Male toddler coloringRemember coloring when you were younger?

It was fun and liberating, wasn’t it?
Discover how the same spirit and techniques from your youth can apply to voiceover artistry when coloring words courtesy of guest blogger, Marc Cashman.
Ready to reminisce?

Coloring Our Words

By Marc Cashman
It’s hard to remember exactly when we got our first coloring book, but we do remember it was fun. At first, we sprayed crayon colors all over the page, without a care as to whether we stayed inside the lines or not. As we became toddlers, our coloring got more refined. We learned boundaries, we assigned certain colors to certain objects, and were more discerning in our choice of colors. A few years later found us drawing with colored pencils or markers. Later still, we marveled at the results of paint-by-numbers, and then on to watercolors and pastels.

The coloring books were random, assorted pictures, themed pictures or page-by-page pictures that laid out a story. And each one of these pages had the same format: a black outline on a white page that showed a picture. At a glance, we could see a cabin on a lake, with smoke rising from its chimney; a boat tethered to a pier, fishing poles jutting out at its end; a winding road leading up toward the cabin, and a big, broad apple tree on its front lawn, with majestic mountains towering behind the cabin, backed by a sky full of puffy clouds and a bright sun.

As children, we looked at this black and white tableau and made some decisions: the sky would be blue, we’d leave the clouds white; the cabin would be brown and the lawn would be green; we’d apply the same colors to the apple tree, but add some red for the apples; the road might be charcoal; the lake would be blue, the mountains might be gray, and the sun would be yellow. We colored in the outline of a story.

As adolescents, we got better at drawing. Our sky might be bluish-purplish. The clouds might have shades of gray and green; the water on the lake would be a mixture of many colors, possibly reflecting the boat that floated on it; the road might be a mixture of brown, dusty tan or beige to signify dirt, with black rocks and pebbles strewn about; the cabin would have a different colored roof, and, like the apple tree, cast shadows from the light of the sun.

We’d use different coloring tools in our teens: pastels, colored pencils, watercolors and markers. And we’d start adding depth and shading, because we could discern perspective and light better. And we’d spend much more time at our task; we were more exacting and meticulous.

Printed words are groupings of black symbols on white paper. Strung together intelligently and creatively, they tell a story, just like the outline of a picture in a coloring book. It’s our job as voice actors to color words, to give them depth, shading and perspective. Our tools: our voice, vocal techniques and acting abilities. And it’s our acting that has to come to the fore through our voice. And through our voice needs to pour conversationality and emotion in order for us to sound believable.

The reason that most great stage and screen actors are believable is because we can see their characters. We see their body language, their movements, their gesticulations, and their eyes. We see them embody characters through their actions. But people can’t see voice actors — they can only hear us. So all the color and emotions we bring to a script has to come out of just one place — our mouth.

The nuances of the human voice are extraordinary. Millions of years of human evolution have made the sound of the human voice a wonder to behold and something no machine will ever duplicate. Oh, they’ve tried.

At first, people thought that developing speech recognition would be a simple matter of replicating phonemes, and they’ve had some success in transplanting those basic sounds into myriad applications. But like astronomers exploring the universe — the more they peer into the vastness of space, the more they realize how complex it is — in their quest to simulate real speech with a machine, scientists have found that the more they try to perfect speech recognition, they realize they can’t. Because the human voice is so incredibly unique.

Our vocal cords hold a powerful gift: the power to paint pictures, with an infinite variety of colored shades, textures, depth, patterns and mixtures. We have the innate ability, through our voice, to convey meaning without even uttering a word! No machine could do that.
Many of us refer to ourselves as voice artists as well as voice actors.

If we’re artists, then we have to take out our palette of vocal colors and brush those words, wash, tint and dab them. We have to channel impressionism, cubism, pointillism, abstract art, op art and realism into our phrasing. We have to apply the endless color combinations of emotions and infuse them into words. When we’re presented with text that cries out for coloring, take out your 120-count box of vocal Crayolas® with all their wonderful hues and shades and create a masterpiece!

We’re blessed with the ability to lift words off the page effortlessly and to articulate them clearly. But if we don’t inject emotional depth and real meaning into them, if we don’t artistically color in the outlines of those pictures, we’ll never do justice to beautifully crafted text or copy or capture a listener’s attention. And we’ll waste a great opportunity.
Marc Cashman © 2009

Any Comments?

I’m sure Marc would love to know what you think!
Best wishes,
© Nielsen

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Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.


  1. I agree whole heatedly. Script interpretation are among the key elements I look for in the talent I hire. I’m not only a voice talent but a producer as well. I’ve found so many people with great voices haven’t got a clue how to “color” their read so it projects correctly. If you take the time to read the script fully and not just so you know the words, but rather so they project their desired effect, you will begin to understand how you need to “interpret” the script best. Hard sells are not “just” hard sells. Soft sells are not “just” soft sells, but rather each takes its own spin which when added to your “interpretation” or “color palette” as it were introduces a sound that is both unique and perfectly suited to the style you’re reading.
    Just my 2 bits.

  2. I love the phrase ‘vocal Crayolas’. I’d like the chance to color THAT one.
    Your whole analogy reminds me of art criticism. The artists and the critics deconstruct the work and reveal the deeper levels–the how and the why. The audience is affected without knowing why.
    The audience just knows it would much rather listen to a talented performer than a robot.
    I enjoyed this article, thanks.

  3. This is Bang On!
    I couldn’t agree more.
    (Not sure you’ll remember me Marc, but we met last month at the “Vipo” listening party. I’m playing the wicked Queen of Fall Owl and just learned that I’ll be voicing an opera singing, ballerina, soon to take up martial arts Hippo as well). That audition was pure improv, and I can only think that “coloring the words” is what landed me the role.
    Here’s to the “artistry” in voice over!

  4. As a voice actor, I have heard this many times ‘Color your words’ and had some idea as how to do it, but after reading Marc’s thoughts I am feeling there’s lot more to explore.
    Dear Marc, they way you described the whole thing is very interesting and straightforward. I haven’t heard anybody explaining the meaning behind ‘color your words’ in such a step by step manner.
    Great post!
    Thanks a lot for sharing.
    Avdhessh Arya

  5. I training to be a speech radio presenter and someone said that I had a natural gift at shading my words. I didn’t really understand what they were talking about so cam on line to explore. I came across your article.
    Wow! wow, wow,wow. I got more of an understanding than I could ever dream of. How beautiful. How poetic. I’ve always had a love for reading out in public. The feel of the words in my mouth, the delivery, my expression – I never knew why I loved it until now.
    Truly beautiful. Thank you, for opening my world.

  6. AWESOME! Marc thank you for sharing this with us! It is so very true…looking at my ‘palette’ very differently now! 😉
    Blessings for 2011!
    Crystina Wyler


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