Saturday Studio Time: Elyse Dunnahoo

Elyse Dunnahoo designed her 150-square feet of painting space as thoughtfully as she creates each of her realistic paintings. As a result, her studio provides a backdrop for the calmness and beauty she creates on canvas.

Elyse Dunnahoo
Elyse Dunnahoo with a drawing of “Winged Victory of Samothrace”


Elyse Dunnahoo

It has taken me years of fine tuning my studio space, organizing through trial and error which paints, brushes, mediums, and all other fundamentals —elbow room included— are quintessential for me to focus on my work without distractions. In my studio I am safe to make mistakes, to problem solve over, and over, and over again, and again, and again…and very happy to do so.

Still life painting
A current painting and the still-life set up.

Organized with the color wheel in mind

I have many shelves. One shelf holds fabrics and wallpapers, and another holds the numerous props I utilize in my still life set-ups. In the past, the various fabrics and wallpapers were tucked away in closed bins, but I prefer to have the fabrics and props organized by color on a shelf. This allows for me to actually see the colors and textures while I work, which facilitates envisioning future still life setups.

Bins filled with oil paint tubes.
Paint tubes organized by color and complement in stacked bins make it easier to find the correct paint when it’s needed.

I have a counter space where brushes and tubs of my oil paint tubes are located. The paints are organized by color group and in order of where they are located on the color wheel.  The tubs are stacked in twos, such that one color is stacked on top of its complement.

This make is easy for me to go to the right bin and find that particular color quickly.

Oil paint
Tubes of paint organized and ready to be squeezed onto the palette.

I prefer to stand at my easel. Directly behind me is a small shelf.  On this shelf the paint tubes I use consistently are organized by their order on the color wheel and as they appear on my palette.

Studio set up
Light from a north window floods the studio with natural light.


I use natural north light on my set-up, easel, and palette. One window in my studio is north facing. This is where I operate. All other windows are completely covered with black theater curtains, allowing no additional light into my space.
I have dark brown flooring and the walls are dark, too, to minimize the amount of light bouncing onto the set-up and interfering with the beautiful north light.


Prepainted color charts ease the pain of making the right color mixtur.
Prepainted color charts ease the pain of making the right color mixture.

Most helpful thing

I make my own color cards of paint mixtures using all the colors in my palette, and other colors as well. I have 16 color cards which are accessible from my easel. Each card is unique from the other, representing one color from my palette  that’s mixed with all other colors on my palette. I also have studies in neutrals (warm and cold) and a dead palette card. The cards are 16” x 20” illustration board and the squares are fashioned with 1/4″  tape. While I’m painting,  I ask myself “what is THAT color?” My color cards assist me to understand the color recipe. This has been an exceptional resource to understand color mixing.

Studio Tip

A blue plastic film can be placed over a light bulb to mimic the blue colored north light if natural north facing light is not available. I learned this at workshop by artist Qiang Huang. He uses the transparent blue filter as a standard set-up for his lighting. He sells the blue transparent film online at


Shelving purchased at IKEA.
Theater Curtains purchased at Target.
Wall color: Benjamin Moore, color: Sparrow-Matte (AF-720)
Flooring: Flor Tiles

You can see select paintings from Elyse in the “Women’s View 2015 Art Show” at the Caldwell Gallery at the San Mateo Courthouse, March 3-April 29, and at Silicon Valley Open Studios, May 2-3, 2015. See more of Elyse’s work at

On the Shoulder of Others
Elyse Dunnahoo
24″ x 20″ oil on board


Saturday Studio Time: A recently cleaned desk

My friend Doreen L. Barton mentioned that she’d like to see a studio that was messier than hers.

You’re out of luck on this post Doreen, because I just cleaned my desk.

Yes, I did.

Artist desk
My desk, shortly after having been tidied

I know, it still looks cluttered. That’s why I decided to annotate it for you, dear readers. You’ll see why it’s nearly impossible for me to keep my desk looking like those spic-and-span-tastical desks you find on Apartment Therapy. (Sweet mother of dog, do artists work at these desks?)

My dad and I made this desk from 2 x 2s and a sheet of some kind of laminate material. It’s a great desk, but it is not magazine-worthy, like this fancy glass-topped creation from an artist studio in Mexico. (It’s probably cleaned by the maid every morning while the artist is drinking her café con leche and reading the Mexico City News. It’s pretty easy to have a clean desk when you have an obsessive-compulsive housekeeper that organizes your color pencils based on your current drawing. I had one of those when I lived in Mexico. She’s probably running 18 successful businesses right now while I’m…well, I don’t work in color pencil anymore. And I clean my own desk. Occasionally.)

Anyway, I did clean the desk-of-shame, and shucks, I’m proud of it. So here it is, a tour of my desk.

1. Old papers

I can’t stand to throw away paper, especially if only one side has been used. So I usually have a stack of lightly used paper on the corner of the desk for quick sketches, notes, and paper airplanes.

2. Wire, bits of old ideas, rusty pen nibs that I’m hoping I can de-rust

Why do I have this stuff on my desk? Why, oh, why? But where can I put it? I can’t throw it away; I might need it someday. Where you put wire so that you can find it when you need it? Dear reader, do you have a wire drawer? A rusty pen nib drawer?

3. Pruning shears

Borrowed from my mom for an illustration. Sorry Mom, I’ll return them soon.

4. Broken cup from Whittard of Chelsea

I bought this cup on my one-and-only trip to London, and I can’t stand to throw it away. There’s a toothbrush and a couple of Pigma Microns in it. I do have a drawer for Pigma Microns, but not a drawer for used toothbrushes I use for spraying paint.

5. Palette of paint

This is a gouache palette. Sometimes it’s a watercolor palette.

6. Jar of scissors

There are also pens and pencils, most of which I rarely use. The pens and pencils I use regularly live in drawers dedicated to them. I need more drawers.

7. Table top drafting board

This was given to me, thankfully, because they are frightfully expensive. You can get one here, but I’m warning you, the tilt is not nearly high enough to save your back. When I’m drawing a lot at the table, I have to stack books under the board, which makes the desk even more cluttered. I need a drafting table, but have you checked out how much those things cost? If you have an old one gathering dust in your garage, hey, give me a shout.

8. Container of water

To use #5. We used to eat a lot of Pavel’s yogurt, so I’m fully stocked with plastic water containers.

9. Rogue piece of paper

It says,

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” — Crowfoot’s last words, 1890

When you put a clean desk in that perspective, it doesn’t seem so important, now does it?


Creating an artist studio

Easel is up!
Easel is up! Now if I can just find the painting I had been working on before we moved.

Moving brings great changes, and for the first time in my life I have a dedicated studio space. Boxes are being unpacked, computer hooked up, printer tested, easel placed. Yippee!

Now comes the excitement (and expense) of tricking it out so it will be a place where I can work happily, efficiently, and comfortably. I’ve been looking for ideas for wall color, lighting, setup. The internet is a useful place sometimes, and a dangerous (to my budget) at other times.

I would love to read any and all the American Artists Studios series by Northlight, but unfortunately, the budget doesn’t allow for it. Well, maybe…

A quick internet search brings up a treasure book of studio porn.

The problem with looking at these home sites is that they want to be stylish, and so they show only stylish studios. Mostly white walls, elegant spaces. But is that always best for studio space?

Painter and teacher Will Kemp goes a little deeper into the subject of wall color on his blog:

Sadie Valeri, classical realist painter, teacher and owner of the popular Sadie Valeri Atelier generously shared her teaching studio set up on her website:

Dear readers, any suggestions from your own studios?