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!

On the Cob – Day 10 Strada Easel Challenge

"On the Cob", 6x8, oil on canvas panel, © Nelia Harper
“On the Cob”, 6×8, oil on canvas panel, © Nelia Harper (Sorry for the glare.)


I love harvest time.  For as long as I can remember, my father planted a large garden.  And, he still does.  I loved to help him.   As I placed corn kernels, hunks of potato, and tiny onions in the ground, a feeling of hope and promise filled me.  I marveled at the straight rows, and the little seeds that grew into giants.  Planting miniature versions of vegetables felt like a million little possibilities

In August, we could start to pick the corn.  Pulling away the husk, was like unwrapping a present.  Under the papery wrapper, rows and rows of sweet kernels waited for a slather of butter and salt.  We devoured those ears of corn on the cob.  Fresh green beans, cucumber salad, and baby potatoes completed any meal.  Even though I don’t have a large garden, I still love to plant seeds, and see those little seeds reach for the sun.  Especially love it when I can step outside to ‘pick dinner.

Although I didn’t pick this ear of corn from my garden, I still delight in knowing that a seed created this ear of corn.  And, there’s nothing like the taste of fresh corn on the cob, slathered in butter and salt!

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

Day 9 – Gourdness – Strada Easel

My gourdness this was tough!

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


Ok, truth be told, painting isn’t easy.  People who say, “Oh, that must be so relaxing…” or “That must be so meditative”, have not done this.  No.  It is not relaxing or meditative.  It’s hard.  Ok.  It’s fun too.  And, very rewarding.   Secretly, I love the challenge of painting something to look realistic.  Also, I love painting outside and really ‘seeing’ the landscape or object.

Last week, I picked up this gourd at the farmer’s market, along with the mini pumpkins.  The challenge here was to get the fans of the gourd to go up, out, back, and down in light and shadow.  What made this painting particularly difficult was the variety of light colors next to dark colors.

Ok.  Now, to go draw some trees.

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

Day 8 – Soderberg Trail at Horsetooth

"Tutu Tree" 8x10, oil on canvas panel, © Nelia Harper
“Tutu Tree” 8×10, oil on canvas panel, © Nelia Harper

I’m about to start a four week class on drawing and painting trees. So, why not challenge myself with this funky cedar tree on a day with dilute light? I was intrigued by the shape – it looks like it’s wearing a tutu. And of course the yellow of the rabbitbush is always fun.

Cedar Tree with rabbitbush
Cedar Tree with rabbitbush


The fences made everything a bit confusing, so I tried to simplify it. The light was so diffuse (from the wildfires) that the values of the entire scene were a challenge. Everything look uniformly flat.

I can’t say that it was a successful painting, but it was a great day to be out painting with friends.  A light shower came through tonight, I’m hoping that will help with the air quality.

Day 6 & 7 – Sunflowers and Squash – Strada Easel Challenge

Day 6 – Sunflowers!

Things got a little wild and crazy in the studio today. I made a trip to the farmer’s market, looking for dinner. Instead, I found these golden goodies. How to decide?  Veggies or flowers? I opted for a bit of both.  Who can resist such lovely sunflowers?

"Sunflowers", 9x12, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper
“Sunflowers”, 9×12, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper

I decided to go a little larger (9×12) for the sunflowers and I’m glad I did. I don’t think one bloom would fit a 5×7!

The first day, I blocked in the shapes and developed the vase a bit.  Soon, the light was gone and I was tired.  I decided to do the finishing details on the second day, hoping to come back to the studio refreshed.  Instead, I found the sunflowers had flopped over during the night.  I made some attempts to adjust them.  In the end, I decided it wasn’t worth fighting nature and went to Plan B.


Day 7 – Plan B – Giant Pattypan
"Giant Pattypan" 5x7, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper
“Giant Pattypan” 5×7, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper (cropped)


The sunflower vendor (Tierra Bella Farm) had this huge yellow pattypan.   I decided to keep the dark purple background from yesterday to contrast the yellow.  This was another good challenge in shapes.  Funny how those little bumps can present such a challenge!

Now that I’ve painted it’s portrait, this squash might move to the chopping block for dinner.

Tomorrow, it’s time to get outside.  I plan to join the local PAAC (Plein Air Artists of Colorado) group for some plein air painting.  Hopefully we will have clear skies and good quality air.  I really hope that the NW (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and California) receive some much-needed help from man and nature in bringing these wildfires to an end.

Oh, If you want to see all of my pieces created for the challenge (to date), you can head on over to Instagram or Facebook.  And, use the hashtag #stradaeasel to see what others are up to in the Strada Easel Challenge.

You can see Days 1-3 here.

Day 4 is here.  And, Day 5 is here.

African Doll – Day 5 Strada Easel Challenge

"African Doll", 8x6, oil on canvas panel, © Nelia Harper
“African Doll”, 8×6, oil on canvas panel, © Nelia Harper

I guess it was the trip down memory lane yesterday, that prompted me to attempt this African doll painting for Day 5 of the Strada Easel Challenge.

I found this doll when I lived in Namibia. (Nambia is located on the bottom of the African continent between South Africa and Angola.)  I’m not sure what the initial attraction was to the doll, perhaps she reminded me of when my mother sewed our clothes.

My sister and I each had a doll that resembled us. My favorite feature was the way their eyes closed when they were lying down. Mom even made matching outfits for our dolls.

Of course, this African doll looks nothing like me!

Unlike the sandstone statues, hand-woven baskets, and various trinkets that felt mass-produced for the tourists, this doll appeared to be made with focus and care. Although the doll doesn’t look very happy, I was quite happy to buy her. I felt that someone put attention and effort into shaping her face, and sewing on the trim. Whoever made her seemed to care about doing good work.

She sits on my shelf, wearing her light pink dress, trimmed with red bric brac and a zigzag of green thread. I also have a clay pot, some woven baskets, wooden bowls, and hand-carved statues that might make future paintings too.

I think my childhood doll is around here too. Hmmm…I just might have to find her. Altough, there’s a good chance she’s missing an eye…

If you want to see all of my pieces created for the challenge (to date), you can head on over to Instagram or Facebook.  And, use the hashtag #stradaeasel to see what others are up to in the Strada Easel Challenge.  You can see Days 1-3 here.  Day 4 is here.


Curiosities – Day 4 Strada Easel Challenge

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

Are all artists collectors?  Since I was a little girl, I loved to collect things – especially miniature versions of things.  Perhaps that is why I enjoy painting small?  For Day 4 of the Strada Easel Challenge, I chose to paint a vignette from my collection.

Knowing I had a little more time to paint today, I chose to paint this little fella from my collection of curiosities.  I purchased this little sandstone elephant years (ok decades) ago when I lived in Africa.  It seems to me that it was in Zimbabwe…but…well, it was so long ago, I just don’t remember.

And yet, every time I look at him, I remember being there.  I remember the heat, the markets, matatus (local minibus transportation), the smell of the local fermented brew, bodies packed together, and dust.  I remember stepping off the plane onto the tarmac: the red earth contrasted against the endless sky and tufts of grass.  Visions and moments from late nights, long bus rides, friendships, conversation and adventures flicker across my mind.  The memories are endless.

While I’m painting, I can’t think about those things.  Memories must be pushed aside.  Instead, I focus on light and shadow, the transition of planes and edges.  I think about color, perspective, and brush strokes.  But, it’s all there, in the back of my mind, ready to burst into my conscious mind.  Someday, I’ll go back.

If you want to see all of my pieces created for the challenge (to date), you can head on over to Instagram or Facebook.  And, use the hashtag #stradaeasel to see what others are up to in the Strada Easel Challenge.  You can see Days 1-3 here.

Strada Easel Challenge Day1-3

Do you paint daily? Well, the announcement of the Strada Easel Challenge to paint from life for the month of September has spurred me to paint daily for the next 27 days (we are already three days in).  Although I like the idea of blogging every day, I don’t think that will happen too!

My goal for the month is to focus on color in light and shadow.  For some reason, this seems relatively simple outdoors.  When painting en plein air, I can easily see the shadow in leaves or in the forest.  The form and cast shadow of rocks are fairly easy to see too.  But painting those colors when there are so many colors in the object is a challenge.

Most of the month, I will work from still life, simple objects on a simple surface.  And, if the weather cools off a bit, I’ll head outside to paint too.  I’m also off to Steamboat, CO for a plein air festival later this month, so I’ll have a full week of outdoor painting to look forward to.

Day 1 “An Apple a Day”, 5×7, oil on panel.
"An Apple a Day", 5x7, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper
“An Apple a Day”, 5×7, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper

A painting a day.  An apple a day. (Haha)  It’s tempting to paint 30 apples of different varieties, but I need to keep this simple, so I started with what I had on hand, an akame apple from the farmer’s market.

My goal was to paint the apple, using white only in the highlight.  I still have work to do creating plane changes, but I was very happy with the red color and using cool and warm colors.

Day 2 “Cocozelle Zucchini”, 5×7, oil on panel.
"Cocozelle Zucchini", 5x7, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper
“Cocozelle Zucchini”, 5×7, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper

AKA – A study in Green Stripes

This little striped gourd came from the garden.  Freshly picked, I kept the little tendrils on just for fun.  Here the goal was to not only get the color in light and shadow but to also create a sense of foreshortening by having the bottom of the zucchini closer to the viewer.

I still need to work on turning the under planes.  Those areas are bit tricky.

Day 3  “Mini Pumpkin”, 5×7 oil on panel.
"Mini Pumpkin", 5x7, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper
“Mini Pumpkin”, 5×7, oil on panel, © Nelia Harper

AKA a study in orange.

It’s almost that time of year.  Although temperatures soared to a 100 degrees today, cooler weather and the end of summer are near.  A trip to the farmer’s market today resulted in a feast of gourds!  I picked up four lumpy, bumpy gourds and two mini pumpkins.  I was a little tired from the heat and an early morning hike, so I stuck to just one mini pumpkin for an exercise in orange.

Again, getting the pumpkin to ‘turn under’ at the base was a bit of a challenge.  I also wanted to limit the use of white on the pumpkin, using Naples Yellow Light and Cad Yellow to lighten the orange color.  I felt that the shadow got a little ‘dirty’.  So, I’m going to try this again using Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber and create a larger gradient of warm and cool hues of orange.

Having used the same background for all three has been really fun.  I have found each one a little easier and more enjoyable.  Testing out various brush strokes, using the knife, incorporating texture, and using both opaque and transparent paint has been a real pleasure.  I ‘see’ a little more each time and although the paintings are quick and finished in one sitting, I’m enjoying the process.

I hope you enjoy the paintings too.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 11