International Colour Day 2024 event: Phyllis Shillito and her Colour Curriculum 1945-79

When: 20 Mar 2024 5:30 PM, AEDT
Where: Carolyn Simpson Library, Sydney, and online



Student exercise painted in gouache by Eva Fay at the Shillito Design School, 1976/77.

We're proud to announce that our International Colour Day 2024 event will be a hybrid in-person and online event held jointly with Museums of History NSW and centred on the colour curriculum of pioneering Sydney-based colour and design educator Phyllis Shillito (1895-1980)

In-person attendees at the Caroline Simpson Library (behind the Sydney Mint,10 Macquarie St, Sydney) will examine the impressive collection of student exercises and notes created by Eva Fay FDIA as a student at the Shillito Design School in the late 1970's, and  donated in January this year to the Library, alongside earlier Shillito portfolios from the CSL and private collections. In addition, from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm, three presentations will establish the context of Shillito's teaching of colour, with some time for questions and comments from the live audience. Dr Catriona Quinn will examine the broader context of Phyllis Shillito’s impact on technical education and its relationship to the dynamic development of the Australian interior design profession. Jocelyn Maughan OAM, who studied colour directly under Shillito at East Sydney Technical College in 1956, will share her recollections of Shillito and give a critical assessment of Shillito’s approach to colour. And Dr David Briggs will discuss research he conducted jointly with Eva Fay that documented the direct influence of theorists Munsell, Ostwald, Maitland Graves, and especially H.B. Carpenter on Shillito's colour curriculum. Online attendees will be able to watch the three presentations and hear the discussion with the live audience via Zoom.

Eva Fay, Catriona Quinn, Jocelyn Maughan and David Briggs

Eva Fay FDIA taught colour and design in Sydney from 1979 at various TAFE colleges, the University of Sydney, UTS, and the School of Colour and Design, which she co-founded in 1983. She is a founding member of the Colour Society of Australia and was awarded Fellow of the Design Institute of Australia in 2012. In 1976 to 1978 she completed the three-year fulltime course in colour and design the Shillito Design School, which included two years of colour exercises and projects taught by assistant teachers Peter Travis OAM, Roslyn Kean, Gary Shinfield and Jean Savage. In 2021 she described and illustrated these exercises and projects in her book Shillito Design School, Australian Colour Education in the ‘70s, and this year she donated her collection of notes and exercises from the course to the Caroline Simpson Library.

Dr Catriona Quinn teaches design history and theory at UNSW Sydney, where her prize-winning PhD on the role of the client in interior design was awarded in 2021. At Sydney Living Museums, she curated the Rose Seidler House, the Caroline Simpson Library and, in 1993, the first historical exhibition on an Australian interior designer. Recent publications include chapters in The Other Moderns: Sydney’s Forgotten European Design Legacy (2017), Margo Lewers: No Limits (2022) and for Fabrications, the first literature review on postwar Australian interior design (2024). Catriona is active in the international field, presenting at conferences and as a committee member for the Society of Architectural Historians' Historic Interiors Group.

Jocelyn Maughan OAM studied at the East Sydney Technical College (now the National Art School, Sydney) from 1954 to 1958, graduating with a Diploma of Fine Art with honours, specialising in painting. During this period, she studied colour under painters including James (Jimmy) Cook, and in 1956 as an evening student under head of design Phyllis Shillito. Her teaching career included 32 years at Meadowbank College of TAFE, where she established a Fine Arts section and became the inaugural Head of the Art School in 1966. Jocelyn’s painting career spans more than six decades and she remains very active as an artist at age 85. She is an exhibiting member of the Australian Watercolour Institute and a Fellow of Royal Art Society and was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday 2018 Honours List with an Order of Australia Medal ‘for service to the visual arts, and to education’.

Dr David Briggs has been teaching classes on colour for more than 20 years, and currently teaches colour, drawing and painting at the National Art School and the University of Technology, Sydney. His publications include a chapter on colour spaces in the Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Colour, (2020) and a two-part paper on the elements of colour in the Journal of the International Colour Association (2023). He also has two outreach websites, The Dimensions of Colour and Colour Online. David is Past President, Vice President, and NSW Divisional Chair of the Colour Society of Australia, Co-Chair of the AIC Study Group on Arts and Design and is a committee member of the AIC/ ISCC Colour Literacy Project. In 2022 he coauthored with Eva Fay a study of Shillito student material that was published in the Proceedings of the AIC 2022 Conference in Toronto, Canada.

Please note that our event is on the day before International Colour Day, which falls annually on March 21.


A Shillito Student Portfolio from the Mid-1940’s

A paper co-authored with Dr David Briggs and published 15th February 2022


A Shillito Student Portfolio from the Mid-1940’s

This image shows the complete set of boards from a remarkable portfolio of colour exercises and notes produced at the East Sydney Technical College (now the National Art School, Sydney) by Helen Jean Burgess (1926-2018) while she was a student in the Design diploma course in 1943-47. The portfolio is important as an early record of the colour curriculum of Phyllis Sykes Shillito (1895 – 1980), who was a major influence on colour design education in Australia from the 1920’s to the 1970’s, and on subsequent colour education in Australia, including my own teaching. The following link outlines the  conclusions of a detailed study undertaken jointly with President of the Colour Society of Australia Dr David Briggs that was published in 2022.  To read the whole paper, click here



Colour Education from Shillito Design School, Sydney 1976-1977

This Presentation was given at the biennial National Australian Conference of the CSA (COLOUR SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA) 

19-21 March 2021 - "Colour Connections Sydney 2021"

The topic was based on the contents of the book: "Shillito Design School, Australian Colour Education in the 70's" by Eva Fay published March 2021.

Presented by Eva Fay FDIA

Honorary Life Member of the Colour Society of Australia 2000This 


Phyllis Shillito (1895 – 1980) was a very influential educator, artist and designer, teaching in England until 1922, then at the National Art School in Sydney from 1925 to 1960 and at her own Shillito Design School from 1962 until her death. Shillito's eclectic curriculum borrowed progressive ideas from design schools in Ulm, Munich, Stockholm and Paris as well as from art educators H. Barrett Carpenter (English) and Maitland Graves (American).  

The course was full time over three years, specifically teaching colour, design and drawing in year one. In years two and three, there was a choice to specialise into an interior design course or into a fine arts and applied design course.

The emphasis at Shillito Design School was to understand and learn about the theory, relationships and application of colour by training and developing our skills and our eyes to observe the infinitesimal differences and changes in the three dimensions of colour: Hue, Tone and Intensity and how to manipulate each one of these attributes.

Great attention was paid to the physical mixing of colours, learning how they behaved and developing our eyes to really “see” every nuance.  Understanding the organisation of colour was critical for our ability to make informed colour choices and selections.

At this period in the seventies The Shillito Design School was unique in that it taught a cross fertilization of design disciplines so that graduates had a broad sense of the application of design. This provided them with the opportunity to resolve complex colour challenges.   

This presentation gives a historical overview of one method of colour teaching that has had far reaching effects on industry. Shillito's students are spread throughout Australia and overseas as educators, artists, colourists and designers in the different design disciplines all utilizing and applying this colour education. 

Eva Fay will present and describe the development and theory of colour exercises and projects that she produced as a student at The Shillito Design School in 1976-1977.

Eva later went on to become a well-known colour and design educator over the next 20 years.

Speaker Bio

After graduating from the Shillito Design School  Eva Fay FDIA commenced her teaching career in 1979 in the art department at Meadowbank TAFE. Since then she has taught students colour and design at various Universities and TAFE colleges, in the departments of fine art, interior design, graphic design and architecture. 

In 1983 she and a fellow Shillito graduate founded the prestigious School of Colour and Design in Sydney. 

Eva also ran a highly successful architectural Colour Design studio for nearly 30 years. 

She won the National Dulux Colour Award in 1992 for Exterior Colour Design. 

Eva was a founding member of the Colour Society of Australia in 1986 and was awarded Fellow of the Design Institute of Australia in 2012. 

Currently Eva enjoys experimenting with colour and atmosphere in painting.