a post written by my Design Associate, Irene Hill:

We’ve just finished another three-day training in the beautiful city of Toronto, Ontario. Winter is right around the corner and the weather was sunny, bright and starting to get really cold. Perfect for wearing coats and scarves.

True Colour Experts

One of the beautiful paths at Trinity College

True Colour Experts

Linda Burnham drove her car from Michigan to Toronto and of course, had to clear customs to get there. As she approached the customs booth her big concern was whether she would have to give up the apples in her trunk. But that’s not how the conversation went. It went like this:

Custom’s Agent: “What are you going to do in Canada?”

Linda Burnham: “I’m going to a class at the University of Toronto.”

CA: “Do you have your class registration to show me?”

LB: “Um, no…”

CA: “So, you’re going to a class at the University of Toronto and you don’t have your registration with you? Do you have [proof of the class] on your phone?”

LB: “No.”

CA: “Okay, what kind of a class is it?”

LB: “Interior design.”

CA: “Oh, are you an interior designer in the States?”

LB: “Yes, I am.”

CA: “What’s the class about?”

LB: “It’s about colour.”

CA: “Oh, is it Maria Killam’s class?!”

LB: “Yes it is!”

CA: “I heard she was coming to Toronto – that’s really exciting! Have a great time!”

True Colour Experts

Back row: Susan Besser, Deena Oziel, Leigh Ann Russo, Kim Newman, Elaine Proud, Ann Schamberger, Cathy Zaeske

Middle row: Jacqui Taylor, Maria, Maryann Steffe, Robin Di Valentino, Denise Freeman

Front row: Linda Burnham, Myriam Jacopille, Laura Coleman


A big piece of the learning in this course is hands-on. Students work to build their personal reference book with charts of complex neutrals divided by undertone. This gives them a tool to use at a glance as they continue to train their eye to identify undertones correctly. It’s not an overnight process, but it is the start of a life-long learning.

True Colour Experts

We also give them fabric, granite, tile, carpet and wood samples and they work in groups to pick the best paint colours for walls, cabinets and trim. It seems like the most “aha” moments happen in this part of the training – Maria critiques their choices and helps them to see where they went right and where there was a better colour.

True Colour Experts
Irene Hill, Denise Freeman & Leigh Ann Russo

Some people say it takes it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert.

I asked Maria how, short of working in a paint store for four years and conducting hundreds of consultations (10,000 hours) to develop a confident eye for specifying colour. Here’s her best advice:

1. Understand how to identify the undertones in neutrals and whites (buy her eBook if this is a new  conversation!)

2. Take your fan deck with you EVERYWHERE you go. Be the person who whips out your fan deck at your friend’s, your mother’s, your doctor’s, your bank and colour match the paint on the walls. If you can identify the undertone of the neutral and white while looking at the wall and then colour match it to a paint chip you can get experience in how that colour will look if you specify it.

Let me tell you – I’ve worked with Maria for 2 1/2 years now and she still does this! We’ll be driving by a building and she’ll quickly pull over to the side of the road, hop out with her fan deck and colour match the outside of the building. She’ll then get back in, start driving and we’ll discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of the colour in question. Once she’s scrutinized and analysed the colour scheme we’ll go back to the previous conversation.

This is how you get your 10,000 hours and become great at what you do.

True Colour Experts

“Hi Maria!  It was so very nice to meet you in person in Toronto.  The classes were such a great learning experience for me.  You brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to all of us and I really appreciate it!  I liked that you challenged us to go out of our comfort zone. Thanks again for all your helpful tips and advice.” Leigh Ann Russo

This course was almost half design enthusiasts/homeowners. One participant was about to build a new house which is why she registered for Maria’s training. This is what she said:

“Maria, I’m beginning to re-think some of my ideas about the new house.  One thing I did learn last week – less is more for a timeless, classic look.  And I think classic has a certain elegance about it.  I’m so glad I attended while still in the planning stages.”  Laura Coleman

If you want to start the journey to becoming great at colour, join Maria for one of her next classes.

What have you done for 10,000 hours that could make you “great”?

Related posts:

How I Became a True Expert

The Difference Between an Expert and a Master

Do you Make this Mistake in your Business/Blog?

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  • Oh my goodness! That is the very best comment to show you’ve made it big Maria – when the border guards know about you! Amazing!

  • Angela Taylor says:

    Truly AMAZING!

  • Janet says:

    Fan Deck? Is the fan deck sold here or is that a part of the course?

  • Livia says:

    Custom agents know about you, Maria! This means two things: one is that you are very famous, which we already knew, and the second is that it looks like the world is becoming happier through colour 🙂

  • I love that story. You know you’ve ARRIVED now!

  • Mary says:

    What a great story!!
    I would LOVE to attend the class. I hope someday I will be able too.
    Mary in Ohio

  • Debbiecz says:

    Perhaps you could re-do the border offices, they’ve become a bit dreary. A friend, traveling from Chicago to Maine, got lost via her gps and turned up at the Canadian border. The officer started questioning her daughter (age 10), asking “does your dad know where you are”? She answered “no” because technically he didn’t as they were suppose to be Ohio. Hours later they we’re let loose. If only she had used the magic words, Maria Killam!

  • mrsben says:

    Nice to know that our Cdn. Custom Agents are on their toes … winks! (Live only a 45 minute drive from the border so cross it all the time.)
    Re the apples … she would have been allowed 15 pkgs. or less up to 250 kilograms (exception in the province of B.C. where they would have been confiscated and met their demise with a questionable fate ….☺.)

    Back to the subject of your Seminar, congratulations on another successful one.

  • Pascale says:

    It is a Great Compliment for you to be recognized on a customs booth! Undoubtedly, making training part of your life and day to day events is the best way to achieve it. I wish you could be known worldwide to give a course in the Middle East so I could be able to attend. A little selfish wish I guess but Canada is way too far from Lebanon where I live. Meanwhile, I am following your work thoroughly and I admire you for it. You made my job & life colorful 🙂 Thank you!

  • Susan says:

    That is the BEST story! Love it! xo

  • That’s a great story! I’m hoping to take your class soon too. Hopefully next spring???

  • franki says:

    Way Cool!! franki

  • Deborah says:

    I would love to take your class too! I work in a flooring/window covering store so I help clients every day make color choices. I’ve been doing this for 16 years. Your class would help me a lot.

  • Paula Van Hoogen says:

    Could we persuade those border guards to make it easier for you to come back to the US with your classes??? That is an amazing story! What a beautiful venue to hold your classes in!

  • Heather says:

    Love the customs officer story.
    I hope all of you have a chance to take Maria’s course. I have and can vouch that it is fantastic!

  • Susan Besser says:

    I so enjoyed the class and know that I will integrating this knowledge in my design practice. I had looked forward to the class for months and it met and exceeded all my expectations.

  • Jody Shworan says:

    Hi Maria!

    Just love your cheery attitude and great advise on your blog! This is very off topic, but great yellow coat! You are a ray of sunshine in the photo today (reading from rainy and grey Vancouver Island).


    Jody Shworan

  • Great story, Irene! Every time I read a post about a class finishing I get a pang of envy! I loved being taught by Maria and use the knowledge I gained everyday. My training was 1 1/2 years ago and was truly one of the most valuable things I have done to improve my business. Thanks again!

  • Elaine says:

    That’s hysterical! I bet that customs agent secretly dreams of becoming an interior designer. Love it!

  • Oh that’s awesome! Best story today!

  • Dimi says:

    Oh my… you’re practically a celebrity!!

  • Megan says:

    You are my “brush with fame” story!!

  • Preeti Kaur says:

    Ha ha! Loved reading it and you indeed have arrived 🙂

  • Margaret says:

    Happy Birthday Yesterday!!!

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