Ellen McKenna’s Feeling Colours This Melbourne Design Week

Melbourne Design Week hits the city this month. Spanning over 11 days, there are over 300 exhibitions, talks, films, workshops and tours both across Victoria and online, all of which will explore this year’s theme ‘Design the world you want’.

What a vision of joy! Ellen McKenna surrounded by – and wearing – her aesthetic.

2020 was a particularly stand-out year for Melbourne-based artist and pattern designer Ellen McKenna. In an intuitive approach carved from expressionism, colour and play, her innovative and vivacious work has captured the eye of the art and design world, including being awarded a commendation in The Design Files & Laminex Design Awards 2020. As part of the NGV’s 2021 program for Melbourne Design Week, Ellen is exploring this year’s theme with her Feeling Colours exhibition at our Melbourne Gallery.

Ellen McKenna putting together one of the rooms for her exhibition.

“My vision for Feeling Colours has always been to examine how, as designers and artists, we can consciously design colour filled spaces (homes and communities),” Ellen explains. “I feel very strongly that by doing that, we are creating a better world which caters for the emotional needs of others and promotes healthier mental wellbeing. With more people than ever working from home, let’s make those spaces, inviting and rejuvenating by understanding and promoting colour psychology.”

Ellen’s previous solo exhibition, From Art To Fashion, formed an enthusiasm for curating shows like her forthcoming Feeling Colours. “It was my first large solo exhibition, and I really fell in love with the process of creating and presenting exhibitions. I discovered a passion for conjuring up themes, writing proposals, planning the work, working closely with small manufacturers, (like Next State Print for fabric) and curators, creating the work and finally presenting the exhibition.”

Ellen combines her love of painting and fabric together for this Melbourne Design Week event.

Being part of the large creative collective working towards Melbourne Design Week has been “thrilling” for Ellen. “My intentions for being part of that was to experience liaising with Melbourne Design Week and NGV staff, and to present my work alongside some of Melbourne’s best design and creative community members who are participating. An unexpected outcome was connecting with the Bluethumb team and having them facilitate and fully embrace bringing my vision to life.”

Ellen’s easy-to-digest, approachable style of her work expresses optimism and joy despite times of hardship. Her inspiration for maintaining this comes from colour – the backbone of her Feeling Colours exhibition. “Sometimes I’m working towards pre-planned colour schemes based on traditional colour theory concepts, for example complimentary (opposite in the colour wheel) or related colours (next to each other on the colour wheel). I also might decide which of my loose styles I could work towards, but other times I don’t plan anything. I just start with a colour I like and begin with that. The first shape and the first colour inspires the next shape and colour. Then the next shape and the next colour inspires the next, and so on and so on, until the canvas is filled. My process in mostly instinctive and I’m just guided by what looks and feels right to me. It sounds crazy, but the painting tells me when it’s complete.”

Ellen will be hosting a talk during her exhibition this month.

Each room of the Bluethumb gallery will have a layout of a room in a house, providing a space where a viewer can experience the colours within each space. “Fundamentally I’d like visitors to walk into the spaces, the different coloured rooms, and be inspired by their own emotions and their own interpretations of the colour schemes. I’d hope, after seeing the exhibition, they would be motivated to experiment with colour, even if only in the smallest way, within their own spaces.”

Last Thursday, we launched the exhibition with a special VIP night. Among the special guests were a mixture of influencers, local artists and interior designers. It was a great night for all – and our lucky VIPs got to take home an original artwork each by Ellen herself!

VIP guests smiling on the stairs at Feeling Colours Exhibition

girl holding fabric wrapped artwork in front of a colourful pink fabric print

Influencer Sienna In the Sun holding her furoshiki wrapped artwork by Ellen!

Ellen McKenna has completely transformed our Collingwood gallery for the exhibition. Feeling Colours is on from March 19th until April 16th. Come and experience the colourful rooms weekdays between 10am and 4pm! Ellen will also be holding a talk during the exhibition – more details to come.

Click here for the Melbourne Design Week listing. Below, check out some more photos from our launch night.


The food was provided by Wasshoi Melbourne 

Feeling Colours Exhibition Banner Through the front window of Feeling Colours Exhibition

10 of the Best Emerging Australian Abstract Artists of 2021


  1. Gracias por este espacio para compartir nuestros trabajos creativos.

    Me especializo en procesos creativos y psicologicos, pero tambien me encanta pintar para mi y quienes deseen apreciar mis obras.

    Saludos cordiales

  2. Exhibition: Feeling Colours at Bluethumb Art Gallery - Travels With JB says:

    […] Feeling Colours, a new exhibition at Collingwood’s Bluethumb Art Gallery explores the connection between colour and human emotion using upcycled furniture, art and textiles. […]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *