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Home Studios: Two Professional Home Portrait Studios

Many artists must work from home due to the constraints of finances or time. These two well-known portrait artists, Ellen Cooper and Alexandra Tyng, both maintain professional home studios by choice. Alex works right in her house while Ellen works in a building adjoining her home.

Ellen has had a varied “studio history.” After art school she began working as a faux finisher, working on location in clients’ homes. When she began focusing on her painting practice, she repurposed her dining room as a studio. The room has two large open doorways into other rooms. It was convenient while her children were young, but it began to feel too “porous” when her current partner moved in, along with his home-based business.

“People walking in and being able to see me at work felt invasive.” The artist needed more privacy and peace in order to concentrate. The room was also ill lit and relatively small. She knew she had to make a change.

Ellen’s dream was to build a studio right on her property. She didn’t like the wasted time of a commute, and she wanted the convenience of going into the studio easily whenever she wanted, day or night. However, the finances were not yet right. A friend ran a studio building about 5 miles away. Ellen rented the smallest possible studio there, determined to save money for her dream project.

Over the next four years as her portrait career took off, she was able to finance building the studio she now enjoys. The building sits at right angles to her home, adjoining the garage. “I pay more in property taxes” says Ellen, “but I can deduct some business expenses and a percentage of utilities.”

It’s a stunningly beautiful space, 22 x 22 feet, with an additional storage area. It has 11-foot ceilings, and a 14-foot skylight. North light streams into the serene and immaculate workspace. The walls are painted a light neutral gray and are hung with artwork by Ellen, friends and family. A large model stand sits centrally. This doubles as a work surface for projects like wrapping paintings and mat cutting. There are two Hughes 4000 easels at the ready. A bookcase full of inspiring art books lines one wall, and there is a cozy seating area, a utility sink, and a powder room. Portrait commissions in various stages repose around the space. Ellen is in high demand as a portraitist and is represented by numerous Portrait agencies and representatives.

Her business office is at the house. This separation allows her to step away from emails and data. “I finish business in the morning,” says Ellen, “and then I start painting. There are no barriers, like the annoyance of a commute or realizing you left your lunch or favorite brush back home. I step out the door from the house, walk across the courtyard, and enter another world. It’s ready and waiting for me. What I love is that everything feels seamlessly integral between business and art and home.” This is an ideal situation for many artists. “I totally love it,” says Ellen.

Alexandra Tyng has always had a studio in her home. When she began painting after college, she set up studio in her apartment’s living room. This was convenient and trimmed expenses, and when she married and began her family, she appreciated being able to manage things from home. “When the kids were little, I had to train myself to switch focus, but it wasn’t hard.” She adds, “I still have no problem switching my focus: I run downstairs to have lunch, start laundry, pull something from the freezer to defrost for dinner, and then I’m right back up to work.” Like Ellen, she appreciates the lack of commute time and the fact that an in-home business is eligible for many tax deductions. “Having a home studio is a neater package for my life. Not just physically but in my mind. It frees me to do what’s important to me.” says Alex.

Alex’s commodious studio is on the second floor of her beautiful Victorian home. Originally, she worked in one room; eventually she and her husband rehabbed the studio, combining two rooms and remodeling an adjacent bathroom. The studio space is approximately 12 x 20 feet, with an additional bump-out area convenient for Alex’s home office. The room has 9-foot ceilings and a bank of large windows facing north. There’s a pleasant view looking out over neighbor’s roofs and gardens.

The studio is a warm hospitable space, with a profusion of houseplants, and artwork by friends and family covering the walls. The room is painted a neutral white; hardwood floors and a bentwood rocker add to the homey feel. She has the same model Hughes 4000 easel as Ellen. Despite the high Victorian ceiling, there are a couple of dings in the ceiling where the easel top rested during a few especially large full-length commissions. Alex laughs, and says, “Oh, for an 11-foot ceiling! But it’s really not a problem.” When I visited, works in progress were propped against the walls, and a recently completed canvas sat on the easel.

Alex spends about half her time focusing on narrative figurative work and landscapes. (She recently won an award in the Woodmere Art Museum’s prestigious Annual.) Her non-commissioned work is represented by galleries in Maine and Philadelphia. Like Ellen, she is in demand for commissioned portraits, and is represented by a respected portrait agency and portrait agents. She enjoys switching between personal and commissioned work and finds that these two strands of artmaking inform and enrich each other.

It was inspiring to visit these two studios. Both artists are dedicated professionals and have achieved much in their field. Their studio spaces and practices are different but their choice to work from home springs from similar impulses.


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