Upon graduating from the Royal Academy School in London in 1949, Elizabeth Smily won the Lord Leverhulme award, accorded the best student in painting, sculpture or architecture. Three years later she moved to Montreal, where she taught portraiture and life drawing. During her stay, she exhibited her work in the Montreal Museum of Fine Art.
Smily and her husband came to Vancouver in the late 1960s. She has continued to paint portraits, including that of the family of the Canadian High Commissioner to Hong Kong, and of the retired Archivist of the United States. In addition to works in numerous private and public collections, Smily has three of her portraits hanging in the Royal Academy in London, England.