Thursday, April 12, 2018

DPW Spotlight Interview: Nelia Harper

Each week we will spotlight a different DPW artist who will give away one of their best paintings. To enter to win Nelia's painting, "Across the Pond" go to Daily Paintworks and click on the link at the top of the page announcing their interview.

From Nelia's DPW Gallery:

Nelia Harper is a landscape painter who seeks to capture the aesthetic beauty of nature, and create an intimate connection between the viewer and the natural world.

A life-long creator, Nelia has engaged in artistic expression through photography, collage, and paper and fiber arts, before committing to painting with formal training. Her education began with college level drawing courses and continued under the instruction of Janeen Schissler, at the Schissler Academy of Fine Arts in Loveland, Colorado, where she worked primarily in pastel.

Intrigued by the properties of pure pigment and the historical use in the Renaissance style of painting, she then studied the technique of egg tempera under Koo Schadler at the Sedona Arts Center. (click to read more)

Tell us a bit about how you first started painting.


Well, like a lot of people I know, I loved to draw and paint when I was a kid.  I remember my mom subscribed to a magazine that had pictures of paintings – I think it was called Victorian.  Anyway, I would look at paintings by Monet and The Impressionists. I remember thinking, “I want to be like that when I grow up.”  I thought it was so adventurous and romantic.

But, like many artists I know, I dropped the idea of art and painting.  I went to college and then found a 'real job' that would 'pay off'. 

Then, while I was on vacation in Paris, I remember standing in front of a painting in the Musee D’Orsay thinking, “How do they do that? I need to learn how that do that.”  The feeling was overwhelming.  I remember looking at the dabs of color on the canvas and stepping back to see a complete image.  How did they make it looks so real?  I wanted to step into those paintings.  I knew there had to be a way to learn, and even if I wasn’t any good at painting, I could still have fun learning.

So, I took a six week acrylic painting course, and I was hooked.  From there, I decided to take a drawing course at our local community college.  After that, I kept taking classes and workshops.  I joined a plein air group and worked on my own too.  It was almost exactly six years ago that I took that first painting class, and my interest in painting and art has only grown since then.

Across the Pond
(click to view)

Enter to win by clicking on the link at the top of the DPW home page announcing Nelia's interview.

Did you have any stops and starts in your painting career? 

Well, I’ve really just gotten started in my painting career, and I hope to keep going. 


What mediums and genres have you experimented with?

I’ve worked in a variety of mediums: oil, pastel, egg tempera, gouache, watercolor, graphite, charcoal, acrylic, ink, markers… I’ve done a little experimenting with abstract painting and illustration.


Which ones have "stuck" and which ones have fallen away?

Oil has definitely stuck.  It’s easy to use, transportable, and versatile.  I paint regularly in pastel, sometimes using a watercolor or oil underpainting, and egg tempera.  Watercolor is mainly reserved for travel journals and painting with my nieces and nephews.  It sounds strange to say when the other mediums take more time, but I just don’t seem to have the patience for watercolor.

In Your Embrace
(click to view)


Which ones are you looking forward to exploring?

As I get better at color mixing and drawing, I hope to paint in egg tempera more frequently. Even though it’s incredibly time consuming, it is such a luminous medium, and I enjoy making my own supports and building up layer after layer. 

Who or what inspires you most?

I would have to say nature inspires me the most.  It’s so easy to take nature for granted.  Looking at a sunset, the shapes of clouds, the incredible colors in a bird’s feather, the variety of trees, flowers, landforms, and of course people.  Everything comes from nature.  We forget that we are part of nature and the endless creation of life. When I think about what it takes to create and support life on this planet, I’m endlessly amazed and intrigued by the diversity that nature provides.

Snow Day
(click to view)

What does procrastination look like for you?

That’s easy (laughs).  Being busy!  I joke that my favorite form of procrastination is “productive procrastination”.  I can always find a project in the garden or around the house that needs to be done.  And, I’m forever organizing my studio to make room for my next project. 

I converted a small basement bedroom into a studio.  There’s just enough room for me, a canvas, painting supplies, a table, and some tools.  It feels like I’m constantly putting things away to make room for the next painting project. 

If that fails, there’s always a good book to read, an art show, a plein air paintout, a new technique to read about or watch on YouTube, or supplies to research and buy, not to mention looking at artwork on Instagram.


What techniques work to ensure that you make time for your art?

My favorite technique is agreeing to participate in a show with fellow artists.  That seems to get the fire going more than anything.  We have a strong art community in our area.  So, typically we have to reserve space for a show at least a year in advance. 

Because I am showing my artwork along with artist friends, we are always working to improve our skills and show off for each other.  And, we all paint en plein air together.  Every Friday, our plein air group paints together at a set location.  Sometimes we’ll paint together on other days too.  Getting outside with friends is always a good motivator to paint.

I also like to submit my work to juried shows at least 2-3 times a year.  Knowing that I have a show to prepare for keeps me busy in the studio.  Having friends to paint with keeps me painting outside and motivated for the next show.

And, I have a couple of music playlists on Spotify (music app) that help get my mind in the groove too.

Aspen Meadow
(click to view)

How do you generally arrive at ideas for your paintings?

Ideas for painting typically form while I’m hiking, painting en plein air, traveling, or daydreaming.  I’m usually inspired by shape and color.  I often feel a small wave of excitement.  Usually that feeling will last, nagging me to paint it.  Sometimes it’s a really bad snapshot with the cell phone, but I’ll see the idea fully formed in my mind.  When it stays in my mind’s eye and it feels good, I know it’s worth painting.


How do you keep art "fresh?" What techniques have helped you avoid burnout and keep your work vibrant and engaging?

Luckily I’m still new to painting so I haven’t had a feeling of burnout.  As I look back, I realize that I am good at challenging myself with small risks that have potentially large rewards.  For example, I joined the Steamboat Art Musem’s Plein Air Event last fall.  For a $50 entry fee, I was able to experience a week-long plein air paintout, art show and competition.  Attending with several friends kept the cost down, and I sold a painting at the show.  I learned so much about plein air events, framing from the car, and traveling to paint.

Mostly, I find ways to challenge myself with small risks: paint larger, paint smaller, paint more realistically, more loosely, things like that. Right now, I’m learning portraiture and figure (back to the community college).  I also want to paint more complex scenes, buildings, flowers…there are so many challenges yet to paint.  The ideas keep me going.

Spring Blossoms
(click to view)


What do you feel you are learning about right now as an artist?

Hmmm… this is a tough question.  From a technical standpoint, I would say that I’m learning about light.  How it affects color and form, especially on the human body.  From a philosophical perspective, I’m learning about the value of beauty and living a joyful life.  For so long, I pushed myself in a career, I focused on society’s idea of success (the accumulation of things and prestige) and I lost my way.  Now, I think about what really matters: the human experience and how I want to enjoy living.


What makes you happiest about your art?

Art really is about the journey: painting with friends, braving the elements, figuring out how to make something look real, solving problems, seeing the joy in another person’s eyes when they look at my work, hearing the stories of collectors…

Once a piece leaves the studio, the influence of that artwork is often unknown.

For example, a few years ago, during our holiday art show, an elderly gentleman bought a print I had on display.  It was a print of an egg tempera painting, depicting a scene in Italy – a small courtyard with flowers.

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

The following year, as I set up for our annual holiday show a fellow artist came over and asked me, “Do you remember Harry, that older gentleman that bought a print from you last year?”  Of course I remembered him.  We had a really nice talk, and he was so excited about that print.

She told me he kept that print right next to his bed.  He looked at it every day.  It reminded him of the places he had lived and he kept it close to him.  A few months after we met, he died. 

Even though it’s a sad story, it’s filled with happiness.  We never know the impact that our work will have on other people.  I like to think that print brought him happiness and comfort in his final days.  As Claude Monet says, “Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.”

Thanks, Nelia!

© 2018 Sophie Marine

1 comment:

  1. I have had the pleasure of painting side by side with Nelia as I discovered the beauty around Fort Collins. She has inspired me as an artist to take risks in the great outdoors.

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