Colour Therapy with Madeleine Mckinlay: Cover Story

Image source: Contributed

A childhood spent painting in the back garden has evolved into a life filled with colour, joy and creativity for our cover artist Madeleine McKinlay, as Rebecca Jamieson Dwyer discovers.

Some of Madeleine McKinlay’s most vivid childhood memories centre around creativity. Her mother would often peg butcher’s paper to the chain-wire fence of the New Farm house she grew up in, encouraging Madeleine and her four siblings to go wild, splattering paint onto the blank canvas, their clothes and each other.

Other times, they’d make playdough out of flour and water, watching in wonder as their mother transformed the mixture, like magic, with tiny drops of food colouring.

These days, Brisbane-based Madeleine is a full-time painter who disappears into the creative world on a daily basis, finding a meditative flow state where she loses all sense of time and the world around her.

Her art practice also helps her feel connected to beloved family members who are no longer with her, after losing her father as a young child and then both her mother and sister a few years ago.

“My mum loved painting and she loved art, so I do often feel their presence,” she shares. “I know it sounds a bit cliché, but when I’m creating, I feel more connected with them and closer to them – whether they’re there or not.”

Working from her bright, high-ceilinged Queenslander home in New Farm – featuring a closed-in verandah that’s packed to the rafters with her large-scale canvases – Madeleine’s vibrant, often-abstract art is inspired by her travels and her memories, featuring destinations of happy family holidays from days gone by, such as Burleigh Heads, Stradbroke Island and Moreton Island, with the Noosa landscape proving to be particularly evocative for her.

“The Noosa National Park is just exquisite – the beautiful clear water and the headland is absolutely stunning,” she says. “We used to visit as children, and I’ve visited over the years with my husband and with girlfriends.

“It’s one of our favourite places to escape to.”

Madeleine studied at the Queensland College of Art before studying design and becoming a graphic designer and while creativity has been a constant thread throughout her life, she eventually ended up in the world of corporate finance, climbing the ladder and working in a number of high-powered positions.

When trying to start a family, she realised she needed to step back from her stressful role and allow her body and psyche to rest, eventually giving birth to her son Patrick in 2015.

Motherhood, plus her own mother’s heartbreaking diagnosis of ovarian cancer, made Madeleine painfully aware of how finite our time on this planet is, and she threw herself into her creative practice when she wasn’t spending time with her art-loving mum, who always had a passion for painting.

These days, Madeleine’s art business is thriving thanks to her bright, cheerful aesthetic and prolific output, but also, in part, to her husband Daniel, who supports the administration, finance and digital side of things so Madeleine can pour her energy into painting.

“He has a full-time job, but after hours he comes home and will help with the marketing and tax elements of the business,” she says. “And on weekends, he’ll be like, ‘let’s do our photography for the next release.’ We make a great team!”

Madeleine either works from landscape photos she’s taken, carefully sketching out the composition on paper until she’s satisfied, or takes a more intuitive approach that’s abstract and loose, where she paints from the heart and aims to add a piece of herself – a story, a moment, an emotion – to the canvas.

“I try to convey whatever I’m feeling at the time, and to get a sense of myself through creating the artwork,” she says.

“Sometimes it comes easily, and other times it’s more of a challenge, so I’ll take a break for a few hours, loosen up, and come back and try again.”

In some works the colours are an accurate reflection of the landscape, and in others Madeleine has fun enhancing or completely changing them, adding in a vivid pink, yellow or green sky to create her own wonderful multicoloured world, as evidenced in the candyfloss pink skies of the artwork chosen for our front cover, Noosa Escape: an abstract interpretation of Noosa’s famous headland.

The joy and vibrancy in Madeleine’s art is reflected in her personality – when you talk to her, it’s clear that she’s someone who has an appreciation for being alive, and is determined to enjoy her time in the world by surrounding herself with brightness, wonder and beauty. Because, as she points out: “Life’s too short not to.”

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