Creativity Over Coffee: Ellen Kelley McHale

It’s time for our next installment of Creativity Over Coffee, a series which focusing on creativity and how to find it in your own lives.  Today, I’m sipping coffee and chatting with my friend and artist, Ellen Kelley McHale.  I met Ellen last year through Matthew Mead we were both featured in the beautiful pages of his magazine Upcycled Style (which also happens to be reissued and back on newsstands! yay!).  Ellen is an amazingly talented artist. She creates gorgeous artwork with acrylics, mixed media and collage.  Her artwork is magical, fun and unique.  She has the warmest heart and I’m so lucky for her friendship.  I know you’re going to love her stuff and love this. So grab your coffee or tea and join us for a chat!


Creativity Over Coffee Ellen Kelley McHale

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your creative journey? How did you get started in art?

Ellen: I’ve been drawing and creating art since I was a little girl.  My mom was super creative – in my mind she could do anything from cooking, knitting, making clothes, drawing to writing some of the best letters ever! I would draw little worlds on paper to entertain myself and the show them to Mom and she would encourage me to go on.  As an adult that same need to create spilled over to making a beautiful home, carefully packaging a gift for someone I cared about, or making a piece of art just to make someone happy.  I realized that I see the world in my own way and I have a real need to express what I see and I do it through my artwork and the way I put together my environment.

What is your favorite medium?

Ellen: Right now I’m loving acrylics and experimenting with oil pigment sticks.

Riot of Color - Ellen's favorite floral.

Riot of Color – Ellen’s favorite floral.

When do you feel most creative or happy?

Ellen: I’m most happy when I’m with my family. I just love being around them and knowing that they need me –  that pretty much feeds my happiness. I’m most creative in the morning, down in my studio after I’ve had my coffee and perused my favorite blogs and pinterest boards.  I turn on a podcast and  just begin by making the first mark on a canvas and then I’m off … I like the journey.

Red Flowers in Blue Vase - one of Ellen's favorite 50:fifty project.

Red Flowers in Blue Vase – one of Ellen’s favorite 50:fifty project.

Do you have one project that is your favorite?

Ellen: My 50:Fifty Project was my favorite.  On the brink of turning 50, I decided that I needed to mark it in a way that would inspire me to be more creative and more daring.  I promised myself that I would create 50 works of art over the course of the year and share the story behind each piece to anyone who wanted to follow along. It wasn’t about creating the best art ever, it was about exploring what I was capable of and more importantly putting myself out there and saying out loud that I was an artist. That simple act of putting myself out there opened me up to new ideas, new friends, and a new creative path to follow.

blue princess a party girl portrait

Blue Princess – one of Ellen’s favorite party girls.

I love your “party girl” series! Can you share more about this series and what inspired you to create it?

Ellen: It was my birthday and I decided that I was going to do exactly what I wanted to do just for myself.  I went down to my studio in my pajamas and painted all morning long.  I got lost in it – like you do when you are a kid and time seems irrelevant. I painted a little portrait of myself in a party hat and called it my “party girl”.  A friend of mine had spied it and asked to have one for herself and that sparked an idea of “party girls” for everyone because who doesn’t want a little piece of original art for themselves? Now, I create them for my friends and family that have a milestone birthday or event that calls for something special.

Who or what inspires you?

Ellen: As you can probably tell by now – my family. My paintings are my version of a journal.  They tell my story of where I am, what I’m doing, who I’m with and what I love. The ocean plays a big part in my inspiration too.  My son is a surfer and I just love watching him on the water – that always translates into a painting or two.  The work of artists Cy Twombly, Basquiat, Franz Kline and Wolf Kahn stop me dead in my tracks.  Also, the joy and simplicity of Eric Carle’s work is where it all began for me.

surf board

18th birthday present to my surfing son – collaborated with all of his friends to handpaint and print a surfboard for artwork at the beach)

Do you ever get in a funk?  If so, how do you get out of it?

Ellen: I absolutely get in a funk and think everything that I’m doing is rubbish.  When this happens I head to the beach to clear my head or I go to my favorite vintage markets to poke around.  I also regularly take a class or two online to feel like I’m in community with other artists and to break me out of my comfort zone.  

Owl Collage: she began as a collage artist working in paste paper (hand painted papers)

Owl Collage: she began as a collage artist working in paste paper (hand painted papers)

What is your favorite color?  Is there any color you don’t LOVE?

Ellen: I would say yellow is my favorite color because it is what happiness looks like to me. Muddy brown is just the worst color because it tells me that I’ve really lost the plot in my art and that I’m trying to hard.

How has social media impacted your work and the art you create?

Ellen: Social media is both a blessing and a curse. We now have the ability to be seen and heard by many if we decide to put ourselves out there.  I feel that there is so much incredible inspiration to be found right at your fingertips and that is amazing and exciting.  But, at the same time all that information can make you feel so small creatively. You wonder if you are good enough, original enough or if you have anything new to say.  

Mad march hare

Mad March Hare Surfs (ode to surfers. a mixed media piece, acrylics, vintage paper and ink)

What are must haves for a beginner painter?  What are must haves for an advanced painter?  

Ellen: For a beginner artist: I think setting aside time for creativity is a must have and kindness to oneself is the other. You need time to play and practice and you have to know that we all start at the beginning and everything doesn’t have to be a finished piece of work. For an advanced artist: a space of your own so you can dream and think and make. Loads of Titanium White so you can start over when things don’t go the way you planned (because they never do).

Can you share a humorous story whether it be from creating art or working with other creatives?

Ellen: You and I both met through the pages of Matthew Mead’s magazine and for that I’m so grateful.  When Matthew Mead decided to turn his photographer’s eye on me and my space I was both excited and scared to death.  I had long admired Matthew’s creative eye and I so desperately wanted him to see me as a kindred spirit.  I must have cleaned, rearranged, restyled and re-fluffed (is that a word?) every single corner in my home over the course of two weeks prior to his visit. My poor son and husband had to endure my possessed domestic goddess persona for far too many days and of course when Matthew appeared at the door with bundles of flowers in his arms and no entourage like I imagined – we all finally relaxed or at least I did when I realized that I was good enough, just the way I am.  We’ve gone on to become friends and creative collaborators and I have to laugh now at how nervous I was at  just being me.     

Happy Modern feature

Recent feature in Happy Modern Magazine on newsstands now Winter/Spring 2016 issue

What advice would you give to someone who is interested becoming more creative or who dreams of being a professional artist?

Ellen: To borrow from Nike … Just Do It. Start by observing the world around you and translating what you see onto paper or canvas.  What you see and how you translate it is completely right for you – it is your original story.  Take a class at your community art center, museum, art supply store.  There are so many fantastic online classes out there to help you flex your creative muscles and they are interactive – you will get feedback if that is something you want. Start with a book – two of my favorites are: The Confident Creative by Cat Bennett (she encourages you to create and nurture your imagination) and for those that dream of being a professional artist: Show Your Work by Austin Kleon  (one of my favorite books about getting yourself out there).

Image by Matthew Mead

Image by Matthew Mead

Growing up I was a huge follower of INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO.  At the end of the program, they would ask the interviewee these questions:

  1. What is your favorite word? mom
  2. What is your least favorite word? wrong
  3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? my family, sunshine and the ocean
  4. What turns you off? small mindedness
  5. What is your favorite curse word? sounds like ship
  6. What sound or noise do you love? laughter
  7. What sound or noise do you hate? styrofoam rubbing together
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? interior designer
  9. What profession would you not like to do? working with pigeons (I have an extreme phobia of them)
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? welcome home

Ellen, thank you so very much for joining me today.  I know my readers learned so much from you!

Be sure to follow along with her to keep up to date on her projects and new art:

Website* Shop * Facebook * Instagram * Pinterest

See you again soon for Creativity Over Coffee