Heirloom Tomatoes

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

"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

"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

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.


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