The artist in her home studio. Photo by James Kellar

The artist in her home studio. Photo by James Kellar


The room where Ellen Starr Lyon paints is just steps from the front door of her family home. Situated at the nexus between the kitchen and other living spaces, Lyon’s husband, two teenage children, and dog crisscross the room as she works, allowing her artistic ambitions to breathe and flourish within the center of her domestic universe.

A conservation technician for the collection at the Indiana University Eskenazi Museum of Art, Lyon has continually worked to juggle the demands of career and family with her drive to paint, usually still lifes of household items and lush plants. Now, inspired by a return to weekly figure drawing classes at IU—her passion when she was an undergrad there in the 1990s—Lyon has decided to move toward emotionally intimate portraiture. “I’m always striving to get better,” she says. “Moving to a new theme puts you back into that fumbling stage where you learn and stretch and grow.”

Lyon’s new portraits, which will be on view at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center in September, are largely of family members depicted smack in the middle of their daily lives. “I want them to do things they would naturally do,” she says, pointing out newer paintings of daughter Odessa with ear buds, son Finnian playing on his cell phone, and husband Art lifting a spoonful of food on one of their rare date nights.

Lyon’s plan is to hang her September show salon-style, surrounding viewers with as many human moments as she can summon to her canvases. “I want to do a painting of my kids mid-fight, with angry faces and gestures,” she says. “I’m not interested in Facebooking this—I want it to be emotional and real and healthy.”

To see more of Lyon’s work, visit