Heirloom Tomatoes

posted in: Oil, Still Life | 0

Heirloom Beauties was inspired by yet another trip to the Farmer’s Market and a haul of heirloom tomatoes.  The good folks from Honeyacre Farm devote their loves to growing luscious heirloom tomatoes, meaty, flavorful bell peppers, and solid cucumbers the size my arm.

"Heirloom Beauties", 8 1/4 x16, © Nelia Harper
“Heirloom Beauties”, 8 1/4 x16, © Nelia Harper

Because they grow the produce in a greenhouse, they arrive early to market, well-stocked.  While most other vendors ply last year’s potatoes and a few spring greens, these heirloom beauties kick-off the season and one’s taste-buds.

Arriving at the market early in the season makes it easier to chat with the vendors too.  No need to wait in line under the baking sun either.  Peggy from Honeyacre was happy to help me select the tomatoes while she chatted up other customers too.

I added some spring flowers (Stock) to the setup.  (What the name lacks in originality and interest, it makes up for in smell.) The delicate flowers create a lovely perfume and texture.  A couple of small tomatoes finished up the setup.

I designed this still life to create a bold statement.  I wanted to work with bright cadmium paint and explore vibrant color. To do this, I choose a deep red backdrop to complement the tomatoes and stock flowers as delicate texture to contrast  the smooth tomatoes.

Luckily, I was able to enjoy the models for dinner too!

Bobcat Oasis – New Oil Painting

posted in: Oil, Plein Air | 0
"Bobcat Oasis", Oil on Canvas Panel, 12x16, © Nelia Harper
“Bobcat Oasis”, Oil on Canvas Panel, 12×16, © Nelia Harper

How many times have I pulled on my backpack and headed for a nearby park to hike, think, look and ponder?   Whether I have a lot on my mind, or I just feel the need to get out into nature, Bobcat Ridge Open Space is a ‘go-to’ spot. There, I am free to wander, wonder and ease back into myself.

As I wind through the tall grass, I look for deer, elk, rabbit, turkey vultures, coyotes, and bear.  In the spring, I listen for the early call of the meadowlark.  And, I hope that I might spot an elusive Rocky Mountain Bluebird. As my feet carry me into the foothills, my mind is free to think or not.  Inevitably, I find myself seeking out new compositions, looking for the change of seasons in my favorite spots and planning my return.

This cottonwood has been calling to me since last fall.  Although I missed the color change last year, I knew it would make a great subject this summer.  After waiting through winter and spring, summer finally arrived. I packed up my plein air gear, hiked out along the trail (a good mile or so with 30+lbs) and set up on a lovely summer day.  As the clouds shifted and changed in the sky, I chatted with the tree and those passing by on the trail.  As I painted, I thought about taking a nap or having a picnic under the tree’s canopy.  Then, about 2 hours into the painting, I heard thunder.

Behind me, building up in the west, a series of thunderheads were forming.  It was time to pack up and either take cover or head for the car.  Debating between hunkering down and heading for the car, I gambled on the car.  Sure enough, just as I reached it, the rain began to fall.

Back in the studio, I put on the finishing touches.  While I finished the painting, I reflected on the oasis that Bobcat Ridge has become for me.  I hope you have a place where you can go to seek solace from the everyday worries and connect with nature too.

Exploring the Poudre River Canyon – Tributary

posted in: Oil, Plein Air | 0
"Tributary", Oil on Canvas Panel, 16x12, © Nelia Harper
“Tributary”, Oil on Canvas Panel, 16×12, © Nelia Harper

This summer, I spent a little time exploring the Poudre River Canyon.  Formally named Cache la Poudre by the french trappers in the 1800s (where they stashed gunpowder in a raging blizzard), the Poudre (poo-der) as locals call it, begins in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and drops over 7000 feet and flows through Fort Collins before it merges with the South Platte River in Greeley.

The Poudre River is Colorado’s only nationally designated “Wild & Scenic” River, and even with such high status, the Poudre remains a bit of a hidden gem.  Which is fine with me.

Highway 14 follows the river for miles, and much of the land on either side is undeveloped, partly because of the steep canyon walls.  However, there are plenty of campsites, places to fish, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and hiking along the river.  And, because the road leads to Walden, CO, northern access to RMNP, State Forest State Park and very little human habitation, most of the folks traveling Hwy 14 are there for recreation.

Fellow artist, Andrea Gabel and I spend two days and one night camped out along the river early this summer, exploring, painting and breathing in the fresh air.

I painted this 16×12 oil painting along a hidden tributary.  I have driven by this area countless times and never knew what  was hidden away.  We started the day at the break of dawn, drove a short distance from our campsite, and hiked out to see what we could see.

The sun was just coming up over the cliffs and began to filter through the trees.  Both Andrea and I fell in love with this picturesque spot.  We listened to the hum and throb of the water, watched the light shift and change, followed what we later learned were skunk tracks, and reveled in the beauty of the day.

Now available. $375 framed. Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to ad this to your collection.

Painting Pastel Peaches

posted in: Still Life | 0

Summertime is such an exciting time for still life painting.  I’ve been looking forward to painting pastel peaches from life for months (and enjoying the models after!).

At this year’s Expressions Art Exhibition, I have 9 pieces on display.  All of the pieces were painted from life (either started en plein air or a studio still life).  One of my favorite paintings is this little peach, the foundation for a larger still life (below).

Peach Study
"Peach Study" 5x5, Pastel, © Nelia Harper
“Peach Study” 5×5, Pastel, © Nelia Harper – SOLD

Each year, Morton’s Organic Orchards sets up their fruit stand at the nearby farmer’s market.  They begin with cherries that are so deep and dark in color, flavor and sugar that I feel ‘drunk’ after just a few morsels.  Following on the heels of the cherries, the peaches arrive.  Clingstone peaches appear first – small and sweet.  Then, giant freestone peaches arrive by the truckload, covered in peach fuzz.  They line up, ready to be turned into pies and jams and in my case, ice cream and smoothies.

With my preference for representational realism, I wanted to create the feeling of the peach fuzz, the softness of the fruit and a feeling of warmth that comes with summer.  Although I first attempted the painting in oil, painting pastel peaches is the perfect combination of medium and subject.

Summer Sweetness
“Summer Sweetness”, 11×15, Pastel, “Peach Study” 5×5, Pastel, © Nelia Harper

After the study, I was ready for a larger version.  Luckily, I was able to borrow this hand-turned walnut bowl from fellow artist, Steve Germaine. (He is also showing at our Expressions Art Show).  After a quick trip to the Farmer’s Market, where the vendor kindly pulled out a few less ripe peaches, the fun began.

Again, I wanted to convey the roundness of the peach along with the weight.  These little orbs of sweetness are surprisingly solid.  I wanted the viewer to feel as though they could be picked up and held, as well as eaten.  Combined with a few clippings from the garden, the stage was set for painting.

I used a combination of Girault, Terry Ludwig and super soft Sennelier pastels on Pastelmat paper.  The larger piece measures 11×15 inches.  The painting is available for $450 plus shipping.  Please contact me if you are interested in adding this to your collection.

Details on our Expressions Art Exhibition can be found here.

Expressions Art Show – Opening July 26th

posted in: Events | 0

You Are Invited To Attend our 2nd Annual Expressions Art Show

Our group of eight has been hard at work creating paintings, fiber sculptures, wooden bowls, mixed media artwork, modern art, large art, miniature art and visual and kinetic works that will inspire and delight.

2nd Annual Expressions Art Show

July 26th – Aug 5th

First Friday Art walk, and Artists Closing Celebration, with live entertainment
Aug 4th, 6pm to 9pm

Featuring the fine work of:  Kay Dudek, Steve Germaine, Steve Grey-Wilson, Nelia Harper, Patty Hughes, Jennifer Spencer, Christine M Torrez, and Laura G. Young

Location: Community Creative Center, 200 Mathews, Street, Fort Collins, CO

Hours: Wednesdays – Saturdays, 12pm to 6pm

Admission is Free, Open to the Public

If you are looking for a gift for yourself or loved one or getting started on your Christmas shopping, there will be pieces to fit all budgets.  Artist will be on-site doing painting demos and available to answer any questions and most accept commission work.

I’ll be updating my website with new pieces over the next few days, so stay tuned for show specials.  You can also see some ‘sneak peeks’ on my @nelharpart instagram account.

Here’s a video clip of a recent plein air painting in progress.  The wind blew so hard, I had to finish this painting in the studio!

Let me know what questions you have, or if you would like more photos.

I look forward to seeing you at the show.


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 www.PaintSedona.com.

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 rabbitbush (aka rabbitbrush) blooms, we know that summer has come to an end in Colorado, and winter is on the way.  Hiking through the fall landscape, the flower glows in luminous yellow. It’s as if the bush wants to expand the sun’s glow just a bit wider and longer.  When we move into winter, rabbitbush provides the only spot of color.  Eventually, the blooms turn to seed and blow away.

Not only does rabbitbush give 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 rabbitbush during winter and early spring when plants are dormant. Yellow rabbitbush provides late summer and fall forage for butterflies.  Browsed by large game and livestock,rabbitbush provides desirable fall forage for cattle, sheep, horses, elk and antelope.  It’s also 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 color and volume to the landscape.  And, if you’re in New Mexico, you’ll hear it referred to as Chamisa.  Native Americans used rabbitbrush as a yellow dye, to make a medicinal tea, and for chewing gum.

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.

While doing some plein air painting, I came across this gigantic bush.   It still had several of its summer blooms. Startled by the sheer size of the bush and enthralled by the sky and frozen pond, I knew this would be my next painting.

I hoped to convey the drama of Colorado’s winter sky.  Will the storm blow in or move on?  I also wanted to create a sense of texture and the feeling of windswept space.  By creating such a large bush, I hoped to instill a feeling of the size and magnitude.  How old is this bush?  What has it seen?  How long will it remain?

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.

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