Bird on a Perch 8×10 Pastel Painting

Painting birds, animals and people can be very intimidating.  We all know what they should look like and if we miss the mark, well…we all know it.

A week or two ago, I had the great fortune to work with Mike Beeman during a workshop in Denver.  I was excited to learn his style and approach to creating loose, painterly artwork.  Watching him work felt so freeing!  He made fun, loose marks, sprayed on alcohol for an alcohol wash and developed his birds through shape and value.  It was beautiful and inspiring.

During the workshop, I was happy to create this little bird from one of his reference photos.

"Bird on a Perch" 8x10 Pastel © Nelia Harper
“Bird on a Perch” 8×10 Pastel © Nelia Harper

Umber Shadows and Shades by Terry Ludwig

A brand new box of 30 pastels in Umber Shadows and Shades by Terry Ludwig arrived yesterday.  Today, I took a big breath, broke them in half and tested them out.

Wait!  Did you just say you break them in half? What?!?!?

Yep.  I break them in half.


Three reasons.

  1. I find them easier to use when the are a little smaller – less likely to break from using too much pressure.
  2. One half will go in my studio box and the other half I will try to squeeze into my plein air box (it’s already bursting at the seams).
  3. The smaller size is plenty for plein air.
Umber Shadows and Shades by Terry Ludwig – 30 Pastels

So, how are the new colors?

In one word, scrumptious!

Terry Ludwig Umber Shadows and Shades 30 Piece Pastel Set
Terry Ludwig Umber Shadows and Shades 30 Piece Pastel Set


Ok. I should have photographed them before I put them to use.  They are so much prettier when they are brand new.

Each shade comes in three values.  Once I fill out the color chart (provided).  I then take a photo of the color chart and convert it to black and white to see the relative values.

Terry Ludwig Umber Shadows and Shades 30 Piece Pastel Set
Terry Ludwig Umber Shadows and Shades 30 Piece Pastel Set


As you can see, they are dark and mid-value – perfect for shadows.  In fact, I think several of these will be perfect for painting sandstone rocks – one of my favorite subjects.  A few sky colors and some lighter values for highlights, and this will be a ‘go to’ set.

Here is the painting I completed using only this set of pastels.  A good challenge for sure with so many mid-values.  I let the lightness of the paper come through just a bit to create highlights.

"Un-Hinged" Pastel 8x8 © Nelia Harper
“Un-Hinged” Pastel 8×8 © Nelia Harper


“Un-Hinged” is now available at auction. You can click here to bid.

Revisiting the Glow of Autumn

Spring has been filled with rain, sleet and snow.  Between painting en plein air, I have been revisiting the glow of autumn in the studio with an oil painting workshop.

Each year, I take thousands of photographs.  Some end up in the recycle bin, others I plan to use as reference photos.  Most often though, I move on to something new and rarely do I have the time to revisit a photograph.

Last week, under the tutelage of Margaret Jensen, I had the opportunity to revisit one of my favorite places, Bobcat Ridge and my favorite time of year, fall.  During the course of a three day workshop, we worked from photos, using the Alla Prima technique of painting wet into wet.

Painting alla prima presents several challenges the first being that layering requires a light touch.  Secondly, it’s easy to smear the paint or accidentally pull a bit of the wrong color into places it doesn’t belong.  What makes alla prima so wonderful is that it does pick up bits of the layers underneath.

Both paintings are now available at auction.  Click the photo or the link underneath to bid.

Around the Bend, oil, 8x10, landscape
“Around the Bend” Oil on Panel 8×10 © Nelia Harper


The second painting is just to the left, in the copse of trees.

"A Day of Rest" oil on panel, 8x10 © Nelia Harper
“A Day of Rest” oil on panel, 8×10 © Nelia Harper


Both are now available at auction.  When you click, you will be able to zoom in and see more details too.

Next week the sun returns and so it the greenery of spring!  All of the trees are blooming and soon the cottonwoods will be leafed out.  I’m looking forward to painting more green!

Happy spring!

Coulter Easel Review

Coulter Easel setup and ready for painting
Coulter Easel setup and ready for painting

My Coulter Easel arrived yesterday, and I immediately took it out for a trial run.  Although I am new to oil painting, I’ve been painting en plein air with pastel for nearly a year.  Having already learned several lessons about painting en plein air, I was ready to try my hand at oil painting.

Choosing an easel was a difficult decision.  Most painters I know have 6 or more.  Having painted with our local group, I was able to see other easels in action and talk about the pros and cons of each.  In the end, I chose the Coulter Easel for the following reasons:

Coulter Easel Review – Compact Size

1) Ease of design – super simple

2) Sufficient palette size for mixing paint

3) Time and travel tested by other painters over many years

4) Few moving parts – minimal chance of failure in the field

5) Sturdy construction

6) The panel holder is separate from the mixing area.  This allows the panel to be at vision height and the mixing tray to be at waist height

7) Easily fits multiple panel and canvas sizes

8) Lightweight

9) Adjustable for standing or sitting.  I’m short in height, so I adjusted the legs lower for my height.  I think it would work just fine for sitting too.

Concerns: My only concern was the tripod.  I wasn’t sure that the legs would expand sufficiently for stability and uneven ground.  Update: After nearly a year of use, this has not been a problem.  The weight of my pack has been more than sufficient to keep everything steady.

For day one, I choose to not make any modifications to the easel, simply work with it exactly as is.  I put my paper towels on the tripod handle, brushes on the left, knives, medium and OMS (Oderless Mineral Spirits) on the right.  I used the wood base as my palette (not inserting glass) to keep it light for backpacking and travel.  I simply brushed on several coats of linseed oil and I’ll clean it and coat it again. Using it today, I found that the paint wanted to seep into the wood.  Over time, I expect the wood to fill and create a very smooth surface. (Update: Wiping the palette clean after each use, the wood has taken on a nice patina and has a nice, slick surface.)

The Highlight of the Day

One of the joys of plein air painting in a public area is chatting with those who pass by.  Today, a group of 10-12 kids trooped over to check out our work.  I love the look of intrigue, rapture and excitement on their faces.  As I was painting the last bits, they gathered around and slowly inched forward bit by bit, getting a little closer and a little closer.  It was so fun!  I wished that I could give them all an easel and spend the day painting with them.


Shortly after purchasing the Standard Coulter Palette Box, I went ahead and purchased the mini size.  I have found that the 9×12 mini provides plenty of mixing area.  I prefer this smaller size for local and international trips.  It fits easily in my carry-on and takes up less backpack space.  The only modifications have been to add a small cup holder hook on the inside of each wing (one on the right for OMS and one on the left for a reusable trash bag) and a screw to hold the optional brush holder.   

Here’s a picture of the mini in action.

Coulter Mini on location in Rocky Mountain National Park

Happy painting!

PS:  Of course, once I committed to this easel, I found this one by Joshua Been…several folks in our group have it and they really like it too.

Upcoming Show: 3rd Annual “Chasing Light” Plein Air Invitational

Northern Colorado Plein Air Painters on location
Northern Colorado Plein Air Painters on location

What a year of plein air painting!

Starting in January, with temps below freezing and the wind whipping through the air, I ventured out to join the Northern Colorado group of Plein Air Artists of Colorado.  Each Friday, we met in a designated site to paint regardless of the rain, sleet, snow or sunshine!  Although, I didn’t make it every week (and there were times that I ventured out on my own or with one or two others). I’m grateful for the experience, the opportunity to learn from others, and most importantly the friendships that have been made.

Out of 50+ plein air paintings, I’ve chosen seven of my favorite pieces to share at the 3rd Annual “Chasing Light” Plein Air Invitational that will be held in Fort Collins.

You are invited to attend!




Featuring Plein Air, Landscapes, Flora & Wildlife

December 2nd-13th, 2015

The CCC, Carnegie Building, 200 Mathews Street, Fort Collins, CO

Gallery Hours 12:00-6:00 pm


Opening Reception

First Friday, December 4th, 6:00-9:00 pm

"Riverbend Crossing" 11x14 Pastel © Nelia Harper
“Riverbend Crossing” 11×14 Pastel © Nelia Harper

Participating Artists Include

Kevin Aldrich, Kay Borrett, Marilynn Brandenburger, Jenifer Cline, Ann Delzell, Susan Driver, Andrea Gabel, Mary Giacomini, Nelia Harper, Danna Hildebrand, Patty Hughes, Ken Knox, Margueritte Meier, Christine M. Torrez, Laurie Waddell and Laura G.Young

If you’d like to see us in action, there will be artist demonstrations on Friday and Saturday,  Dec 4 & 5 and Dec 11 & 12 at the Carnegie Building.  Demos will include oil, watercolor and pastel.

I hope you can stop by to see the show.  Of course, if you prefer to skip the party, the gallery is open Wed-Sat 12-6 and the show runs the first two weeks of December.  All of the art is for sale, directly through the artist.  I’ll be posting my pieces online and in the shop over the next couple of days – just in time for holiday gift giving.

PS: The Rocky Mountain Woodturners Association will be there too!

“Riverbend Crossing” – Pastel – Plein Air Painting at Arapaho Bend

Plein Air painting at a new location is exciting and filled with uncertainty.  Pulling into the parking lot, looking around the scene, the first question is: where do I go?  It’s easy to spend a lot of time looking, and not leave enough time to paint.  The second challenge becomes choosing what to paint, when there are so many options available.

This week, the Plein Air Painters of Colorado met at Arapaho Bend Natural Area, part of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas that runs along the Cache la Poudre River (which is constantly under threat of being dammed and destroyed).  And, it is the location of the historic Strauss Cabin, one of the earliest log cabins in the area. The cabin was restored in 1997 and burned by arsonists in 1999. Only stone remnants of the cabin remain.

Strauss Cabin at Arapahoe Bend
Strauss Cabin at Arapaho Bend

Looking around, my initial thought was to paint some old buildings across the road.  There were large skeletal cottonwoods against the backdrop of the mountains. However, the chance to paint trees with leaves was much stronger.  Catching a glimpse of foliage and water, I walked toward one of the ponds, where I spotted a doe and a young buck across the river.  She watched me with curiosity before meandering off through the underbrush.  Not seeing anything of great promise (knowing the light would quickly change), I turned around and headed north, following the river.  As soon as I spotted this train trestle and the beautiful orange of the cottonwood, I setup to paint.

Plein Air Painters of Colorado - Kevin Aldrich and Pam
Plein Air Painters of Colorado – Kevin Aldrich and Pam

I was soon joined by two other painters (Kevin and Pam) and their umbrellas.  One of the many challenges of painting outdoors is the bright light/glare, especially at high altitude.  The shade never seems to be in the right spot!  (You can see Kevin’s painting here.)

Nearly finished, I step back from the scene.
Nearly finished, I step back from the scene.

During the painting, I saw the doe again!  First she was bounding through the long grass, and then foraged in the brush across the river.  Either she didn’t notice us (we were standing so still) or she knew she was safe.  After a couple of hours, I stepped back from the painting to gain a clear perspective before making just a few line/shape/value adjustments.

"Riverbend Crossing" 11x14 Pastel © Nelia Harper
“Riverbend Crossing” at Arapaho Bend along the Cache la Poudre River 11×14 Pastel © Nelia Harper

Riverbend Crossing (and several other plein air paintings) will be available at:




Featuring Plein Air, Landscapes, Flora & Wildlife

December 2nd-13th, 2015

The CCC, Carnegie Building, 200 Mathews Street, Fort Collins, CO

Gallery Hours 12:00-6:00 pm


Opening Reception

First Friday, December 4th, 6:00-9:00 pm

with The Rocky Mountain Woodturners Association



Soapstone Prairie Open Space Plein Air Painting

"Bison Overlook" at Soapstone Prairie Open Space 6x8 Pastel © Nelia Harper
“Bison Overlook” at Soapstone Prairie Open Space 6×8 Pastel © Nelia Harper

Can you feel the wind blowing across the prairie?  It was a cold, blustery day for sure!

Each Friday, the Plein Air Artists of Colorado Fort Collins group meets at a designated location to paint “en plein air” (outside).  This past Friday, we met at the Soapstone Prairie Open Space Park located along the Colorado-Wyoming border.  As I drove north, I left the houses and traffic behind and slowly began to imagine the scene as it was a hundred or even thousands of years ago.  The grasses swept across the vista in undulating shades of ochre and soapstone and sandstone ridges rose in the distance.  Two thoughts entered my mind: #1 It’s going to be cold and #2 This looks like snake country.

I was running late that morning.  By the time I arrived, everyone was set up under a ‘shelter’, painting the broad expanse.  Looking to the west, snow capped mountains peeked out from the clouds.  To the south, waves of clouds and virga (moisture that falls from clouds but evaporates before reaching the ground) pulsed through the sky.

Sure enough, walking along the trail to the group, I heard the buzz of a rattlesnake.  Now, I have to say, that in 15 years living and hiking in Colorado, I’ve never seen a rattlesnake.  I’ve seen bull snakes and garter snakes.  And, more than once, I’ve been startled by a snake basking in the sun on a hiking trail, but this was my first rattlesnake sighting.  Thankfully, it was very cold and the snake was moving slowly.  From a safe distance, I watched it unfurl and move into its den.  It was really cool to see.

Actually, it was cold!  My car said it was 37 degrees in the parking lot, but the windchill quickly moved the temperature below freezing.  We were quick with our brushes and pigments as the cold seeped up from the ground and the wind blew through the shelter opening.  (I guess it’s designed for sun and rain – ha!)  Even with hand warmers, our fingers quickly went numb!

Under the 'shelter' - the Fort Collins Plein Air Artists of Colorado
Under the ‘shelter’ – the Fort Collins Plein Air Artists of Colorado

While it wasn’t the best painting, or the best weather for painting, the day was great fun!  I tested my ‘quick draw’ skills, painting this 6×8 in less than an hour.  And, several folks came by as they looked for the recently released herd of bison.  One visitor told us that the spot we had chosen was once an overlook for the local Indians.  Pretty cool to image this scene only a 150+ years ago, long before Fort Collins ever existed.

And, our group was filled with laughter and joy – the most important element of all!

Photo by Patty Hughes: Left to Right Marguerite Meier, Nelia Harper, Alisha Lee Jeffers, Andrea Gabel, Ken Knox, Laura Young and Christine Torrez
Photo by Patty Hughes: (Left to Right) Margueritte Meier, Nelia Harper, Alisha Lee Jeffers, Andrea Gabel, Ken Knox, Laura Young and Christine Torrez

If you are in the Fort Collins area, come join us at our next paint-out.  Be sure to dress in layers and prepare for the elements!

Click here to bid on this piece.

Autumn Leaves, 8×10 Pastel Painting – SOLD

"Autumn Leaves" 8x10 Pastel on Warm Belgian Mist Kitty Wallis Paper © Nelia Harper
“Autumn Leaves” 8×10 Pastel on Warm Belgian Mist Kitty Wallis Paper © Nelia Harper – SOLD

Fall is my favorite season.  The transition from the heat of summer and the blanket of green to the crisp mornings and bursts of yellow, gold, burgundy, purple, and and orange against the bright blue Colorado sky invigorates and inspires me.

This October has been unseasonably warm (thanks to El Niño or global warming?) and I’ve been lucky to take advantage of it.  Everywhere I turn, there is the possibility of a new painting.  I’ve watched my aspen tree turn from green to gold, the birds gathering the last of the seeds from the neighbors tree, and the cries of the blue jays wake me in the morning.

Close up of a leaf in progress. "Autumn Leaves" 8x10 Pastel on Warm Belgian Mist Kitty Wallis Paper © Nelia Harper
Close up of a leaf in progress. “Autumn Leaves” 8×10 Pastel on Warm Belgian Mist Kitty Wallis Paper © Nelia Harper

I’ve always felt a connection to nature, especially when I was growing up in the woods of Minnesota, but as a painter of nature, I feel an even deeper connection.  Each day, I watch the trees and notice changes, I watch the flowers unfold, the bees collecting nectar, and I watch how the light changes with each season.

In this painting, I looked at the minute details of the leaves, the slight changes in color, the tips of the stems, the curvature as the leaf dried, the spots and flecks, lines and curves.  Each leaf its own portrait.

It’s difficult to describe the wonder and amazement that I feel when I look at our natural world.  The trees, birds, deer, and plants feel like friends.  I hope you have had the opportunity to enjoy time outside too.

Happy Autumn!


Loveland Feed and Grain

"Loveland Feed and Grain" - Pastel - 12x16 © Nelia Harper
“Loveland Feed and Grain” – Pastel – 12×16 © Nelia Harper

The day was perfect, sunny with a light cloud forming in the sky.  The light was bright but not glaring.  The morning was hot, but there was plenty of shade.  I walked around the scene for a bit, chatting with the other painters.  Perspective was going to be a challenge.  Should I zoom in on one spot?  Choose an alternate viewpoint?  I decided to ‘go for it’ and paint the scene.  It would be a good challenge.

I focused on the drawing, using a stick for comparison of angles and lines.  Most of the time was spent correcting and adjusting the lines.  Then, I massed in the shapes and adjusted the values.  About half-way through, a train came roaring by, carrying windmill blades.  Then, an hour later, another train passed through the scene.  It was pretty exciting!

Now available at auction. Click here to bid.

Pastel on archival Pastelmat paper.  Approximately 12×16 inches.

“Into the Fog” Egg Tempera Painting

"Into the Fog" - Egg Tempera Painting - 12x9 © Nelia Harper
“Into the Fog” – Egg Tempera Painting – 12×9 © Nelia Harper

This egg tempera painting was inspired by the feeling and sights of mid-winter in the Colorado Rockies.

I woke before dawn and stepped out into the crisp air.  There was a fresh layer of snow dusting the grass and trees.  I sought refuge, visiting ‘old friends’ that I have come to know, traveling this well-worn path.

The sun rose slowly over the eastern plains.  The angle low on the horizon, the light weak.  Clothed in a blanket of fog, the city had disappeared.   Gentle and illusive, a warm glow of winter sun filtered through the churning fog.  Long past it’s prime, the tree stood in a shimmering coat.  Proud, strong and beautiful.

1 5 6 7 8 9 10 11