“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



2 Responses

  1. Kevin Aldrich
    | Reply

    Thanks for the link!

    • nelia
      | Reply

      You’re welcome! I wish I’d had Pam’s info too 🙂

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