Bobcat Autumn – 12th Annual Mile High International Pastel Exhibition

Bobcat Autumn, pastel, 12x16 © Nelia Harper
Bobcat Autumn, pastel, 12×16 © Nelia Harper


I’m pleased to announce that “Bobcat Autumn” as been accepted into the 12th Annual Mile High Pastel Show sponsored by the Pastel Society of Colorado.

While I was out scouting locations for plein air painting last fall, I came across this scene of gold against the ridge of rocks as well as a lovely pine tree that became “Old Friend“.  I wasn’t able to finish the painting on-site but returned to it over the winter.  It brought back wonderful memories of fall leaves, the call of meadowlark, and countless hikes watching deer and elk graze.

I hope you are able to visit the art show.  Considered one of the top pastel shows in the United States, the 12th Annual Mile High International Pastel Exhibition received 343 entries from 17 states.  The challenge to be accepted was even greater this year as the number of entries continues to increase.

12th Annual Mile High International Pastel Exhibition
Opening Reception July 10 2:00-4:00pm
Show Dates – July 10 to September 8, 2016
Vida Ellison Gallery 7th Floor, Denver Public Library

Mon & Tues: 10-8
Wed-Fri: 10-6
Sat: 9-5
Sun: 1-5

Please contact the Pastel Society of Colorado at if you are interested in this painting.

Follow Cow Creek – New Oil Painting at National Parks Art Show

Did you know that our National Parks are now 100 years old?  The Cultural Arts Center of Estes Park is celebrating with a national parks art show “National Treasures: Art Celebrating the National Park System” through the month of July.

I’m happy to announce that my newest oil painting, “Follow Cow Creek” has been accepted into the show.

Follow Cow Creek, oil on canvas, 16x20 © Nelia Harper
Follow Cow Creek, oil on canvas, 16×20 © Nelia Harper
National Treasures: Art Celebrating the National Park System

Opening Reception July 1st 5-8 pm

Show dates – July 1-31

Cultural Arts Center

423 W. Elkhorn Ave. Estes Park, CO

Open: Tuesday-Sunday, 12-5 pm

For more information on the show or the painting “Follow Cow Creek”, please contact the

Cultural Arts Center Fine Art Gallery at (970) 586-9203

“Follow Cow Creek”

While warm days were quickly spreading along the Front Range, spring had yet to arrive in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The temperatures hovered just above freezing, though little snow appeared on the ground.  We ventured up the trail, through stands of dormant aspen trees, twisted and shaped by years of wind.  We passed over creeks filled with water, and stopped to watch a herd of deer graze.

Our reward at the end of the trail was the rushing flow of Bridal Veil Falls.  The willows were turning the slightest shade of purple as their stems filled, preparing to create new leaves.  Still, weeks would pass before the first leaf unfurled.  Clouds began to build over the high peaks and we turned back to the trailhead.

As we turned east, sunshine filled the meadow and sparkled up and down Cow Creek.  We followed the shimmer and promise of spring and greenery as we followed Cow Creek back to the car.

If you are in the Estes Park area during the month of July,

be sure to stop by to see the show.

If you would like to purchase this painting, please contact the Cultural Arts Center at

(970) 586-9203

Cascade Falls – Rocky Mountain National Park

You Sing to My Spirit, Pastel, 18x24 © Nelia Harper
You Sing to My Spirit, Pastel, 18×24 © Nelia Harper

I left the house just as the sky was beginning to lighten, wound my way up the Thompson Canyon, and bounced my way over the well worn highway to the Wild Basin turnoff in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Moments later several other painters arrived.  After morning greetings and chit chat, we started up the trail with our 30 pound packs to Cascade Falls.  Folks stopped along the way, selecting their spots.  About a mile in, the trail became steep and covered in snow.  We carried on, and the reward was well worth the effort.

A pair of stellar jays was there to greet us and kept us well entertained.

Stellar Jay
One of our stellar companions

Our fearless leader, Margueritte Meier, the coordinator of the Fort Collins Plein Air Artists of Colorado group was smiling and energetic as always as she setup to paint the falls from her rocky overlook.

Margueritte Meier excited to be in such an outstanding location.
Margueritte Meier excited to be in such an outstanding location.

Over the course of the morning hikers walked past, the jays searched for snacks and the water poured over the rocks creating a symphony of color, light and sound.  As we were painting, I was thinking of John Denver’s song, Calypso and the phrase, “You sing to my spirit” and felt that was the perfect title for this piece.  Being in such incredible beauty, standing in a stand of incredible trees and breathing in the scents of moss, pine needles and melting snow seeping into the earth, fills the soul.

Hard at work
The initial block-in of my pastel piece with Andrea Gabel hard at work on her oil painting.

With so many trees and standing next to the water, we were plenty cold and after a couple of hours returned to the parking lot.  Here’s the painting from our outing.  As you can see, there was plenty of snow and water from the spring runoff.

Wild Basin, en plein air, 11x15 pastel
Wild Basin, en plein air, 11×15 pastel

Returning to the parking lot, we had a spontaneous picnic with some of the other painters from our group.

A spontaneous picnic lunch
A spontaneous picnic lunch with Margueritte Meier, Ann and Jenifer Hart Cline

It’s days like this that truly fill my heart and invigorate my soul not only to paint but to appreciate this incredible natural world.  By the way, if you are in Estes Park this month, be sure to check out Jenifer’s show at the Art Center of Estes Park.

And, if you are in Old Town Fort Collins, Peak to Prairie continues through June 30th at the Fort Collins Museum of Art in Suite 207.  If you would like to meet up to see the show, let me know.

“You Sing to My Spirit” is on display at the Peak to Prairie show and is now available.


Peak to Prairie Art Show

You are invited to attend the art show opening of

Peak to Prairie
at the First Friday Gallery Walk
this Friday, June 3rd from 6-9 pm
at the Fort Collins Museum of Art. 

Join me for a journey through the mountains and plains of our Rocky Mountains.

“Peak to Prairie” is on display from June 3-30 at the Fort Collins Museum of Art in Suite 207.

New Painting – Allure

I’m excited to share several new paintings including “Allure” an ‘intuitive’ landscape inspired by Red Rocks of Nevada, the granite rock and wild landscapes of Colorado.  This landscape painting speaks to the love of adventure, climbing a new mountain peak, exploring new places and the allure of one’s imagination.

"Allure" Pastel 11x15 © Nelia Harper
“Allure” Pastel 11×15 © Nelia Harper

Now available here.

PS: If the image is too small, just click on the image for a larger version or reload your page and it will load bigger.  I hope to have this fixed soon.


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



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