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


Open Studios Profile: Elyse Dunnahoo

In May I’ll be exhibiting with other artists at two locations in Silicon Valley Open Studios. I’d like to introduce you, dear readers, to some of the other artists who will be showing their work, so I’ll be writing a series of posts in the weeks leading up to Open Studios..

The first artist I’d like to introduce you to is Elyse Dunnahoo. Elyse paints representationally, making beautiful images that portray her feelings about the subject she paints. I love her images for their softness and  the calmness they reflect.

Clematis in Silver Goblet
Clematis in Silver Goblet
© 2014 Elyse Dunnahoo
Oil on canvas

Describe your artistic journey

I owned my own business, designing and manufacturing women’s cycling apparel. The business was successful, but took most of my time to manage and design the product. My husband also had a business and business partner. We had two (twins) young children. Our time was spread out too thinly, so it was decided to sell my business. I began studying classical realism (representational art) while at home with my kids. I took as many workshops and classes that I could afford and time would allow. I was extremely fortunate to study with Ted Jacobs and Tony Ryder. I copied master drawings and cast statues. I practiced drawing as often as possible, from portrait to life to still life.

Where has art taken you in life?

I traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico and Paris, France. I studied in Paris for 6 weeks, drawing in the Louvre.

Roses in Silver Goblet
Roses in Silver Goblet
© 2014 Elyse Dunnahoo
Oil on canvas

What do you think about when you begin painting?

How beautiful the still life is, lit by the North light- tender, softly blanketing the subject, and striking in appearance in its quiet beauty. My thinking, my goal, from beginning to end, is working to portray the light as I have described it.

The Creamer
The Creamer
© 2014 Elyse Dunnahoo
Oil on canvas

Tell me about one of your favorite paintings or drawings that you’ve made. Why is it your favorite?

One of my favorite paintings is  The Creamery. This is one of my first paintings using the Flemish method of indirect painting. I admire insects and have a small collection of butterflies, beetles, and wasps. The butterfly in this painting is from my collection. The North light exuding calm and quiet is rendered so.

If you could ask one question of an artist you admire, who would it be, and what would you ask?

Andrew Wyeth. Describe in detail your painting technique, the lighting in your studio, your color palette.

You can see more of Elyse’s work at

Elyse Dunnahoo will be exhibiting on May 3-4  at 1191 Sherman Avenue, Menlo Park, CA 94025