Hearing Color: Deb Strong Napple and Synesthesia

Deb Strong Napple working in her studio

Deb Strong Napple working in her studio

Do you hear colors or see sounds? Do words and emotions have a particular color or hue? If you have synesthesia these will sound familiar to you.

For those unfamiliar, synesthesia is when one sense is simultaneously perceived by one or more additional senses. One of the most common forms of synesthesia is associating sounds with colors — chromesthesia.

stARTup LA and SF 2019 artist Deb Strong Napple is a synesthetic artist who interprets the sounds and colors of the landscape into abstracted compositions in her etchings, woodblock prints, and her paintings.

When we sat down with Deb in her studio, she explained that her synesthetic experiences “take place while painting en plein air” when colors become sounds to her. This phenomenon now informs her studio practice and unique color sensibility.

Here’s what she discussed with our Content Curator about her practice, inspirations, and the best thing that’s happened in her career so far:

Why or when did you decide to make work?

I was working as a Graphic Designer, and began taking art classes to become better at my work. Even before finishing my first class I knew that I had more to offer the world as a Fine Artist than as a Designer.

What inspires you currently?

The world! It is full of beauty and surprise, and it is my constant challenge to share that beauty.

What tool or medium would you be lost without?

My sketchbook. I always have one with me, and use it to record shapes and colors that I see in the landscape. I use these sketches as if they were notes taken in a classroom. When I come back to my studio, I create abstract paintings and prints informed by them — not very much different from when as a student I would write papers using notes that I wrote down while researching.

What’s the coolest thing that’s happened to you in your career?

August of 2018 I was the Artist in Residence at the Petrified Forest National Park. I was given a casita to live in, and 24 hour access to the park. I was able to start each day watching the sun rise over the Painted Desert while I drank my first cup of coffee. To begin the day with the magic of those colors bouncing around the desert floor…I can’t tell you how magical that was. The rest of my time I spend sketching and painting the shapes and colors of the desert. Before I went I had no idea that a desert could be pink!

If you could be in any museum, what would it be?

I love spending time in the Clifford Still Museum in Denver. The power of being surrounded by his massive abstracts is very moving.

If you could own any piece of art, what would it be?

Any Helen Frankenthaler woodblock print, or a late Cyfford Still painting. Or Bonnard’s “Nude in an Interior” from 1935. That’s more than one, but how can anyone choose just one?

And finally, what’s your least favorite color?

Black. I don’t hate it, it just never says what I want to say when I create art. 



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Find Deb on Instagram: @hearingcolor

Q&A by Content Curator Mica England