Three Weeks – Feels Like Three Months

Three weeks ago, I packed my Prius and headed north on I-25, rolling over the hills and plains of Wyoming, South Dakota and North Dakota, traveling 500 miles.  Just before I reached Canada, I turned east and drove another 500 miles. Gradually the prairie gave way to clusters of trees, and I found myself passing through familiar territory of my hometown.  There, I visited my family before continuing the final 75 miles to Duluth, MN.

Today, we finished our first week of class, and I’m exhausted.  Standing in front of an easel for 7 hours a day, copying drawings, measuring angles, distance, space, and line, we search for errors of millimeters, all in preparation for working with a model in October, where fractions of inches and angles make a difference.

Work in progress – Bargue copies

Maintaining Focus

One of the greatest challenges is maintaining focus for lengthy periods of time.  Luckily, the time is punctuated with short lectures and critiques.  We generally slip on our headphones and get lost in a world of line and shape, coming up for air at lunchtime.  Occasionally there’s a mutter as we talk to ourselves, or a sigh of frustration as we miss our mark.

Slowly, we are developing our ability to see and enable our hands and pencils create the mark we want. Paper, pencil, eraser.  The simplest of tools that provide the foundation for great works of art.  What will we do with those tools?  Where will this path lead? 

“Bad attitudes and poor life skills are more detrimental to you being a successful artist than faulty shapes, values or color.”

Much like learning to play the piano, we start with the basic notes, finding our own version of middle C with a plumb line.  From there, we practice scales and small melodies of abstract shapes.  To move into chords, we must first master the basic notes.  And to do that, we must practice, and practice, and practice.

First, I will sleep.  Have a great weekend, friends.

Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art in the refurbished St, Peter's Church built in 1926.
Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art in the refurbished St, Peter’s Church built in 1926.

PS: It’s been raining all week.  Waves of water and wind.  Definitely not sunny Colorado. Thank goodness for Amazon delivery.  My vitamin D arrived Tuesday.

The Things We Take For Granted

Sitting in a grain truck, ten feet off the ground, I watch the sun set though a bank of storm clouds. Dust drifts through the air, kicked up by two combines moving in tandem across a field of wheat. A feeling of gratitude washes over me, while I simultaneously sense all that we take for granted.

My uncle, cousin, and their three hired hands work their synchronized dance of harvesting wheat, and I have the privilege of looking into their world for a moment. An average family farm on the plains of North Dakota, they grow wheat, soybeans, and canola. Having already already cleared a field to the north, they moved the equipment to the south field, and hope the impending storm continues to move north.

While I ride along, pestering him with questions, my cousin drives the grain truck and collects wheat from the combines as they work their way across the field. From there it is transferred to the waiting semi-truck trailer and hauled back to the farm. Eventually it will make its way to market.

From the outsiders view the process seems easy. The view from the driver’s seat is another story. As the dust flies through the air and I marvel at the computer screen and the size of the tires, I ask my cousin, “Do you maintain all of this equipment too?” He shrugs his shoulders as if to say, of course we do. How else would it get done? “Yep,” he says as he checks the rear camera on the console and sets the GPS to auto-drive.

The machinations of the farm, from preparing food for the workers to maintaining equipment, deciding what to plant, where to plant, when to plant, when to harvest, when to sell. And the thousands of decisions and actions that goes into this one operation swirls through my mind like a movie in fast forward.

And yet, people across the country do this very day. People run businesses that make the materials, that make the things that we need and use every day. It’s easy to forget what goes into a loaf of bread and assume it will be on the shelf.

And we know this is true for everything. When I left the house Saturday morning to drive a thousand miles across the great expanses of Wyoming, South Dakota and North Dakota to the northwoods of Minnesota with tears leaking out of my eyes, seeking one more embrace, telling my beloved, “I’ll see you soon. I love you,” I took it all for granted. My car, the gas stations, the quality of the road, the beauty of the rolling hills, fields of hay, wheat, sunflowers, grass, open space, even the oil fields were taken for granted.

It’s easy to assume that each of these things will be there when we need them, running in the background of our lives. That the farmers and oil workers, the construction crews and emergency responders will be there when we need them. We take for granted that each day, across our country and our world, people will get up, go to work in the morning, and do their jobs that make the world go round, just as regularly as the sun rises and sets.

Just as easily, it’s easy to take for granted that I will walk back into my home a couple of months from now and feel as if I never left. To believe that my loved one will be waiting for me, and we will pick up where we left off.

Aspen Forest, 12×12 oil on linen panel now available

Aspen Forest, oil on linen panel, 12×12 © Nelia Harper

In mid July, I was gathering my things for another yurt trip. After a fun adventure in June, I booked a second trip. This time, Andrea Gabel and I were planning a three night getaway to paint in the wilderness of State Forest State Park. We were excited about the trip and ready for some serious painting time.

The night before I was to leave, the phone rang. First of all, I rarely have the ringer volume on. Secondly, the few phone calls I get are usually robo calls. I looked down at the phone. It was my Dad. While my Dad and I get along great. He’s not one to call and ‘shoot the breeze’. Phone calls are generally limited to my birthday and bad news. Needless to say, my first thought was, “what’s wrong?” Please don’t be bad news, please don’t be bad news.

It was bad news. My cousin Jon and his wife Cara had been killed in a car accident. They were only in their late 20s. It was just a normal day. A normal drive. Good weather. A truck crossed the line, and the end was instant. Their little girl survived. Devastating news.

As you can well imagine, I was heartbroken. On the one hand, I felt relieved that my parents were ok, as well as my siblings and their families. On the other hand, I felt devastated for my aunt and uncle and the friends and family of Jon and Cara. The loss welled up and spilled over. Shocked at the news, time crawled to a near standstill.

The next day, I decided to go on our trip anyway. Time in the woods soothes my soul and quiet time felt right. And sure enough, I felt a sense of peace and calm. Especially when we came across a stand of old growth aspens rising up to the sky surrounded by wild columbine, and vistas for miles.

Andrea Gabel painting in the aspen trees.

I sat with a tree trunk, drawing for hours. We returned the next day and I did an oil sketch of the scene. Weeks later, after the Celebration of Life and a return to the every day, I revisited the idea and decided to start a fresh piece. From my studies and memory, the painting Aspen Forest developed. After finishing the painting, I realized the prominence of the small aspen tree growing next to the old, rotted trunk. Death and life. Rebirth.

Now available.

Packing, Purging and Shipping – 1 week left!

First off a huge THANK YOU! to everyone for your well wishes, orders, connections, and help these past couple of weeks.

I have officially sent off my tuition deposit, I’m still looking for a place to live, as well as a job. So far, I have managed to clean out my crawl space, donate two carloads of stuff to ARC/Goodwill, taken my car in for service, and I have almost cleaned out my storage unit. Nothing like a deadline to make me tick off all those items on the to-do list that should have been done 6 mos – 5 years ago.

Wildflower Corner, 8×10, oil on panel, plein air for Georgetown Plein Air

And! I have shipped off paintings, prints, and greeting cards to several of you. Thank you to my fellow artists, patrons, collectors, and friends for your financial support and the many connections you have in Duluth, MN.

Questions Answered

Several of you have asked some really good questions about the Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art and my plans for this fall. Here are some answers to your questions.

#1 When are you leaving?

I’m planning to leave the 24th of August. I still have to find a place to live. I’m looking for a room to rent or a house share, so I pretty much have to be there in person to look at a place and meet the people. Hopefully that will come together the last week of August, and I can move in shortly after.

#2 When does school start?

School starts the 6th of September. We have a work day to begin. Everyone helps to clean, get the place set-up for working, and generally get to know everyone. Our first official day of school is the following Monday.

#3 How long is it?

The program itself is four years. Right now, I’m taking it one day at a time. If I start thinking that far ahead, I get a little panicky. So, let’s not think about that.

#4 Isn’t it really cold up there?

Well…how do you define cold? Antarctica cold when you get frostbite after standing outside for 10 minutes cold? Ummm…yeah. It gets pretty cold in December and January. What better excuse do you need to stay focused on on task?

I grew up in Northern Minnesota and I have to admit, I’m looking forward to winter. Not necessarily to sub-zero temperatures or sunset at 4pm, but to the brilliance of snow and the feeling of being alive in the elements. You might have to remind me of this when I’m complaining about how dark and cold it is in January.

#5 How did you decide on this school?

I have been looking at schools for quite some time. When I came across an interview that Jeffrey Larson did with Michael Klein from East Oaks Studio, I was quite surprised to find a school of this caliber near my hometown. I was equally surprised to see that it was on the list of approved school by the Art Renewal Center, whose mission is to support the revival of realism in the visual arts. The have approved about 80 schools around the world that teach technical skills in drawing and painting. What are the chances there would be one so close to my family?

Although I would love to study at the Florence Academy in Italy or the Grand Central Atelier in New York, I was intrigued by this little school in Duluth, MN. After listening to the interview and later visiting the school, it felt like a solid fit.

Interview of Jeffrey T. Larson

Fast forward to 0:15 to listen.

Scroll down. I have no idea why there’s a space here.

Studio Sale Continues

The studio sale continues through August 21st. The last ship date before I pack up the car and head north. There are several studies and studio paintings still available. Free shipping too!

Let me know if you have other questions. I’m planning to chronicle my journey to share this unique experience with you, as well as remember this time in my life. I hope you’ll enjoy the experience too.

Top 10 Ways to Help Nelia Attend Art School

Morning Light on Ponderosa Pine, 11×14, oil on linen panel, © Nelia Harper
1. Add to your fine art collection.  I have updated my website with a HUGE sale.  AND, free shipping/delivery is included.  Over the past two years, I have diligently studied the landscape through drawing and studying with Deborah Paris.  Perhaps you have seen a change my approach to landscape painting?

2. Start a fine art collection.  When you grow up with prints and reproductions, it’s easy to under estimate the power of owning a piece of fine art.  Seeing the bushstrokes, the vibration of color, and how the light reflects off the paint is an experience that can only be enjoyed first hand.  Now is the perfect time to start your own fine art collection.

3. Commission a piece of fine art for your yourself.  Do you have a favorite tree or location?  Would you like to have a memory of that piece hanging in your home?  I have room in my schedule for 2-3 commissions this fall.  After all, being able to paint rather than waitress would be much preferred.  Contact me to discuss your idea.  
 
Rocky Shore, 8x10, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
Rocky Shore, 8×10, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
A Hint of Spring, 12×12, oil on linen panel, © Nelia Harper
Mountain Meadow Study, 8×10, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper
4. Commission a piece of fine art as a gift.  Perhaps you and a love one share a favorite location or you have a memory you’d like to treasure.  We can work together to create the perfect gift for your loved one.

5. Give the gift of art.  Whether it’s a commemorative gift, or you’re searching for an unique gift, the gift of fine art will wow any recipient.

6. Gift Certificates.  Not ready to pick out a piece of artwork for someone else?  Give a gift certificate in any denomination and give them the joy of choosing the right piece for their home.

7. Donate.  I know several of my friends are minimalists.  No problem!  I have set up a simple way for you to contribute through donation.  No fancy website. No Go Fund Me page.  Just a simple link to donate to tuition and travel expenses.  Every little bit helps.  Whether it’s $5 or $500, you’ll receive a surprise gift in return.
 
Greener Pastures, oil on panel, 9×12, © Nelia Harper

8. Continue to support the journey through likes, shares, and comments on social media.  All of your interactions help to spread the word and give me moral support.  Although I’m not one for sharing many details of my life in public, knowing you are there and encouraging me, makes all the difference.

9. Connections.  Do you know anyone in the Duluth, MN area that may be hiring?  I’m looking for evening and weekend work (right now, I’m open to ideas).  Inexpensive living accommodation connections would be great too.

10. Last but certainly not least, your prayers and support.  Change is never easy and just thinking about student life gives me flashbacks to being a poor college student.  Your prayers for safe travel, good health, focus, time for study and time for family are greatly appreciated.

Last Ship Date – August 21st

A Quick Note on Frames. I have listed most oil paintings unframed and pastel paintings with the frame. Almost any piece can easily be framed for your convenience.  They range in price from $25 to $200 depending on the size of the artwork with an average of $85.

Change Is In the Air

Next Stop Avery House, 8×10, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper

I have some incredible news to share with you.  In fact, it’s so exciting, I can hardly believe it’s true.  

As many of you know, I came to art later in life.  Although it’s something I always enjoyed, creativity wasn’t allotted much time, as I focused on pursuing a ‘serious’ career.  In fact, It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s that I followed my inner creative voice, making handmade cards, working with paper and ink, making some of my own clothes, and designing knitted projects.  

Starting around 2010, a dear friend and I would get together regularly at her home to create art.  We focused largely on paper, collage, and mixed media, working primarily in ink and watercolor.  One summer, her Aunt Katie came to visit and we spent an afternoon creating together.  At over 80 years old, Katie put pencil, pen and watercolor to paper, making simple images from her mind and memory.  Small paintings magically appeared on her paper. In that short week, I saw the door to an art career open for the first time.  It was just a crack, but there was enough room to let the light shine.

About 2 years later, my friend Shirley passed from cancer, and I knew it was time to make a change.  I enrolled in a 6 week acrylic art class with a local teacher, and I was hooked on painting.  

For the past six years, I hobbled together an art education through drawing classes at the local community college, workshops with various instructors, self-study, online classes, almost daily drawing and painting from life, studio work, plein air painting, and a mentorship with Deborah Paris.  My focus has been on landscape painting with some still life, portrait and figure drawing and painting added here and there.

Where Is This Going?

Well, after much deliberation and reflection, I decided to take a leap, and applied to the Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art.  I’m so thrilled to share that I have been accepted to attend this fall.  I feel elated, intimidate, excited, scared, and just about every other feeling you can imagine.  

Mostly, I feel hopeful about where my career will go as an artist, and the discipline and skills I will develop in the years to come.  This path is not easy.  I’ll be working part-time to pay for living and travel expenses and attending classes Monday-Friday from 9 am – 5 pm with breaks for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Break.  

Needless to say, I cannot thank you all enough for your support and encouragement on this journey.

How You Can Help

Over the next week, I will be photographing and posting new artwork, hosting an online sale of all prints, greeting cards, and artwork.  If you are looking for early Christmas presents, here’s a great opportunity!  Or, if you have been thinking about requesting a commission, I have room in my schedule for 2-3 commissions before the holidays.

And, for the minimalists out there, you are welcome to donate to the cause.

While the journey will be long and challenging, it is also exciting.  You are welcome to join me on Facebook or Instagram as I share updates on this journey.

Thank you for your love and encouragement along this path!

Walk With Me

How does one capture the feeling of wind, the scent of salt on the air, or the crush of sand beneath one’s feet?  Can we create the movement of clouds scuttling and forming across the sky?  Or the sun bouncing off the ocean bottom as the waves crash along the shore?

Can the ocean’s expanse be conveyed to someone who as never stood on the edge of the sea? Or must you have also tasted salt on your lips, and felt the sand squish between your toes?

Standing on the beach with the wind blowing and the waves crashing, I created a small oil painting.  And I wished I could hold the moment forever.  That I would always remember what it was like to walk the beach, and watch the clouds race across the sky.  That I could recall the feeling of the sun on my back, and how the clouds formed over the island and disappeared across the sea. Would I remember the wispy twist of the pine trees?  Could I sit in my studio of recall the rustling of palm fronds?

Back in the studio, I returned to that study. For a moment, those paintings brought be back to the beach. And, from them, I created this pastel painting of Cayman Islands beach.

Walk With Me, pastel, 10x20 © Nelia Harper
Walk With Me, pastel, 10×20 © Nelia Harper

The painting will be on view May 15 to June 22, 2019 at the Western Colorado Center for the Arts (the Art Center) in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Opening Reception is June 7th, during First Friday Gallery Walk.

Lake Life, 16×20, oil on linen

Lake Life, 16x20, oil on linen  © Nelia Harper
Lake Life, 16×20, oil on linen © Nelia Harper

During the heat of last summer, I was commissioned to create a plein air painting of a backyard and garden.  Not only was the painting planned as a Christmas gift for her husband, the painting also commemorated the work he did on the garden in preparation for their daughter’s wedding.

I was honored to be part of their special time, and painting undisturbed in their backyard with a gentle breeze, the calmness of the lake and the profusion of flowers was my version of a painter’s paradise.

Between the heat and a short window of her husband’s absence, I had two days for painting on location.   The client offered a little guidance, sharing the work that he had done and the plans for their daughters wedding. To make the most of the time, I quickly scouted the yard, looking at various compositions and taking photographs to review later that day.

Working from memory and a few on-site sketches, I suggested three viewpoints and ideas.  We agreed on the final composition.  The first day, I placed the main masses, creating the composition and the foundation for the painting.  The next day was spent refining the drawing, and creating the profusion of flowers and balancing the color while remaining true to the feeling of chaos and order.  

I wanted an impressionistic feeling throughout the painting, a sense of a hazy summer day, with the lake peaking through the trees and the light bouncing off the flowers.

“Reflections of You”, 16×20, oil on canvas board

Reflections of You, 16x20, oil on canvas board, © Nelia Harper
Reflections of You, 16×20, oil on canvas board, © Nelia Harper

Every time I look at this piece, I think of our annual summer trips to the Snowy Range.  Memories of hiking to the top of the 13,000+ peak, rock climbing the crumbling granite, and hiding from lighting in a copse of trees during a downpour fill my mind.

There was the day we hiked through a field of elephant ear orchids searching for moose.  Or, the time we snowshoed over late spring snow and slid down the glaciers with my niece (who was 8 at the time). How many mornings did we wake before dawn to photograph the sunrise reflected in the silent pools of water?

Just as our memories from childhood are precious, so too are the memories we create as adults with those we love. The ritual of packing the truck, charging up batteries, putting emergency gear together, stashing provisions in the pack, and planning the trip embeds each memory deeper into our souls and the fabric of our lives.

Now available and on view at our 7th Annual Chasing Light show.  Our show continues through Saturday at 6 pm.  Details here.

River’s Song, 11×14, oil on linen

River’s Song, oil on linen, 11×14

River’s Song, 11×14, oil on linen is now on view and available at our 7th Annual Chasing Light Art Show that continues through this Saturday.

Based on a plein air painting of the Poudre River, I brought the study back to the studio to create a larger more developed version.

The clouds were playing hide and seek with the sun that day, and the breeze toyed with our easels. The light played continuous tricks on my eyes, so I focused on shape, composition and color notes.

Back in the studio, my goal was to create a sense of movement against the solidity of the rocks and a feeling of autumn’s glow on the distant bank, as well as a feeling of cold water and warm light, deep pools, rocky ledges and light reflecting in and through the water.

This along with other plein air and studio paintings from 2018 are on view and available through my website or the Carnegie Center for Creativity through Saturday. Details here.

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