We had the privilege to interview Ellen McKenna. Ellen is a Melbourne, Australia based artist who has recently teamed up to Melco Fabrics to release some of her birght, bold designs on fabric. Read on to hear about Ellen's journey as an artist, what inspires her and the artwork she is most proud of to date. 

Tell me about a day in your life as an artist. What does it typically look like?

A day in the studio can be quite varied for me, depending on if I'm focusing on pattern design or my canvas art. Basically you'll find me doing any number of things including, painting, mixing paints, varnishing, photographing work, scanning art for pattern work or working in Photoshop making pattern repeats. There is also a lot of admin work - keeping my website up to date, social media content and liaising with new or current clients. I also spend quite a bit of time researching new avenues and outlets for my art and design.

Ellen McKenna Fabric Australia

Where do you find inspiration for your art?

I’m endlessly inspired by colour itself and how colours interact with each other – and the emotions they bring up in us. I find museums and art galleries amazing places and I'm also inspired by other people's creativity and passion!

Who are your main artistic influences?

I would say I'm influenced by all kinds of things but particularly by artists and designers of 20th Century fashion, art, architecture, music, and advertising. The Bauhaus movement and the mid-century Scandinavian movement are full of beautiful shapes and colours but it’s more of a feeling that these artforms give me, that inspires me. It's like they fill me with a creative energy.

Ellen McKenna Fabric Australia

Are you formally trained as an artist or self-taught?

 I've learnt most of my fine art and pattern making skills from books, online Adobe tutorials and from watching documentaries on interesting and famous artists. I did study visual and performing arts at the Victoria College of the Arts but I'm largely self-taught in the fine art and pattern design areas of my work. I have however studied and been involved in music and performing arts my whole life. All my studies, including recent interior and design studies, and all my creative life experiences, have brought me to where I am now.

What was your first experience of working as a professional artist?

 I started as a pattern designer before being an artist in the traditional sense of working on canvas. So one of my first experiences of 'selling' my pattern work was licensing some designs to an Australian clothing / homewares business, facilitated by design agent Nerida Hansen. It was exhilarating!

Ellen McKenna Fabric Art

What made you interested in this industry? 

 I got into design when I started colouring some vintage photos in Photoshop for a project my parents were working on for their business. From there I started manipulating photos for standalone prints for a kids clothing business I started and then as time passed I worked out how to create repeat patterns in Photoshop and started moving into the surface design industry. A few years ago, I had a desire to start painting larger works and that was when I moved into canvas fine art as well.

Ellen McKenna Fabric Australian Stockists Bright Bold Fabric

How has your style changed over time?

My style has changed over time, but I'm always evolving and looking for new ways of doing things, and sometimes that leads me back to a style I have previously explored! When I starting painting canvas art, I definitely started to see more painterly work in my pattern design. In fact both of my solo exhibitions, ‘Feeling Colours’ and ‘From Art to Fashion’, where made up of canvas artworks that I manipulated into repeat patterns and used for the fabrics in the exhibitions. However, when I first started pattern design, I was working with designs made up of clean lines and shapes. 

Ellen McKenna Fabric Art

What is the best advice you have received in your career?

 Be authentic - in your networking, in your interactions with others and especially in your work. This isn't necessarily advice I was given but it has become the cornerstones of my design work and business.

How do you overcome a creative block?

 I love art, fashion, architecture, and design books. I've also collected so many books from all the fantastic exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria. If I ever get stuck, I just pull out a book from the shelf and browse through it. It doesn't take long for an image to spark some inspiration.

Ellen McKenna Fabric Art Bright Bold Australia textiles

Describe a piece of art you are most proud of. Why?

I would have to say one of my proudest moments as an artist/ designer was being nominated for, and then receiving a commendation in The Design Files Awards, for my ‘Art To Fashion’ exhibition. It was just so special to be judged and recognized by industry professionals for my first major solo exhibition. I’ll never forget finding out I was in the finals!

What are three words that describe your style?

Bold, Colourful and Playful


Melanie Coultas
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