31 Paintings in 31 Days – paint or draw from life every day

The new year started off with a challenge to paint or draw from life every day for the month of January. One of my “New Year’s Resolutions” is to draw and paint from life more often. What better way to start than by drawing or painting every day?

The goal was to deepen my understanding of turning form in space and make it appear dimensional on a flat surface while understanding the complexity of color in that process.

Here is the result from January.

Of course, finding the time isn’t always easy.  Many paintings ‘failed’.  More than once, I resorted to drawing.  Some days the weather cooperated for some wintry scenes.  Some subjects proved far more difficult than I imagined.

I also experimented with a new Belgian linen (that I love), an alkyd linen that is highly absorbent (useful in certain situations), a Stillman-Birn sketching journal (Zeta Series – love it!), and prepared for an upcoming semester of figure drawing.

The power of practice can never be underestimated.  Thank you to Strada Easel for encouraging us to take on the challenge.

Happy New Year!

You are Invited – 5th Annual Chasing Light Art Show in Fort Collins

Chasing Light

5th Annual Invitational of 

Northern Colorado Plein Air Artists

Featuring Plein Air, Landscapes, Flora & Wildlife Paintings by Local Artists

Marilynn Bradenburger, Jenifer Cline, Ann Delzell, Nelia Harper,

Patty Hughes, Margueritte Meier, Barb Smith, Ron Sutton, Susan Taylor,

Christine M. Torrez, Laura G. Young, and Sue Yuma

"Aspen Meadow", 11x15, Pastel, © Nelia Harper
“Aspen Meadow”, 11×15, Pastel, © Nelia Harper

Location: The Carnegie Building, 200 Matthews Street, Fort Collins, CO

Opening Reception: Friday, December 1, 2017 6-9 pm

Show Dates: November 29- December 9

Gallery Hours: 12:00-6:00 pm on Wednesday-Saturday

I hope to see you at the opening reception or during the regular gallery hours.

Final Painting for the Strada Easel Challenge

30 Paintings in 30 Days – All From Life for the Strada Easel Challenge

It’s really fun to see all of the paintings together.  I look at this montage and I think of the frustration, joy, weather, adventures, hopes and goals of the past month.  While they didn’t all ‘turn out’ and some of them aren’t finished, each one presented a learning opportunity.

There were several days when I didn’t want to paint, usually because I was tired and I did it anyway.  In doing that, I found that one must “paint like you mean it”.  There is no point in pushing paint around, going through the motions or daydreaming.  It’s a complete waste of time and resources.

Day 30 – Monochromatic Tree Study
"Monochromatic Tree Study #1" 7x5, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
“Monochromatic Tree Study #1” 7×5, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper

For the final day, I was on the road, returning home from Steamboat Springs.  I wasn’t sure I would have time to paint, so I did some quick watercolor sketches at a coffee shop in Walden.  Thankfully, I arrived home safely, unpacked and still had time for a monochromatic tree study for the “Drawing and Painting Trees Class” that I am currently taking with Deborah Paris.

While I will continue to paint (almost) every day, I don’t feel compelled to show the world everything I paint.  So, it will quiet down a bit on the blog and social media.  I’m also finding that after the pace of September, I’m ready to slow down, take my time, observe, listen and more deeply experience nature and painting it.

Days 23-29 Steamboat Plein Air Event and Strada Easel Challenge

The Steamboat Plein Air Event brought fog, snow, rain, sun, fun and thankfully very little wind.  Thinking back, I realized I have not been to Steamboat in over 15 years!  I made a trip up there when I first moved to Colorado.  At the time, everything was grandiose, spectacular and breathtaking.  And, if I remember correctly, the return trip was seven hours, mostly stuck in traffic on I-70.  Since moving to Fort Collins, the trip takes about 3.5 hours even though it covers only 165 miles.

The trip began with a drive through the fog, up the Poudre Canyon.  As I crested Cameron Pass, the sky opened into bright blue and puffy clouds.  Crossing over to Walden and North Park, the air was brisk, the skies blue and bright and the foliage in peak color.  Looking ahead, Rabbit Ears pass was clear and there was a painting at every turn of my head.

Coming over the pass, the sky filled with leaden clouds and rain began to fall.  And so the stage was set for the coming week.  Several mornings we woke to ice on the windshields, bear pooh on the driveway, fog covering the Yampa River Valley and other days brilliant sunshine lighting up the fall foliage.

Day 23 – Rainy Day on the Yampa
Rainy Day on the Yampa, 8x10 oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
“Rainy Day on the Yampa”, 8×10 oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
Day 24 – Schoolhouse – Uphill Both Ways – Available at Steamboat Art Museum
"Schoolhouse - Uphill Both Ways", 8x16 oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
“Schoolhouse – Uphill Both Ways”, 8×16 oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
Day 25 & 26 – Elk River
"Elk River", 12x16 oil panel, © Nelia Harper
“Elk River”, 12×16 oil panel, © Nelia Harper


Day 27 – Little Bear TH – SOLD
"Little Bear TH", 11x14 oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
“Little Bear TH”, 11×14 oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
Day 28 – Autumn Surge – Available at the Steamboat Art Museum
"Autumn Surge", 11x14, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
“Autumn Surge”, 11×14, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
Day 29 – My View
"My View", oil on linen, 7x5, © Nelia Harper
“My View”, oil on linen, 7×5, © Nelia Harper


If you are interested in any of the paintings, please contact the good folks at the Steamboat Art Museum directly for the two.  For any of the others, please contact me.

It was a wonderful, well organized week and I look forward to exploring and painting more of the Yampa Valley in the future.

Day 21 and 22 of the Strada Easel Challenge

Day 21 – Rabbit Bush Study
Study of Rabbit Bush 5x10, oil on linen © Nelia Harper
Study of Rabbit Bush 5×10, oil on linen © Nelia Harper

Today, I was tired.  After an early morning hike and drawing, I was tired and didn’t feel like painting.  Going home, having lunch and taking a shower sounded like a much better idea.  But, I knew I was going to do a painting, so no time like the present.  As Preston and Eustace would say, “It won’t get done, if you don’t get started.” (Mountain Men – I love that show.)

I also had some new alkyd primed linen to test out for an upcoming class on drawing and painting trees.

Initially, I started with a large painting.  In the first go, I realized that I was going through the motions, and I didn’t ‘have it in me’.   What was the point of that?  Instead, I refocused, went smaller and asked myself, what can I learn?  If I’m going to paint, then paint like you mean it.

The new goal was to see how the paint interacted with the linen, trying out various brush strokes, knife work, wiping back, and adding layers.  I’m excited to see how future works go on the linen.  It’s very absorbent.


Day 22 – The Morning Lineup
"The Morning Lineup", 9x12, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
“The Morning Lineup”, 9×12, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper

Today, I met up with our Fort Collins Plein Air Artists of Colorado group to paint downtown Fort Collins.  While the other artists focused on Lucile’s Creole Cafe, I looked around and saw the fun light and shapes of the post office trucks.  I really liked how the postal carrier trucks were lined up, throwing shadows on each other, and how the mail boxes did the same.

I knew the postal carriers could leave at any time, so I worked as quickly as I could, simplifying the background and doing my best to indicate the shapes.  It was a really fun painting, and required complete focus during the hour plus I had.  Sure enough, they began to load the trucks and drive away.

Next up, Steamboat Art Museum Plein Air Event – a week of painting in Steamboat Springs, CO.

For More Paintings

To see all the paintings for the #stradaeasel challenge, head on over to Instagram or Facebook to see all of my posts together.  And, use the hashtag #stradaeasel to see what others are up to in the Strada Easel Challenge.  You can also click “previous post” to see the earlier paintings from last week.


Kabocha Squash Study – Day 20 Strada Easel Challenge

Some days are just too beautiful to sit indoors.  Today was one of those days.  Since I didn’t have enough time to drive to a painting location today, I set up my easel on the back deck.  Another scouting trip around the house procured a miniature Kabocha squash. I placed it on a piece of cardboard so that I would get strong shadow shapes.  Boy, were they strong!

"Kabocha Squash", 5x7, oil on canvas, © Nelia Harper
“Kabocha Squash”, 5×7, oil on canvas, © Nelia Harper

I really liked the shadows of the leaves.  Unfortunately, sitting in the sun, they wilted before my eyes!  I did my best to get the shadow shapes and leaf shapes in first.  Even though they are too dark, they sure were fun.  This was yet another great exercise in green, shadow and turning planes.  Still so much to learn…

For More Paintings

To see all the paintings for the #stradaeasel challenge, head on over to Instagram or Facebook to see all of my posts together.  And, use the hashtag #stradaeasel to see what others are up to in the Strada Easel Challenge.  You can also click “previous post” to see the earlier paintings from last week.

Return of the Gourd – Days 17-19 – Strada Easel Challenge

Day 19 – “Return of the Gourd” aka – Study in Orange
"Orange Gourd", 5x7, oil on canvas, © Nelia Harper
“Orange Gourd”, 5×7, oil on canvas, © Nelia Harper

I had my day planned out, and then weather happened.  (Ha!)  Yesterday, I started a 12×9 painting of flowers in a hanging basket. The window of light is limited to about 2 hours before the flowers are completely shaded.  I got a good start on the painting, and I planned to return today.  However, the sky was overcast, the light was completely different, and the wind was gusting to 40 mph.

So, on to Plan B.  Looking around the house, I decided upon this gourd.  I’ve been thinking a lot about trees, especially aspens in color.  While most aspens turn yellow, there are many that turn orange.  So, this made a great subject to study orange and yellow

I have to say, these mini paintings are getting easier.  The first several were very difficult to do.  I’m becoming more comfortable with my process, colors, brush, setup, canvas and all the other materials I use, by painting daily.  It has been worthwhile to devote my time and energy to daily painting for the month of September.

Day 18 – Flower Basket

Here’s the start I made yesterday.  I should be able to return to it tomorrow.  We’ll see.  I also want to get back outside and paint some trees and rabbit bush in preparation for next week.

Day 18 - Flower Planter, 12x9, Oil on Panel, © Nelia Harper
Work in Progress – Day 18 – Flower Planter, 12×9, Oil on Panel, © Nelia Harper
Day 17 – Aspen Study

This painting was another color study of painting light and dark on a light-colored object.  There’s a fair amount of reflected light from the ground here.  However, the shadows and trunk shape are perfect for studying.  My goal was to better understand how to create transparent shadows on a light object without using white – it’s very difficult!  Most white is highly opaque.  Although there are several light transparent colors, it’s a challenge to use them on something as light as this.  I ended up using white on the tree.

"Aspen Color Study", oil on panel, © Nelia Harper
“Aspen Color Study”, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper

I also experimented with a new surface – lead ground by Rublev.  It’s so bright!  I love how white it is. I’m not sure it was fully cured…It felt a little ‘sticky’ and at the same time, the hog bristle brushes made a ‘comb’ effect (as you can see in the green area).  I’ll try it again, but maybe wait longer for the ground to cure.

For More Paintings

To see all the paintings for the #stradaeasel challenge, head on over to Instagram or Facebook to see all of my posts together.  And, use the hashtag #stradaeasel to see what others are up to in the Strada Easel Challenge.  You can also click “previous post” to see the earlier paintings from last week.

Coming Up – Steamboat Plein Air

Next week, I’ll be in Steamboat Springs for the Steamboat Art Museum Plein Air Event.  There should be ample opportunity to paint aspens in color.  I’m really looking forward to it!  If you are in the area, be sure to check out the event and say hello.

Last of Summer – Day 15-16 – Strada Easel Challenge

Yay!  We have passed the half-way point of the Strada Easel Challenge to paint from life every day for 30 days.

After a trip up to Wyoming to paint at Vedauwoo and the Snowy Range, I am back home and back in the studio.  So, you may have already seen these on Facebook or Instagram, but here’s a quick look at the past two days.

Day 15 – Half-way – Yay!

They day was too beautiful to be indoors. So, I setup on the back deck to paint an ever faithful model.  This aspen tree has been shaped to grow away from the deck, which exposes the slender trunk and all the color and shadow.

"Aspen Study #?", 7x5, oil on board, © Nelia Harper
“Aspen Study #?”, 7×5, oil on board, © Nelia Harper

I used a different surface today, partly to use existing materials and partly out of curiosity. It’s an old  Pastelbord by Ampersand that’s supposed to be ok for oil. It’s highly absorbent and felt sticky. Great for knife work, not so great for rubbing back. Maybe with enough gamsol?

The oil soaks right in. Kinda interesting. I have a few more boards around, so I’ll give it another go.

Day 16

For the first time in weeks (months?) we woke to a rainy day. The high today was 67. Although we will still have gorgeous fall days ahead, a drop in temperature generally means the end of summer flowers. I snipped a couple for today’s painting.

"Last of the Summer Flowers", 8x6, Oil on Canvas panel, © Nelia Harper
“Last of the Summer Flowers”, 8×6, Oil on Canvas panel, © Nelia Harper

One of my goals this summer was to paint a bouquet of dahlias. Unfortunately, the timing never worked. We had too many scorching hot days for the flowers to bloom happily. The buds would wither if it was too hot.  Or, I would finally get some blooms, and the timing was off for me.

Hopefully next summer I will have enough blooms for an indoor bouquet.   Better yet, great weather to paint outside.

On a side note…
A few weeks ago, I bought a new phone (my previous phone died). Supposedly the camera was improved. However, I’m finding that it wants to ‘blow out’ the lights/whites. If I adjust in photoshop, the image gets too dark…Hopefully I’ll figure out a solution.

To see all of the paintings for the #stradaeasel challenge, head on over to Instagram or Facebook to see all of my posts together.  And, use the hashtag #stradaeasel to see what others are up to in the Strada Easel Challenge.  You can also click “previous post” to see the earlier paintings from last week.

Have a great weekend!


Wyoming Plein Air Trip – Days 12-14 Strada Easel Challenge

This past week, I had a wonderful time taking a Wyoming Plein Air Trip to the Med Bow Routt National Forest with friend and plein air painter, Andrea Gabel.

Day 12

We started our trip in Vedauwoo, Wyoming (pronounced vee-da-voo) where the aspens were beginning to turn, the rocks glowed, and the earth seemed lit from within.  Over the past 10 years, most of my time at Vedauwoo focused on rock climbing.  Now, I look at the landscape with the eyes of a painter.  One of the reasons I started to paint was to paint places like this.  My first several attempts were absolute failures.  This time, I had a breakthrough.

The day was perfect.  We setup in Central Vedauwoo and had hours to paint.  I chose “Holdout”, a north-facing rock face in the hopes that the light would be slow to change.  I was particularly drawn to the light hitting the edges of the rock and the tops of the trees.  And, I really liked that in contrast of the deep shadow to the golden foreground.

I picked a 12×16 panel, and although I ran out of time to finish the painting, it felt so good to paint large.  My main focus was studying the rock, the cracks, the shape and of course, the color.

"Holdout", 12x16, oil on canvas panel, © Nelia Harper
“Holdout”, 12×16, oil on canvas panel, © Nelia Harper

From Vedauwoo, we drove up to Centennial and the Snowy Range.  We set up camp at the Libby Campground and while Andrea painted, I got to work on drawing leaves and trees for an online drawing and painting trees course.

Day 13

The next morning, we set off for the Snow Range and Lake Marie.  Temperatures were only in the 50s and the wind was blowing (no surprise there).

Luckily, I knew a couple of places to seek shelter from the wind with great views.  Looking at the lake and mountain range, I can hardly believe that this scene was one of my first attempts at plein air painting.  Back in 2014, I carried up my pastel kit, a drawing board, and a large piece of Canson paper.  I set up with a view of the lake and mountain and attempted to put every nuance, angle and color change into an 18×24 painting.  I can laugh at it now, but I had no clue.

And, in some ways, little has changed.  I set up with a view of the lake and the mountain and quickly became enraptured by the angles, colors, and crevices in the rocks, the subtle color change in the water, and the reflections.

With only a short window of time, I placed as many of the elements as I could.  This is one I will definitely revisit this fall.  Perhaps I’ll start again.  Perhaps I’ll finish it.

"Lake Marie", 12x16, oil on canvas panel, © Nelia Harper
“Lake Marie”, 12×16, oil on canvas panel, © Nelia Harper

Of course, once we called it quits, the sun came pouring through the clouds!

Not ready to finish painting, we scouted out some other locations, then headed to lower elevations for some fall color.  We had spotted these trees near our campsite.  Just as we were about to set-up, it started to rain and hail.  Thankfully the storm quickly passed.

"Aspen Trio", 10x8, oil on canvas panel, © Nelia Harper
“Aspen Trio”, 10×8, oil on canvas panel, © Nelia Harper

I’m guessing we had an hour before the wind picked up, and within another 10 minutes, the sky poured out!

Here is Andrea before it really came down.  I wish I’d caught a picture of the deluge!

Andrea Gabel - ready for anything!
Andrea Gabel – ready for anything!
Day 14

I think this is the fastest painting I have ever attempted.  After breaking down camp, we returned to Lewis Lake Trailhead for a morning of painting.  The day started out with a breeze and blue skies.  About an hour in, we had clouds and wind!

I knew the water would change quickly, so I attempted to get the base in as quickly as possible.  The shadow shapes were next.  Then, while the sun was shining, I piled on the color.  I wasn’t able to finish the trees and rocks, or fix the shapes, but it sure was a fun time!

"Lewis Lake TH", 12x12, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper
“Lewis Lake TH”, 12×12, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper

If you ever make it up to the Snowy Range, be sure to wear/bring warm clothes, hat, gloves, handwarmers, a raincoat, and a hat.  I think we used every item of clothing that we brought.  And, be ready for a quick change of weather.  At, 10,800 feet, the Snowy Range is exposed, high alpine territory.  It’s beautiful and stormy.

“Afternoon Snack” – Day 11 – Strada Easel Challenge

"Afternoon Snack", oil on panel, 5x7, © Nelia Harper
“Afternoon Snack”, oil on panel, 5×7, © Nelia Harper

I’m running out of time today!  Monday’s are always busy and today was no exception.  As I was running errands today, I kept thinking, what am I going to paint?  I knew I needed something ‘easy’. (Good luck with that!)   I started out with a couple of boring ideas, and decided to grab a snack before starting.  Viola!  There was the answer.  Gorgeous deep purple grapes.

Initially, I planned to only paint for an hour.  The timer went off and I was close, but not close enough.  I managed to minimize my ‘fiddling about’ to about a half hour.  Just enough time to photograph the painting, do this quick write-up and now head off to an appointment.


If it wasn’t for this 30 day challenge, I would not have painted today.  (Of course, I should be working on my drawing and painting trees class – but I can do that while I wait at my appointment…I hope!).

I’m headed off to the mountains for the next couple of days.  I will be painting and drawing every day, but I may not have internet access.  If not, I’ll post when I return to the world of internet.

Oh, just because I was curious…I converted the image to black and white to see how the values held up.  Isn’t it interesting how light the red actually is?  It looks so dark in color.

In black and white.

To be continued…

Oh yeah, if you want to see all of my pieces created for the challenge (to date), you can head on over to Instagram or Facebook to see all of my posts together.  And, use the hashtag #stradaeasel to see what others are up to in the Strada Easel Challenge.  You can also click “previous post” to see the earlier paintings from last week.  Enjoy!

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