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  • Marie McKinsey

Coloring Music

Updated: May 4

Example of Marie McKinsey landscape design

Early in my landscape design career, I learned that adding color to drawings was important if I wanted to sell my work. Presenting designs in black-and-white was matter-of-fact, tidy, and business like. But when I unrolled drawings that were in color, that's when I saw my clients eyes light up.

So much of what we do in design involves helping people to see. I know that might sound strange, but after hundreds of consultations and design jobs, I can tell you that many people have difficulty visualizing.

Drawings help, but they don't guarantee vision. As a result, I have done my share of what one of my former instructors used to call, "arm waving," standing out in people's yards with arms outstretched over my head to show them the position of a tree or the height of a fence. I've used garden hoses to "draw" the outline of a proposed patio or the curved edge of a planting bed.

Anything that will help a client "see" is welcome. And that's where color comes in.


Color brings the design to life. It helps people imagine what the garden will look like. They can see what the foliage colors will be, and how light and shadow will play across the landscape. There is an emotional quality to it that allows them to feel the design, even if they can't quite see it yet.

Early into the business of coloring drawings, I realized that I needed to listen to music while I worked. Coloring music. Music that would help me conjure up and convey that emotional quality. But what kind of music? Rock didn't fit. Neither did jazz. R&B? Pop? No, and no.

Then I remembered choral music. I grew up singing hymns in Catholic grade school. I had no idea what we were singing about, because they were all in Latin, but the harmonies, when we got them right, were magical to me. I have loved listening to and performing in choirs all my life.

Somehow I found my way to the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir and their performance of Rachmaninov's Vespers. Once I heard this CD, with the volume turned all the way up, it became my official "coloring music." The brief except below will give you a sense of the emotional power this acapella choir brings. The entire performance is about an hour long - enough time to color a series of drawings.

What music inspires you while you work? Tell us in the comments below.


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