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Artist Ellen Coup brings the beauty of the natural world to man-made structures

14 Mar 2019

Kapiti artist Ellen Coup’s average painting is likely quite a bit bigger than what’s hanging in your living room. Since 2000, she’s made a name for herself beautifying buildings across New Zealand from public exterior projects that are often several hundred square metres in area – using entirely Resene products. But, it’s also not unusual for her to be commissioned to paint interior murals inside private homes.

Working primarily in Resene Lumbersider on wooden and concrete surfaces, Ellen also makes good use of Resene Paint Effects Medium and likes to finish works with an acrylic protective clear coat like Resene Clearcoat UVS or Resene Concrete Clear, if a matte finish is required. Resene SpaceCote, Resene FX Metallics and Resene Non-Skid Deck & Path have been used in her projects when she’s looking for a variation in texture or effect.

Over the course of her career, Ellen has especially enjoyed working with schools and facilitating projects solely displaying children’s art, such as her first project at Newtown School in Wellington, designing art that incorporates elements of children’s art, such as at Otari School and Khandallah School – which are also in Wellington – or fully designing and painting her own work for school communities to enjoy, such as her most recent work at Newtown School.

Ellen shares more with us about her work and technique.

What are some of the most recent murals you’ve completed and some of the projects you’re currently working on?

“I recently completed this piece inside the grounds of Newtown Primary School in Wellington. People going to the weekly market there can visit this work. I was really pleased with how the various ‘visually loud’ surfaces receded and harmonised with the mural. It was great fun working in the playground. Kids are the most honest critics and I really enjoy the interaction.”

“This is my most recent mural, which is at a private home in Petone, Wellington. I was particularly pleased that I got to spend the last day putting a decent amount of animal life into the environment I’d created. I’m also extremely grateful to be able to reference some extraordinary flying bird photos, which really add to the ’snapshot’ nature of the scene.”

“The biggest challenge on both of these works was keeping my shapes true despite the grooves of the surfaces, which requires lots of dabbing brush motions.”

How do you achieve your realism?

“One of the things I love about Resene paint is that I can get so much variation through mixing. More and more, I’ve been under painting in dullish colours (with a light to dark tonal range) then going over them with a tinted layer of Resene Paint Effects Medium to make a bright or deep colour, which is how I’ve done the Nikau Palms above. It works really well with colours that are more transparent. I also do a lot of ‘dry brushing’ a topcoat over a base colour, to generate texture and a more complicated colour.”

How has the style of your murals evolved over time?

“They’re becoming more stylised. I’ve found that I can outline elements but still conjure quite a lot of depth and realism.”

What has influenced your work?

“I’m heavily influenced by the natural world, and people often come to me for New Zealand native bush designs. But, as I offer a personalised design process, each mural is the product of a particular customer’s desire, inspiration or budget.”

“One of the coolest things about taking commissions is that I end up making work I would never have made otherwise. I also feel quite motivated by working in this scale and making art that’s freely available to the general public.”

What are some of the key Resene colours you’ve used in your murals?

“My key colours are Resene Red Berry, Resene Turbo and Resene Endeavour for primaries; and then Resene Pompadour, Resene Resolution Blue, Resene Bright Red, Resene Broom, Resene Rio Grande, Resene Crusoe, Resene Bush, Resene Sambuca, Resene Bastille, Resene Black and Resene White get me most every other colour I need to make.

Ellen’s ‘Wellington Cable Car’ mural is one of her most well-known pieces in New Zealand, which runs alongside the tracks of the actual cable car.

A section of Ellen’s extensive Bowen Hospital mural.

Although photographs can’t do them justice, Ellen considers her prehistoric rata forest paintings inside Café Rata at Zealandia/Karori Wildlife Sanctuary to be some of her most masterful works.

Ellen’s mural ‘Island Bay Fishers’ on Humber Street in Island Bay feels like a natural part of its surrounding landscape.

Ellen’s ‘Bee Bus Stop’ at Mandalay Terrace and Cashmere Avenue in Khandallah was commissioned as part of a community beautification programme.

To see more of Ellen’s work, visit her website at She also posts progress of current projects on her Facebook page and keeps a portfolio of finished pieces on Pinterest.

artist’s portrait Liam Cavanaugh
mural imagesEllen Coup