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True Colour ExpertUnderstanding Undertones

What Maria Killam and American Idol Have in Common

By 02/17/2012January 28th, 201711 Comments

Some of my readers have told me they have trouble seeing what I’m talking about regarding complex colours.  In my experience, as soon as I point out, “That’s green-beige, that’s blue-gray,” you can see it immediately. Then it just takes seeing it over and over (and of course comparing colours) for you to start noticing undertones on your own. This is the second of a two-part guest post written by my Design Associate, Irene Hill.

Cafe au Lait (pinky-beige) sofa, green-beige tufted chair pinterest

“My first post, How Maria Saved my Paint Life, started to tell you the story of how meeting Maria at one of her True Colour Expert Workshops changed the way I see and specify paint colours.

After I left her workshop, I walked out into the world and began a new journey of seeing colour. I used the tools Maria taught in the class and started to experience a confidence I’d never had before. I now had a definite path to follow and every step I took caused my confidence to grow and grow.


My experience now with colour relates to what happened when my husband and I started watching American Idol. We are huge fans and we’ve watched every show of every season and become armchair judges. When Simon was on the show we would often wince at his harsh critiques but soon found ourselves agreeing with many of his assessments. Especially around the term “pitch.” Simon, along with the other judges would frequently tell contestants, “Your pitch is off,” or “You’re pitchy.”

Simon Cowell pinterest

I sing in a band in my spare time and am entirely familiar with the concept of pitch. When a singer hits just below the actual note, they are singing flat and when they hit just above the actual note, they are singing sharp. Either way, they are “pitchy.” A really big slam to be told as a singer.


The more we watched the contestants on the show, the quicker we were able to discern for ourselves when one of the singers was pitchy. Having watched over a hundred American Idol shows (yikes!) we have both become more expert at hearing when a singer is singing well and when a singer is singing with pitch issues. Our ears have developed better accuracy in hearing.

And what, you may ask, does Maria have in common with American Idol? Just like watching Simon and the other judges, over and over again, tell people when they were pitchy helped to develop our musical ears, hearing Maria, over and over again, show what the undertones are in a given neutral, has helped to develop my eye for accurately seeing colour.

Green-gray cabinets, pink-beige bricks, blue/green-gray marble pinterest

I kind of feel like a blind man gaining his sight. Even though I thought I was looking at colour, I wasn’t really seeing, and it is only by looking, over and over and over again, that I have started to see colour accurately. Just like hearing over and over and over again has helped me to hear accurately. Of course, as a designer, having Maria’s skill in picking colours is way more helpful than having Simon’s skill in hearing pitch!  Part 2 of 2 – written by Irene Hill

Who’s your favourite judge on American Idol?

Related posts:

If Gray is like Skinny Jeans, Then what is Brown?

So much Easier to be a Critic than Create from Nothing

The Dangerous Side of Creativity

It’s All in the Undertones, download my eBook here. (If you have a computer you can download my book).

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

To make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

If you would like to learn to how choose the right colours for your home or for your clients, become a True Colour Expert.

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  • Linda Beam says:

    Great analogy, Irene! Aren’t you the lucky one–decifer pitch AND undertones!

  • Hello Maria. Actually, I went to have a look at your book, thinking I might buy it. I love colour and feel reasonably confident with it, but wanted to have what I know consolidated. But I won’t be buying the book, sadly, because I’m in Australia and we don’t have BM paints here. I don’t know how to get around that, so I shall have to hope you can, one of these days!

  • Terri Davis says:

    Super analogy. My husband and I are both fans of American Idol as well. Both also involved with color selections at work. Undertone so important!

  • Love how you told this story, Irene. Just following Maria’s blog has helped me determine undertones, I can’t imagine what her classes and actually working with her would do to that skill!

  • Great analogy, Irene! Love the photos, too – I think seeing them over and over is especially helpful!

  • Karen says:

    The first step is to see the undertones but once you can see them, can you address how to know which undertones can be successfully mixed?

  • Cherie says:

    So nicely written, Irene. Completely understandable. I’m not sure I knew the importance of undertones until I began reading Maria’s blog. Happily, over the years I have gotten quite of few undertones right throughout our house, but it may have been luck. I see some that I missed, and over time I will correct them. I do feel enlightened, and am enjoying decorating even more with this new knowledge.

  • Jackie says:

    Maria’s bonus book of color is worth the price of the book alone! I had trouble understanding the differences in undertones before I bought the book but then when I started comparing based on her instruction I can finally see exactly what she’s been talking about. Now I know why the color in my entry has been bothering me! Thanks Maria.

  • Linda V says:

    PP I live in Australia and still bought Maria’s book although agree that it would be more useful if we could have examples of say Dulux colours to compare. Irene I totally agree with you about seeing colour over and over again to be able to pick undertones. I think there are some lucky people who are born with the ability to pick the undertones, but most of us have to be shown. The reason I keep coming back to your posts Maria and Irene is that you go behind the scenes and show us examples of what doesn’t work and you also give us comparisons, while most blogs and mags just show us the end result, and that’s what sets you apart. So a big thank-you and keep up the great work.

  • Carol says:

    Maria — Will your ebook ever be published as a paper book? I ask because, although I love…love…love my nook e-reader and have kindle on my computer, when I purchase design books (and cookbooks) I like to have something to hold onto. The cookbooks of course stay local to the kitchen but I frequently carry design books with me when I’m shopping. Suggestions? Thank you.

  • Farha Syed says:

    Interesting analogy Irene

    I do intend to attend Marias 3 day
    workshops later in the year or
    maybe next summer.

    I’ve read the ebook and the
    bonus book of colors and I can tell
    The difference but would like
    to master it and be more confident
    when I give color consults.

    Thanx Maria and Irene

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