Elizabeth Whelan's studio

artist elizabeth r whelan works on sketches for a commissioned painting in her massachusetts studioMy studio is located on Chappaquiddick Island, part of the larger island of Martha's Vineyard, off the Massachusetts coast. It's a perfect location for a little peace and quiet in the winter, but lots of activity in the summer! There's a large creative community and a rural component to the island that I love, particularly in the off-season. And it's not far from Boston, which is nice when I feel the need to wander through art museums and get some big city hustle and bustle.

In the studio I do a great deal of portrait painting; there's something wonderful about connecting with another person and bringing out their personality through paint -- I consider it a real honor to paint a portrait, whether of an individual or family, or perhaps a retired executive, school president, dean or doctor, or a fisherman or sailor -- I have been fortunate to meet and paint people from all walks of life. Everyone has a story to tell!portrait artist elizabeth r whelan studio chappaquiddick massachusetts winter

Travel is a component of my work as well, either to meet people for portrait sittings, or to gather reference for botanical paintings and drawings, maritime (marine) paintings or landscapes, or whatever subject has taken my fancy at that time. I enjoy sketching and painting outdoors and usually have at least one sketchbook with me, with pencils and gouache paints, just in case. For example, you can find me painting around the islands, Cape Cod and Boston, all over Massachusetts and the Northeast, down to New York City and Washington DC (I love to go by train!) and then up to Canada, as well as over the pond to the UK and Ireland. Have paints, will travel, as they say, and then it's home to Chappy to get the serious work done.

Most of those sketches and plein air paintings are studies and ideas for paintings I will finish back in the studio. Canvas-mounted panels line the studio walls, as I work on quite a number of paintings at once, in rotation. I enjoy the indirect method of painting in oils that allows for layering and glazing as well as a fresh and direct application of paint when the subject calls for it. Letting the painting dry in between bouts of painting gives me the opportunity to mix it up when it comes to technique.
Portrait artist Elizabeth Whelan's studio in Massachusetts on Marthas Vineyard near BostonWhen 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. I highly recommend some experience in the commercial arts for younger artists finding their way; you will pick up valuable skills.

Although I'd like my schedule to be the same from day to day, seven days a week, it really doesn't work that way. The ebb and flow is more organic, and deadlines for commissions and shows push me along. However, in general, the early morning is for paperwork, email, marketing efforts, some exercise, or perhaps gardening or a walk. Then by late morning, I am at the easel, taking advantage of as many daylight hours as possible. Daylight is particularly valuable when I am painting skin tones for portraits.

I manage about 4 hours of painting at a time, break for late lunch and then continue painting for another 3 or 4 hours, often on a different canvas and a different genre. Sometimes I will simply be prepping canvases, working on a monochromatic oil sketch (a preparatory underpainting on the canvas), or working on drawings at the drafting table.elizabeth r whelan artist maritime commission painting sketch

In the evening I am often working in my sketchbook on a gouache painting, getting in some reading, or brainstorming ideas for paintings. I also use the evenings to put down the first layers of new paintings or work on other parts of paintings such as backgrounds. Good studio 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.

Lately, I have been making sure that drawing is a priority. Not only is it fun, but it's also relaxing. I admit I was a little rusty when I started back to drawing after so many years in commercial art, but I am glad I took it up again--it's very meditative.

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 try 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

Artist materials recommendations

After more than a decade in fine arts, and two decades prior to that in graphic design and illustration, I have some definite recommendations to share so that you can get your own art practice off to a great start! The art materials lists link to Dick Blick, Ray Mar, Natural Pigments, and other sites -- I am not affiliated with these sites, they are just where I happen to buy supplies myself.

Sketch boccadasse genoa italy elizabeth r whelan

Have a topic you would like me to address, or an opinion to share on certain art materials? Feel free to email me!

Professional Drawing Supplies(pdf)

Oil Painting Supplies – Getting Started(pdf)

Recommended Reading List - inspired by nature, botanical, travel, and art themes (pdf)
This list of 17 books accompanied the art show at the West Tisbury Library (November 2023) and much of the reading inspired my current direction in botanical art.(The links take you to our local automated library sharing system to order the books from our libraries on the Cape and Islands, but if you live elsewhere I am sure your local library or bookstore can help you find all these titles as they are quite current.)


Some of my favorite studio accessories:

  • Mahl stick to keep fingers out of wet paint
  • Long metal rulers
  • Rectangular palettes big and small, both wood and glass
  • Table-top paper towel holder
  • Rags from old flannel shirts
  • Coated wire and sliding hooks to hang paintings to dry
  • An easel that can move vertically and horizontally (I use a Hughes easel for most work)
  • 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
  • A cat sleeping in the sunbeam (I am sure a dog would work just as well!)