In the StudioSummer & Winter

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Working as an artist

When I began oil painting, I already had many years of illustration and graphic design behind me. That experience was very helpful as I changed the focus of my work and began concentrating on painting in oils. For many fine artists, the challenges of self-employment and time management in particular can be a difficult adjustment.

My schedule is pretty much the same from day to day. The morning is for other endeavours, paperwork, email, marketing efforts. After lunch I am in the studio taking advantage of as many daylight hours as possible. Daylight is particularly valuable when I am painting skin tones. I break for dinner and then put in some more studio time, however this will almost always be work on a different canvas and a different genre. Sometimes I will simply be prepping canvases or working on a monochromatic oil sketch. The next day I may continue with the main painting or put it aside to dry. Typically I am working on a number of oil paintings concurrently.

Good lighting is important but as I gained experience I discovered that waiting for perfect lighting would drastically shorten the amount of time I spent at the easel! There is always a part of a painting that can be worked, no matter the conditions.

Years ago, I met an artist whose goal in life was to have 'time to think'. I know what she meant. Time to paint is important, but it's no less important to have the quiet and space to think deeply about what you are doing. Because of this I have sought to live in a manner where quiet and space are the norm, not the exception, often at the expense of comforts I used to take for granted. I have to say, it's well worth it!

Elizabeth R. Whelan

Eleven fave studio accessories

  • Mahl stick to keep fingers out of wet paint
  • T-square, long and short rulers, compass
  • String to tie canvas to easel (accidents happen!)
  • Coated wire and D-rings to hang painting
  • Easel that can move vertically and horizontally
  • Multi-purpose utility tool to open tubes
  • Putty scraper for clearing palette
  • Paint tube roller to squeeze out paint
  • White charcoal pencil for marking corrections
  • Audiobook or streaming music
  • Pot of strong coffee or tea!
  • brushes used by Elizabeth R. Whelan


    I find that I use the more coarse-haired brushes at the start of a painting, and in most cases I try to use the largest brush I can for the stroke; it stops a lot of fiddling around. Details work best when using the softer, smaller brushes. In the past I have used a lot of hogs hair and sable, however now I am replacing many of these with synthetic brushes and I am very pleased with the results.

    Brands I'm using include Silver Brush Bristlon (synthetic) and Grand Prix (hogs hair), and Escoda Modernista (synthetic).

    paint used by Elizabeth R. Whelan


    When choosing oil paints I go for professional grade all the time. The difference in quality, ease of use, and results is more than worth the price. Careful color mixing will allow you to use fewer colors and achieve excellent results, so don't skimp on paint or canvas. With brushes you can have a little more leeway. I've scumbled large paintings with throwaway chip brushes, for example.

    Favorite brands are Winsor & Newton, Sennelier, Rembrandt, and Gamblin. I am also trying out Holbein's water-soluable oils for plein air studies.

    canvas used by Elizabeth R. Whelan


    Some artists like an exceptionally smooth canvas for portraiture, however I have found that a certain amount of tooth can make for very interesting layering effects. I will use a nice portrait-grade pre-stretched cotton canvas such as Fredrix Blue Label or if I need a smoother surface, obtain a roll of the smooth Claessens single or double primed linen canvas and stretch the canvas myself.

    With art supplies consistency is key. When you find supplies you like, get to know them well before branching out. It will save confusion and expense.