Lake Life, 16×20, oil on linen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

River’s Song, 11×14, oil on linen

River’s Song, oil on linen, 11×14

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

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

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

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

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

7th Annual Chasing Light Invitational Dec 5-15

Golden Days, 8x10, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
Golden Days, 8×10, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper

It’s nearly time for our 7th Annual Invitational of Northern Colorado Plein Air Artists Chasing Light Art Show.  This year, the show focuses on small works.  I’ll have several field studies and a couple of studio works based on those plein air studies.  Here are the details:

7th Annual Chasing Light Small Works Art Show
December 5-15

Artist’s Reception & First Friday Gallery Walk 
December 7th, 6-9 pm

Historic Carnegie Building
200 Mathews Street, Fort Collins, CO
Please note:  we are upstairs in the Idea Lab this year.

The gallery is open Wed-Sat 12-6 pm.  There will be artist demos on Saturday afternoons too.   We look forward to seeing you there.


Steamboat Springs Plein Air

Aspen Etude, 10x8, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
Aspen Etude, 10×8, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper (SOLD)


This fall, I drove to Steamboat Springs with wildfires raging to the north and smoldering to the south.  Questions swirled.  Would we have decent visibility?  Would we be detoured on the return trip?  Last year was cold, snowy, and rainy.  What would this year bring?  Well, we were lucky.  Most days, the smoke drifted off to the northeast, out of the valley.  The days were warm and sunny and once again, the Steamboat Art Museum staff chose outstanding locations.  Being able to paint on private ranches in secluded groves of trees, looking out on scenic vistas, and surrounded by fall beauty is a breath of inspiration.

My favorite painting, aspen etude (above), was painted from the deck of our condo.  I was able to work on the painting in the afternoons when the warm light lit up the twists and turns of the tree.

Here are the other paintings that I turned in for the show.

Winds of Change, 12x9, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
Winds of Change, 12×9, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper (SOLD)


Promise of a New Day, 8x16, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
Promise of a New Day, 8×16, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper (SOLD)


Autumn Wonder, 7x17, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
Autumn Wonder, 7×17, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper (Available)


Each one presented challenges and learning opportunities.  Hopefully I’ll be able to return again next year.

Lean Into the Light

A picture perfect fall day along the Poudre River. As I painted this scene, I thought of poet Mary Oliver and this phrase from her book, Winter Hours.

Lean Into the Light, 8x10, pastel
Lean Into the Light, 8×10, pastel

Sometimes, I think, were I just a little rougher made, I would go altogether to the woods – to my work entirely, and solitude, a few friends, books, my dogs, all things peaceful, ready for meditation and industry-if for no other reason than to escape the heart-jamming damages and discouragements of the world’s mean spirits. But, no use. Even the most solitudinous of us is communal by habit and indeed by commitment to the bravest of our dreams, which is to make a moral world. The whirlwind of human behavior is not to be set aside.

Mary Oliver, Winter Hours

Alas, I’m a creature of habit and companionship and won’t trade my painting friends.

Was the Strada Easel Challenge Worthwhile?

It’s the end of September and that means it’s the end of another 30 Day Challenge to draw or paint from life every day for 30 days. Sponsored by Strada Easel, this is the third challenge I’ve completed. As you may recall from this post, I hemmed and hawed over whether to participate this time.  Was the strada easel challenge worthwhile?

Select drawings and paintings from September Strada Easel Challenge.
Select drawings and paintings from September Strada Easel Challenge.

Like everyone else, there are so many demands on our time, and when I look back, I have to ask myself the question, was it worth it?  In a word, YES.

I’ll admit, the first time I did the challenge, my goal was to win an easel. (That didn’t happen.)  The second time, my goal was to understand form, and the change in color from light to shadow.  I painted so many fruits and vegetables!  You can see that post here.

This time, my goal was to revisit  and improve my drawing skills.  Even though I planned to paint from life, I also committed to drawing every day for a minimum of 30 minutes.  I drew in the evenings, after dinner, usually while listening to the US Open or while watching a movie (this only worked with movies that didn’t have subtitles – ha!).  I had a notebook, several ideas, and picked things from my daily life.  Most evenings, I found myself drawing for nearly two hours!

Several days were devoted to painting still life or plein air. Between painting with our local plein air group, painting simple still life, and participating in the Steamboat Plein Air event, that covered almost half the month.  On the days that I either traveled or focused on studio work, I picked up the pencil for drawing.

The biggest challenge was dealing with the ‘hiccups of life’.  My sweetheart had to go in for surgery (all is well now) and spending three days and two sleepless nights in the hospital made things quite difficult.  Surprisingly, I found that turning to drawing while I waited, or while he rested, helped me to relax too.  Rather than feeling obligated to draw, I found solace in quieting my mind.

Finally, it was an exercise in letting myself off the hook.  If I only had 20 minutes, that was ok.  When I was feeling stressed out, that was ok.  I drew or painted anyway, and I did my best to notice how it affected my work.  Each and every drawing or painting is a self-portrait.  What we feel comes through in the brushstrokes and line.  Some drawings were quick and loose and messy.  Some paintings fell apart or felt too stiff.  Each time I put pressure on myself to perform, things fell apart.  When I was relaxed, rested and focused, everything came together.

Perhaps what was most worthwhile was seeing the change in my work from one challenge to the next.  I can see improvement in color mixing, turning form, growth in my confidence as an artist, and improved stamina.

For the first challenge, I found the pace exhausting.  I was taking an online course (drawing from life), traveling, blogging, and many days I was painting in the rain!  It was too much. I felt too much pressure to post and create something ‘good’.  The second time, I kept it simple with 5×7 (or smaller) paintings and few days outside (it was January after all!) and that took the pressure off.  This time, I had the stamina for almost daily painting.  On the days I didn’t paint from life, I was still painting in the studio.  On those days, drawing from life was incredibly rewarding.  Almost like having dessert at the end of the day!

The bottom line, have a goal.  Have your materials ready ahead of time.  Paint small.  Plan your time.  And go easy on yourself.  The reward truly is in the doing.

Coming Up – 34th Annual Fort Collins Historic Homes Tour

The 34th Annual Fort Collins Historic Homes Tour is coming up September 15th.  Northern Colorado plein air painters have been invited to paint at the historic homes this year, and have a pop-up art show and sale at the Avery Carriage House (108 N Meldrum).

Throughout the summer,  artists painted on location in Old Town, at the Avery House, the Water Works, and various locations around Fort Collins and along the Poudre River.  On display during the tour, is a painting I created of the Historic Avery House.

The Avery House

Built from the sandstone quarries just outside of Fort Collins, the Avery House was built in 1879.  According to the Poudre Landmarks Foundation (PLF) website, “members of the Avery family lived in the house until 1962 when it was sold. Poudre Landmarks Foundation, Inc., was formed in 1972. The group worked with the City of Fort Collins to purchase the home in 1974 at a cost of $79,000. PLF then took responsibility to oversee restoration of the house.”

In addition to hosting tours, private events, and weddings, PLF hosted a tea at the Avery House this past June.  We were invited to paint at the event.  Imagine our excitement when the attendees arrived in period costumes.  We felt as though we had stepped back in time (except for when a cell phone appeared!).

About the painting

During the event, I was able to photograph the men and women dressed in period clothes.  Using those photos, drawings of the home, and color studies made on location over the course of the summer, I then created this painting that depicts the Avery House as it might have been over one hundred years ago.

Step Back in Time, 16x20, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
Step Back in Time, 16×20, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper


Home Tour Details

The historic home tour includes the Avery House, the Water Works and six private homes.  While the tour is a ticketed event, the art show is free and open to the public.

The pop-up gallery will be open, September 15th from 10 am – 4 pm. 

All artworks are available for sale that day. 

Local plein air artists will also be on-site at the homes and buildings during the tour.  Plein air paintings painted during the tour are available for sale from the artist.  A portion of the sales will support Poudre Landmarks Foundation in maintaining and preserving these historic homes and buildings for the public to enjoy.

For a list of the homes, details on the tour, art sale preview and to get your tickets, visit for more information.

Turning, 8×10 plein air

Plein Air days are the best days. September light in Rocky Mountain National Park when the leaves are turning makes everything even better.

Painted with the PAAC, Northern Colorado crew at Cow Creek in Rocky Mountain National Park this morning. Blues skies, the start of golden leaves and cool morning temperatures.

Turning, 8x10, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper
Turning, 8×10, oil on linen, © Nelia Harper

As I was painting, I heard voices of various instructors in my head.  Paint something beautiful. Make every brush stroke count.  Start the finish, finish the start.  Make brushstrokes.  Each painting requires a tremendous amount of thought.  Composition, color mixing, color harmony, movement, gesture, paint quality, form, and how the piece holds together.


Lessons from the Estes Valley Plein Air Quick Draw

Sunflowers, 10x8, oil on board
Sunflowers, 10×8, oil on board, © Nelia Harper

Yesterday, I went up to the Estes Valley Plein Air Quick Draw with friend and artist Andrea Gabel.

We went to cheer on Jenifer Cline and pick up some tips and watch the artists paint, and see the art show.

We wandered around, looking at easels, brushes, paint tubes, and thumbnail sketches. We said hello to many artists we knew and encouraged them.

As the start drew near, the tension in the air was almost palpable. The artists tensed, brushes at the ready. The bell rang, and I expected them all to start running. I think their hearts and adrenaline pumps did!

Being a spectator, I tried to be objective and withold judgement on the variety of starts and subject matter.

We watched the artists work as we walked back and forth from one to another, watching the paintings progress. So fascinating!

Some artists were bold, and confident. Some used their whole bodies and some chatted with the spectators.

Others hid from the crowd. They futzed and fretted, dabbing at the paint and the canvas. Closed in on themselves and furrowing their brows.

At the end of the day, when the paintings were hung, we could see where people held back, played it safe, made timid brush strokes, and worried. We could see who felt confident and self-assured.

As we chatted over lunch, dissecting the experience, a few things were clear. First, all paintings look better in a frame. Second, the bold expressive paintings that had clear composition and value range were preferred.

We both vowed to be bold(er) in our painting. More variety of thick and thin, variety in movement and brushstrokes, harmonious yet interesting color. Better to be bold and wrong than timid and futzy. How do we use this knowledge to improve? How does one become a bold painter? Confident? Expressive?

Practice was our best guess. So, today, my aim was to be bold and expressive in painting these sunflowers.

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