Governor’s Art Show Plein Air Art Festival

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The Second Annual Governor’s Art Show Plein Air Art Festival and Auction will take place this Saturday, May 20th.  They have invited painters whose work is on display at the art show as well as local artists. You can see the Governor’s Art Show at the Loveland Museum through May 28th.

Join me for the Governor’s Art Show Plein Air Art Festival and Auction

The art Festival and Auction is free and open to the public.  You are welcome to watch artists at work between 10 and 3:30 on Saturday.  Artists will be located at Centerra & Chapungu Sculpture Garden, downtown Loveland and Sweetheart City Winery.

I’m excited to participate in this year’s festival.  I will be painting at Sweetheart City Winery in west Loveland (5500 W Hwy 34).  And, I will have a completed and framed painting available in the auction.


The art auction will be held at the Rialto Theater in downtown Loveland at 5:00 pm.  Bids start at $100, which is a great opportunity to add to your collection.  With 50 artists, there will be plenty of art to choose from.

Parking Downtown

There are several places downtown for free long-term parking.  Most downtown streets offer free 2 hour parking.  Here is a map to help you out.

So far, the extended forecast looks good for a day of painting outside!  I look forward to seeing you there.

Road Trip Part Two: Plein Air Painting in Sedona

posted in: Behind the scenes, Plein Air | 1
Painting along Oak Creek

Part two of our road trip focused on plein air painting in Sedona, Arizona.  Arriving in Sedona always feels a little magical.  Flagstaff is gorgeous with it’s snow capped peak, but turning off I-17 onto 89A, and weaving down the canyon with sheer drops, falling rock, multi-colored rock walls and Oak Creek roaring, is really special.

We arrived Sunday evening and quickly made it to our Airbnb rental, a little house called Chap’s Cottage.  Located next to Oak Creek, and only minutes from Schnebly Hill, we were lucky indeed.  The cherry tree out front was just beginning to bloom, giving us a show of pink all week.  The creek blocked almost all of the noise of ATVs going up the road, traffic from town, and the drumming of the neighbors.  Tucked away, it felt like I was on retreat.

After a day of exploring, laundry and restocking the fridge, I joined Michael Chesley Johnson and two other painters for four half-days of a plein air painting workshop, “Exploring the Verde Valley”.

Four Days of Painting with Michael Chesley Johnson

Day one was spent on the edge of Sedona, overlooking Thunder Mountain.  The focus of the demo was making simple shapes with distinct values using a simple block-in method.  Following Michael’s lead, I painted this juniper tree with a hint of the valley and rock in the distance.

Looking toward Thunder Mountain and a huge juniper.

Day two, we met at Michael’s studio and explored the creek in his backyard.  The demo for the day was use of color studies.  Having seen others do color studies, I thought what a great idea, but didn’t explore it further until Michael showed us the value of doing small color studies, how to benefit from doing them, and seeing a color study in action.

Color Study 1 (30 mins, not quite done)
Color Study 1 (30 mins, not quite done)
Color Study 2 (30ish minutes)
Color Study 2 (30ish minutes)

Day three, we moved further afield to Jerome.  Formerly a copper mining town with over 15,000 residents in it’s hey-day, the town was built on a 30 degree slope. Filled with brothels, hotels, bars, etc., Jerome was abandoned after copper prices dropped.  

As artists sought out inexpensive accommodations, they slowly rebuilt the town and created an attraction for tourists with plenty of art to choose from (not to mention bars!)  Each year, more of the buildings tumble down the side of the hill during storms.  In fact, several shells were all that remained of several buildings.
That day, Michael demonstrated how to paint a complex scene by creating a clear center of interest and eliminating excess detail, while hinting at objects.

On day four, we painted at the Sedona Heritage Museum, a great place for a picnic lunch. While we were there, it was incredibly quiet and peaceful. You wouldn’t know that only a few blocks away there was gridlock traffic and tourists shoulder to shoulder.  Also, two girls from France were doing a documentary on Max Ernst. They filmed Michael and several of us for their show.  Pretty cool!

Michael Chesley Johnson at the beginning of his demo – blocking in shapes.
Additional Exploration

Since the workshop only went from 9-1, there was plenty of time to explore in the afternoon and evening.  One afternoon, I hiked up Schnebly Hill and painted this 12×16 as the sun was setting.

Painting at Schnebly Hill

Another evening, we searched out Cathedral Rocks.  Being later in the day, I wasn’t sure I would have time for a painting, so I brought my camera and sketchbook.

Cathedral Rocks at Sunset

I also painted on the grounds of our little cottage.  There were several vignettes to choose from, including these little yucca plants next to the patio.  The cottage was picturesque too.

Chap's Cottage, Oil, 10x10
Chap’s Cottage, Oil, 10×10
Yucca Courtyard, Oil, 8×10

The last morning, I returned to Schebly Hill for a final go at painting the light and shadow on the rocks.  While the painting wasn’t quite finished, I was pleased with my application of the lessons learned during the week.

Schnebly Hill, oil, 9×12
Key Take Aways/Lessons Learned

The most helpful hint was to find three values that meet such as light, shadow and sky.

  1. Compare the colors (temperature and value) of these shapes in a small area, mixing small amounts of paint before committing to the complete block-in.
  2. Get the shadow shapes in right away.
  3. Decide what’s in the light and what’s in the shadow.  It’s either/or.
  4. Go with your best guess. Typically,  I want to ‘get it right’, which can lead to a lot of frustration and uncertainty.  Going with the ‘best guess’ is quite freeing.
  5. Do color studies.  I’ll be doing a lot more of these in the future.
  6. Seek first to understand.  Although this is easier to say than do, slowing down and really looking at light, shadow, shape and composition has been the most helpful practice of all.

As Michael went through each demo, he talked through his process which was very helpful and easy to follow.  Additionally, we reviewed our paintings each morning and discussed various aspects of technique, materials, etc. before painting each day.

Home Again

As soon as I got home, I laid all of them out to dry and to decide what adjustments to make.  Some of them I will leave as is, others I will touch-up.

Although there wasn’t time to ‘paint it all’, my sketchbook was a great way to highlight and remember the images from the trip.  

If you are in the area, it’s well worth it to join one Michael’s workshops for a memorable and valuable learning experience of plein air painting in Sedona.  You can find his workshop schedule at

PS: By the way, if you visit Jerome, be sure to stop at the Flatirons coffee shop.  They make a delicious cup of coffee, and I had a piece of the fresh-baked blackberry scone that was divine.

“Curious” A Lingering Idea

posted in: Pastel Paintings | 0
Curious, Pastel, 12x12, © Nelia Harper
Curious, Pastel, 12×12, © Nelia Harper

Do you ever have ideas that linger in your mind, calling for attention?  This painting came about from a lingering idea, one that resurfaced time and time again.

This little deer and I spotted each other as I walked along a hiking trail.  We watched one another with curiosity.  I managed to get a cell phone shot, but there was too much missing information.  Until a few weeks ago, I wasn’t sure how to approach the painting.  Slowly, the idea began to resolve.  The colors began to take shape, the pattern of light and dark began to emerge, and a square format seemed to be a good option.

Often, I get an idea in my mind for a painting, but I’m not ready to paint it, yet.  The idea sits there.  Maybe it’s an image from a hike, a trip, song lyrics, or a poem.  Sometimes, images come to mind, and they rattle around for a while.  Some evolve slowly, over years, waiting for the right season and the right light.   Sometimes, I have to travel to paint them.  There are many ideas that need more practice and experience (portrait/figure).

Occasionally the ideas disappear.  Other times, they press forward, calling to be brought to life.  This painting feels like the culmination of lingering idea, one of those images that came to mind during a walk in the woods (and a really crummy cell phone photo).  I thought it over, revisited the photo, explored ideas, and let it sit.  Now, the idea persists and wants to grow.  Maybe it’s an idea that is take root?

I’d been practicing creating order from chaos (in this master copy of Richard Schmid’s work) and the timing seemed right. Several elements were similar, and I was beginning to see order out of the chaos.

Add this to your collection.

This painting is available, unframed.  $400.  Contact me.


Plein Air Painting Road Trip Through Red Rock Country

It’s time to hit the road for a plein air painting road trip through red rock country.


Leaving Colorado, the mountains were covered in snow.  Driving through snow, canyons, tunnels and desert, my brain was so full of images, I felt overwhelmed.  Here’s what I wrote in my journal. (Scroll down for the photo highlights – this ended up being a loooong post.)

From the Journal – Fort Collins to Palisade, CO

It’s but a glimpse
and then


Sunlight on dry winter grass
Lit stalks
A halo of light
Against a rock wall in shadow

We hurtle down the road, 75 mph
The moments flicker past

Rocks capped with snow edge the Colorado River
The water, sea green
Edged in deep violet and maroon
Islands of golden yellow ochre

How does it do that?

Flowing to Mexico
It won’t get there

Buttes of sandstone rise in steps for giants
Powder coated juniper jut from crevices
Wind sculpted cornice
Backlit pines
Wet sandstone
Undulations of silt, clay, basalt, gypsum

Crackled rivers of earth

Embattlement and Grand Mesas
A sandstone prow
A headwall of layered ochre umber and sand

What would that look like at sunset?

The wheels turn
Around the corner
Through the tunnel
Over the pass

A rotoscope of images

Composing in my mind
Union Pacific, American Flag, river,
rising red sanstone, weathered, crumbling
Willow, grass, sage, leafless cottonwood

Fallen rock
Gullies of snow and ice
Frozen waterfalls
Undercut formations

Who did it a shelter?

Warm sun
Cold air
Melting already

What will this look like in spring?

Photo and Painting Highlights

Much of the time has spent driving, and the wind has been relentless.  There hasn’t been much time for painting. Yet.  In the  meantime, here are a couple of highlights from the trip.

Glenwood Canyon

The light barely washes over the tops of the pines.

Colorado River.

Isn’t the soft color reflecting in the water beautiful.  Notice the red of the bush and the darker red of the rock.

Fisher Towers in Castle Valley.There was a heavy blue haze in the air.  Coming around the corner, the valley opens up.  Notice how green the river is?

Mexican Hat

Aren’t the colors of the rock incredible?  And, this is through a car window going 65 mph!  I wish we’d had time to stop here and paint.  The colors and textures are too cool.

Rock Totems

Just behind our cabin, these rock formations were constantly changing in the light.  Sometimes deep orange, other times red, purple, and even a light mauve

Watercolor Journal

I took a little time to update my sketchbook with some of the passing images and snapshots that I wanted to hold in my head.  Amazing how a little memorizing and a quick cell phone shot can be just enough to create a small painting.

The towers of Monument Valley.

I’m in love.  Red rocks, rabbitbush, blues sky…ahhh…

Left Mitten and Jesus. I think this might be my favorite shot from Monument Valley.

As I was painting a similar scene later that day, a man came up to me and started speaking Navajo. Once he realized I was a tourist, he switched to English and asked if I found Jesus. I laughed. I sure did, I replied. I’ve been looking all my life, and there he is.

Have you found Jesus? He’s right there, looking out on Monument Valley.

(I think that’s his favorite joke.)

Sedona – Schnebly Hill – Both Monument Valley and Sedona offer a view at every turn.  Not too far from where we are staying, we found this.

I’m excited about a week of plein air painting in red rock country. Traveling, painting all day, getting so much sunshine, being in an energy vortex, and taking in a new location can be pretty exhausting, so feel free to follow along on Instragram (@nelharpart and @nelharpix) for the highlights as I may not be able to post much here.


Rabbitbrush New Painting and New Gallery!

posted in: Pastel Paintings | 0
Rabbitbrush, 16x20, pastel on board, © Nelia Harper
Rabbitbrush, 16×20, pastel on board, © Nelia Harper

When rabbitbrush (aka rabbitbush) blooms, we know that summer has come to and end in Colorado and winter is on the way.  Hiking through the fall landscape, the flower glows in luminous yellow.  Then, as we move into winter, rabbitbrush is often the only color to be found against the snow, before the blooms turn to seed and eventually blow away or get eaten.

Not only does rabbitbrush provide relief of color against the monotonous grass and dull yellow found in winter, it provides cover and nesting habitat for sage-grouse, small birds and rodents. Black-tailed jackrabbits consume large quantities of yellow rabbitbrush during winter and early spring when plants are dormant. Yellow rabbitbrush provides late summer and fall forage for butterflies.  Browsed by large game and livestock, it is considered desirable fall forage for cattle, sheep, horses, elk and antelope, and spring forage for deer.

While Colorado is known for its yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), you’ll find it across the American west as Crinitaria viscidiflora, Ericameria viscidiflora, ericameria nauseosa or as Douglas, green, low, sticky-leaf, rubber, gray, and viscid rabbitbrush.  Or rabbit bush.  As more folks turn to xeriscaping, the plant provides welcome and volume to the landscape.

And, if you’re in New Mexico, you’ll hear it referred to as Chamisa.  Native Americans reportedly used rabbitbrush as a yellow dye, to make a medicinal tea, and for chewing gum.

While doing some plein air painting, I came across this gigantic bush.   It still had several of its summer blooms. Related to the sunflower, they are incredibly resilient, requiring little water, thriving in the full sun at elevations of 5,000 to 9,000 feet, and growing from 2 to 6 feet in alkaline, clay soil.

In other news…

I’m excited to share that I’m now represented by the Art Center of Estes Park!  You will soon find my pastel and egg tempera paintings available for purchase at the Art Center along with prints.  The next time you are in Estes Park, be sure to stop by and check it out.  More details here.

Batman in Gotham City – Oil Painting, 12×16

posted in: Behind the scenes, Oil | 0
Batman - Final version
Batman in Gotham City, 12×16, oil on panel (It’s still wet here, so there’s a bit of glare and the colors show up brighter here than the actual painting.)


Over Thanksgiving, while sitting with my nephews at breakfast, I shared pictures of my recent paintings with them.  I told them I had a show coming up, and they started asking questions about painting and selling paintings.

A few minutes later, Lucas, who is about to turn 8, said, “Will you paint me a picture of Batman?”  His eyes lit up at the idea, and the excitement on his face was irresistible.  “Sure!  I could paint a picture of Batman for your birthday present,” I replied.

Of course, I had to get a rundown on the most recent Batman vs. Superman movie from his older brother (which I haven’t seen).  He says, “Wonder Woman is in too.”  (Oh boy.  I think I caught a gleam in is eye.)

From there we began to discuss ideas.  Did he want a portrait?   Just batman?  Up close?  Just the symbol?  We volleyed ideas around, and then there was a pause, “Wait,” he said, his mind going back to our earlier conversation.  “Do I need to pay for it?” A look of worry and concern crossed his face.  How considerate, I thought.  He gets it.  And, he’s only 7.  How cool.  “No. It will be my gift to you.”

I returned home, hung the December show, got over a cold, enjoyed the holidays and pretty soon, January was upon us.  With an end of January deadline, I had to get started.  Painting from imagination is quite different than painting from what nature offers and there was prep work to do.

The Idea

I had a solid idea in my mind… Batman overlooking Gotham City with the bat signal shining in the sky.  (I’ll save Superman and Wonder Woman for another time.)

There were a few pieces of criteria.  First, I didn’t want it too scary.  Second, I didn’t want a cartoon version.  And, I needed to paint it fairly quickly.

Next step – Research and Gathering Images

I started with a google search (gotta love painting in the modern age of technology).  And, of course I watched the trailer for the current Batman vs. Superman movie.  It sure looks intense!  The trailer was enough for me.  Though I have to say, the appearance of Wonder Woman at the end of the trailer was great. (“Is she with you?”  “No, I thought she was with you.” So silly, but funny and well, wow.  I can see why she made an impression on my nephew – ha!)

A google search for batman, Gotham City, New York, London, St. Paul city cathedral, NYSE, and various skylines.  I didn’t want to copy a picture, but combine elements from many places.  Here are a few of the images that provided inspiration.

Ideas, places, buildings and images that inspired this painting.
Ideas, places, buildings and images that inspired this painting.


The Painting in Stages

From there, it was a matter of building the painting.  I played around in Photoshop a bit first, then created this sketch.

Initial sketch of Batman & Gotham City. Lightly painted with options to modify.
Initial sketch of Batman & Gotham City. Lightly painted with options to modify.


I knew I would need to change the buildings and shapes, so this stage was very light and just to give me a rough idea of placement.  I wanted to get to the color right away, so I did a thin wash of pthalo blue and ultramarine blue in the background.  While it was wet, I wiped out areas for buildings and further developed the composition.

Batman - Stage 2
Batman – Stage 2

Now for the fun part. Using various photos (above), I started to block in the buildings.  The Twin Towers, which my nephew will never know in person, the cathedral from St. Paul (the capital of his home state), the empire state building, some buildings that resemble Minneapolis, New York and London.  As well as some generic looking buildings.

Batman - Stage 3
Batman – Stage 3

Using a mirror, I was able to get Batman to stand upright.  He looked right on the painting, but not in the mirror, he kept leaning and hunching over.   The glow of the light is much stronger here than the real version, because the paint is wet.

Batman - Final version
The Final Version – it’s still wet, so there’s a bit of glare and the colors show up brighter here than the actual painting.  Sorry for the shadow on the top (easel).

Although I didn’t get a picture of the painting in the frame, the varnished version saturated nicely.  I could have spent weeks developing the buildings and the colors, creating more detail on batman and the sky.  Thankfully, I had to stop so it could dry and get in the mail.  Happy birthday Lucas!

Here’s a painting he did for me.  I love how the palm tree floats in the sky.

Lucas, Age 7
Lucas, Age 7


“It’s Not Spring Yet” Painting in January

posted in: Oil, Plein Air | 0
"It's Not Spring Yet", oil on canvas, 8x10 © Nelia Harper
“It’s Not Spring Yet”, oil on canvas, 8×10 © Nelia Harper

Painting in January is often cold and snowy.  Most days, I layer on the long underwear, fleece lined pants, gloves, hand warmers, hat and wool socks.  And then there are days like today when temperatures rise into the 40s.  The sun gently glowed through the clouds, lighting up the grasses in shades of gold against cool silver blue.

Knowing what political turmoil was occurring around the country, in the media and online, I basked in the sun and listened to silence.  While walking out the park, another painter and I started to chat about today’s inauguration.  Another woman commented that she couldn’t sleep, she’s so excited for tomorrow’s Women’s March in Denver.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all that is happening in our country, and what may or may not happen, and I choose to paint.  Painting is my way of showing how much I love our country and our nation.  How wonderful to have the freedom to paint outside on public land.  The gratitude I felt for our earth, clean water, safety, and all the people that have made this possible over centuries was present.  I felt a calmness and quiet in my mind.

I found this lovely tree along the banks of a frozen pond  As I painted, I thought to myself, it feels like spring.  The snow was melting, the path was muddy.  If I didn’t know better, I would think it’s March.  But, it’s not spring yet.  There is still plenty of snow and cold ahead of us.  Today, I enjoyed the reprieve.

It was such fun to paint the little clouds in the sky and the endless tree branches.  I could have painted all day, soaking up the sun while watching the sky change, marveling at how wonderful it is to live in this country, and how important it is to enjoy what we have.

Pateros Creek Bridge

posted in: Oil, Plein Air | 0
“Pateros Creek” oil, 10×10 on panel

Before it was named Cache la Poudre, our local river was called Pateros Creek.  I just learned that bit of local lore the other day.  Of course, if I drank beer, I would probably know that as a local brewery is named after our river’s earlier name.  Either way, it’s one of my favorite places to paint.  

The river stretches for miles along the north and east sides of Fort Collins.  Each season, there are new opportunities to paint.  I was excited to paint this foot/bicycle bridge the other day.

Architecture is always a challenge and combining it with snow, water and leafless trees was a good challenge, especially when the temperature was hovering around the freezing mark.

Cold temperatures make for stiff paint. Several times, I dipped my brush in the paint, but the paint was so stiff, the brush wouldn’t pick up the paint.  Thank goodness for medium.


2016 Year in Review

posted in: Behind the scenes | 0

As part of my studio organization project, I took inventory of 2016.  I thought I’d share my 2016 year in review with you.  I was a little surprised by the results, especially the number of paintings I completed.  My goal was to do a plein air painting every week, but I knew I would miss here and there due to travel, weather, studio work and art shows.  Surprisingly, I still did 51 plein air paintings.

"Last Painting of 2016" oil on canvas 8x10 © Nelia Harper
“Last Painting of 2016” oil on canvas 8×10 © Nelia Harper (now available $150 – contact me)

Here is the breakdown:



Studio 16 (seven of which were experimental and didn’t really reach completion)

Plein Air 11

Oil Paintings

Studio/Workshops 24

Plein Air 40

Egg Tempera

7 paintings

Art Shows

I spent a lot of time entering and planning art shows this year.  I entered 4 juried shows, and I was accepted into 3.  I also participated in 2 group shows, and did my second solo show during the month of June, selling 6 paintings plus a number of prints and greeting cards.  Of the three juried shows, I received the Guerilla Painter Award at the Pastel Society of Colorado for Bobcat Autumn.


I just keep learning more and more about managing my website.  It takes a certain amount of tenacity and stubbornness on my part.  I added a zoom feature to the shop, so you can see better detail on the paintings.  And, I had planned to do at least 2 blog posts a month and ended up with 24 posts.  They weren’t as consistent as I wanted, but I’m creating the habit.


I was very lucky to be able to attend three workshops this year in addition to taking some oil painting classes.

Mike Beeman – 1 day pastel workshop

Margaret Jensen – 3 day oil workshop

Bright Light Fine Art – David Leffel, Sherrie McGraw & Jacqueline Kamin – figure in drawing and oil was an absolute highlight.  I’m still processing what I learned.

Classes with Jeanne Mackenzie


A highlight of the year was meeting Richard Schmid at his retrospective in Denver and seeing his work in person.  His painting is influencing my work, and I’m very excited to see where it goes.

I also made my own traditional gesso panels for egg tempera.  It was much easier than I thought it would be.

My main goal for 2016 was to learn how to paint in oil, and I feel really good about what I have accomplished.  One of my oil paintings (Follow Cow Creek) was accepted in the 100 Years of the National Parks show, and I could see the progression of skill over the course of the year.  Besides painting as much as possible, I learned about canvas, supports, glues, paints, color mixing and brushwork.  And, I’m proud to say I have completed 15 color charts.

Color Charts
Color Charts

If you are just learning to paint, I can’t recommend the painting charts enough.  Richard goes into great detail in is book Alla Prima.  A must read for any beginner (or experienced painter).

I was very proud of our trip to Las Vegas, where I worked for multiple days doing sketches, photography, plein air studies and then created a studio painting (you can read about that process here).

On a personal note, I also trained to summit Long’s Peak (14+ miles round trip).  Although we missed the peak due to weather, it felt great to be in shape and at altitude again.  And, I got my studio organized (finally).


As we go into 2017, I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals.  And, while it isn’t very quantifiable, I know that I want to go deeper into what I have learned.

I will continue to learn from the masters by copying their work – it’s intimidating but so interesting and helpful, and use the process of plein air to studio to develop ideas.  I intend to paint en plein air weekly (some weeks more, some weeks less).  Learn to paint portrait and figure.  Paint a couple of still lifes.  Participate in juried and group shows. Write on this blog, especially show more of my work here.  And, maybe even apply to a gallery or two, and sell more work.

If you have questions about plein air, pastel painting or anything I’ve mentioned on my blog, feel free to leave a comment or contact me.

I wish you a wonderful 2017.

Snow Study Along the Poudre River

posted in: Oil, Plein Air | 0
Snow Study, 10x10, oil on panel © Nelia Harper
Snow Study, 10×10, oil on panel © Nelia Harper (Available $150 – Contact me.)


After sub-zero temperatures, it sure felt good to get back outside to do this “Snow Study”, the first painting of the year.  Our plein air painting group met at the Environmental Learning Center along the Poudre River.  We weren’t the only ones anxious to get out and enjoy the snow.  The trails were already well trampled by skis, snowshoes, boots and running shoes.

Painting snow sure is fun, and challenging.  It’s good test of values, paint application and keeping your brushes and brushstrokes clean.  Those hillocks have piles of paint.

"Snow Study" 10x10, oil on panel.  On site along the Poudre River.
“Snow Study” 10×10, oil on panel. On site along the Poudre River.

I was drawn to the contrast of light and shadow on the snow covered rocks and the light green of the ice.

If you would like this painting for your collection, contact me.

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