Gunn was born in Rockville Center, New York, in 1951.
From an early age both her father, William Neal Gunn, and her uncle, Howard Arnold, gave her extensive artistic training. Both men were noted watercolorists, and her father was also proficient in oil painting and design. Until her fifteenth year, Ellen studied the piano as well, attending a school whose purpose was to train concert pianists
The artwork of Ellen Gunn is characterized by delicate and austere beauty, beauty she somehow manages to derive from the far less exquisitely restrained reality in which she and all the rest of us actually live. About her art Gunn says: An artist takes the everyday things that you behold and shows them in a more intense way. My work is representational, and yet there is nothing I do that you could not look out of a window and see. The shape of the land is there, but it is simply a starting point. Although my work is based on realism, it is not anchored in slavish detail. It is rather an illumination and a refinement of what I observe.