Painting Pastel Peaches

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

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


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.

“Curious” A Lingering Idea

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.


Rabbitbrush New Painting and New Gallery!

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.

“It’s Not Spring Yet” Painting in January

"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

“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.


Snow Study Along the Poudre River

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.

Harry’s Story – the Unknown Gift of Art

One of the reasons we create art is to provide the gift of beauty to others. Once it leaves our hands, the influence of that artwork is unknown.  It’s hard to know what the unknown gift of art will be for another.  What are the stories they bring to the image?  What is meaningful to them?  What emotions do they feel when they see a painting?  How do they connect to our work?

I’d like to share Harry’s story with you.

Last winter, during our holiday art show, an elderly gentleman started chatting with me about this print I had on display.

The Courtyard Egg Tempera on Panel 7 1/8x10 © Nelia Harper
The Courtyard Egg Tempera on Panel 7 1/8×10 © Nelia Harper

He asked me questions about the location, and we chatted for a bit about our various travels.  He used to travel for work and lived all over the world.  The print reminded him of a place where he had lived.  I shared with him the story of Bagnoreggio and the process of creating the painting. He dug into his pockets for some cash, and bought the print.  I signed it for him, and after chatting a few more minutes, we wished each other a ‘happy holiday’ and parted.

This year the story came full circle.  As I was setting up my prints for our annual holiday show, fellow artist Jenifer came over and asked me, “Do you remember Harry, that older gentleman that bought a print from you last year?”

“Oh, yes.” I replied.  “He bought  a print of the Bagnoreggio courtyard.  I remember we had a really nice talk, and he was so excited about that print.”

“He sure was.” she said.  “Shortly after he bought that print, his health started to decline.  He died a few months later.  He kept that print right next to his bed.  And, he looked at it every day.  It reminded him of the places he had lived and kept it close to him.  I would like to think that it reminded him of happier times.  He was a gentle, kind and happy soul and remained that way through the end – happy and positive.”

I was so stunned by the story that the weight of it didn’t touch me until later.  I picture him, frail and aging, remembering the good times, knowing that the end was near.  And, I see him holding that print, thinking of all the times past.

God speed Harry.  Thank you for touching my life.


Plein Air to Studio, Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, Nevada

Earlier this fall, I went on a short trip to Las Vegas to do some painting at Red Rock Canyon outside of Las Vegas, Nevada with the intention of developing a painting from plein air to studio.

(Scroll to the bottom of the post to see the finished studio piece.)

Having been to Red Rock Canyon several times to rock climb, I was familiar with the terrain and landscape.  This time, instead of views from the top of the rocks, I went with visions of painting canyons and cactus from the valley.  Over the course of a week, I painted three oil studies as well as small sketches and watercolors.  Using those paintings and ideas, I created a larger painting in the studio.

Ink and Watercolor Sketch of Pine Creek Canyon
Ink and Watercolor Sketch of Pine Creek Canyon


Designated as Nevada’s first National Conservation Area, the canyon is only 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip  According to their website, over 2 million people visit every year.  Of course, most of those visitors stick to the 13-mile scenic drive.  A few more adventurous folks go for the hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, biking, running, and photography and painting.

 This area is under intense pressure from nearby developers.

For more information on proposed development, read this article

or go to

Plein Air to Studio

The first day was spent taking reference photos.  I also sketched and became re-acquainted with area.  Following the scenic loop, I stopped at pullouts for photos, noting the light and shadows at that time of year.

The photo bellow shows the place I had in mind for the studio painting.  With so many perspectives, possible compositions and combinations, it was hard to narrow it down.  I knew I wanted to get a sense of the grandeur and size, without losing the smallest formation (which is meaningful to me).  I also wanted a sense of scale and a feeling of the arid desert, without being barren.

View of Pine Creek Canyon across the plains.

View of Pine Creek Canyon across the plains.

Day 2-4

Based on my drive-through, I chose three locations to paint.  Each offered a different view & perspective of the terrain.  While composition was a consideration, the main focus was on subject, color and texture. I painted oil studies over three days, studying the angle of the light and shadows, texture and color.

Study 1: 

This first study was certainly not an ideal composition, but the goal was study the rock formations while including some of the vegetation.

Pine Creek Canyon, Study No. 1, Oil on Canvas 11x14 © Nelia Harper
Pine Creek Canyon, Study No. 1, Oil on Canvas 11×14 © Nelia Harper

Study 2:

Moving closer to Mescaltio (the little red rock topped formation), I focused on the single rock formation, especially the pattern of columns, striations and the shadows.  (The formation is actually to my right – outside the photo.)

Study #2 - A closer look at Mescalito in Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, Nevada
Study #2 – A closer look at Mescalito in Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, Nevada


Notice the value study done in marker.  Clipped to the easel, the study keeps me focused.

Study 3:
This study was to further practice the multi-colored rocks and vegetation that was only touched on during study no. 1.

Study No. 3, Oil on Canvas 9x12 © Nelia Harper
Study No. 3, Oil on Canvas 9×12 © Nelia Harper – Drying in the hotel on their complimentary newspaper.


Each of these studies provided the opportunity to practice, become familiar with a new subject and test out ideas, techniques and color.

The pollution was heavy on several days, creating a strong haze that dulled many of the colors.  Luckily, the temperature was below average making mid-day painting quite comfortable.

Of course, being such a popular area, several people stopped to chat, and see what I was doing.  One woman even sent some photos to me (thanks Catherine!).

Painting Red Rocks and Yucca - Photo by Catherine Nichols
Painting Red Rocks and Yucca – Photo by Catherine Nichols
Back in the Studio

Back in the studio, I went through my paintings and photos.  I decided on composition, color palette, and size.  There were still several unresolved problems with the rock formations, so I chose to work in pastel to further develop the ideas and color palette.

The photo references are taped/clipped to particle board and placed on a smaller easel.  After developing the drawing, the next step was an underpainting in oil.

Creating a Storyboard and underpainting in oil.
Storyboard and oil underpainting.


Using the references, the painting was finished over several weeks.

When I showed my recent work to my 8-year-old nephew over the holiday, he exclaimed, “That looks like the desert!”

Ha!  Mission accomplished.

Pine Creek Canyon, Pastel on Pastelmat, 16x20 © Nelia Harper
Pine Creek Canyon, Pastel on Pastelmat, 16×20 © Nelia Harper


Now on display at the Historic Carnegie Building at 200 Mathews Street, Fort Collins, CO.  December 7-10, 12-6pm.   More details from my previous post here. Soon available at Nelia  If you are interested in this painting, please contact me directly.

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