Taylor Swift performs at the 2019 Z100 Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden.

New York, NY, USA - December 13, 2019: Taylor Swift performs at the 2019 Z100 Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Brian Friedman on Shutterstock)

MINNEAPOLIS — An artist, who perceives colors and shapes upon hearing sounds, describes Taylor Swift’s voice as resembling “neon flowers.” Sarah Kraning, now 31, has synesthesia, a condition enabling her to experience colors in music from a very young age. She started painting her auditory visions at four years-old.

Initially, Sarah’s constant sensory overload led to misdiagnoses of ADHD or autism. However, the correct diagnosis of synesthesia has since allowed her to embrace her unique perception. She now creates and sells paintings inspired by the sounds and music she hears.

Sarah is remarkably talented, capable of completing an artwork within the length of a single song. In an online video, she describes piano notes as resembling raindrops, while electronic dance music manifests as glowing colors. Country music often appears yellow to her, heavy metal like TV static, and deep bass notes resemble spray.

Sarah Kraning's painting of the composition 'Experience' by Ludovico Einaudi.
Sarah Kraning’s painting of the composition ‘Experience’ by Ludovico Einaudi. (Credit: SWNS)

StudyFinds first reported on Kraning’s story in 2023. Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway involuntarily leads to experiences in another pathway. Some people with synesthesia may connect colors to letters, numbers, or sounds. Approximately one in 2,000 people have synesthesia.

High pitches are typically bright, and lower tones dark, akin to purple and black. Leonardo DiCaprio’s voice appears as dark green velvet to Sarah. Beyoncé’s voice, meanwhile, evokes “deep maroon with a gritty texture, almost like spray paint.”

Specifically, Beyoncé’s song “Break My Soul” visually translates to “silver, chunky glimmers that look like thick silver confetti” for the background percussion and “hot pink and violet purple” for the electronic melody. Ed Sheeran’s “Eyes Closed” guitar picks/melody line appear as upward-falling droplets in shades of blue and aquamarine. Sheeran’s voice itself conjures an image of “forceful liquid movement almost like if you were to throw a bucket of paint at a wall with lots of blue and green.”

Sarah Kraning, a person with synesthesia.
Sarah Kraning (Credit: SWNS)

“I’m not sure exactly when I became aware of it – it’s just like another sense for me. “It’s just like asking when you could smell for the first time,” Sarah says in an online video post.

“There are some songs that are a lot more vivid than others, but every type of sound has some type of experience – it’s like the saturation is turned up on some kinds of music. If there’s a unique visual or sound that I haven’t heard before I’ll get out my pad and draw it quickly but because every sound has a visual to me, I’m not always doing that. It’s what makes my life enjoyable.”

“For a lot of people though, including me, it would be a more enjoyable experience if there was more awareness of it,” the artist adds.

Sarah says she never fit into any box of what her experiences were related to and often felt overstimulated at school.

“I did a lot of tests and never really fit into the box of what it could be – paired with a lack of understanding of it,” the 31-year-old continues. “I remember when I started tracking that it wasn’t an experience that others have when I was seven or eight.”

She was officially diagnosed with synesthesia in 2015 at the age of 22.

Sarah Kraning, a person with synesthesia.
Sarah Kraning is a woman who sees colors, textures, and shapes when she hears sounds. (Credit: SWNS)

“The pitch seems to be related to the color but not the location on the canvas. Most songs have movements, so I try to show that in my paintings. So, if the pitch changes from low to high then there might be a sweeping motion on the canvas. I prefer to do it live,” Sarah explains.

“It depends how complex that song is but often I can paint an entire piece in one song. I always have to have the music playing – I did a concert where I did a painting for each song that the live musician played, so I had 15 paintings for the end of the show.”

Turning this rare condition into an artform, Sarah says most of her earnings come from commissions — when a client hires an artist to create an artwork based on their request.

“It’s usually songs that people have requested that are close to them. Sometimes people will send me voice notes of a loved one who has passed away and ask me to paint that – that’s very emotional,” the artist explains.

“My favorite songs are ones that have a lot of movement in them, and ‘Time’ by Hans Zimmer had a lovely red figure of eight. I did a ‘Lost In Yesterday’ painting from Tame Impala and that was because the colors are so fun in that song. I really focused on the movement in that song and that was a one-listen take. Odessa songs are often the most visually interesting as they have a lot of glowing elements to it.”

“For most of my life I hadn’t shared this with anybody, and people were often confused by my synesthesia,” Sarah says in her video post.

“I’ve only been talking about this for the past few years so it’s still strange for me to hear people be so nice about my artwork. In the past, this has sort of been disbelieved so I hope that more people start coming forward and showing their experiences.”

South West News Service writer Jake Meeus-Jones contributed to this report.

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