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By Marti Casey, In Buona Salute Magazine

Most people naturally assume one is referring to "drinking" the wine when those words are spoken, but Nelva Richardson faces this dilemma each time she practices her artistic skills using the juice of the gods.

I first met Nelva at the Italian Cultural Society in Carmichael, CA while taking an Italian class. When she told me she actually painted with wine, my first thought was, "Wow that sounds a little like alcohol abuse." Fortunately, I shook off that notion and once I saw a few samples of her work, it was obvious that Nelva had something special here... talent.

As you may have picked up, her paintings are created with wine—Nelva's "medium of choice." The detail on each piece is a testament to what she can do when she gets her hands on a nice bottle of red.

Nelva is blessed with natural artistic abilities, and an affinity for creativity. She graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in Medical Illustration and began her career at prestigious Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Her responsibilities included illustrating textbooks, journal articles and courtroom exhibits. Eventually, with the advent of computer illustration, 3-D animation and the internet, Nelva's career was changed forever. In order to adapt, she took computer graphic classes and learned how to utilize the computer for her illustration work.

"My heritage is Italian," she said, "and I have always thought that I could go to Italy and paint someday. Today, I still take language classes (at ICS), and I travel, paint and study in Italy whenever possible."

About a year ago, Nelva began exploring ways to combine her love of art with her love of Italy.

"The idea of painting with wine came to me during a vacation with friends," she recalls.

"We were looking at some prints that were burgundy in color and I thought, 'Wow, I could do that with red wine.' When we returned, I painted a portrait of the Chateau Les Mas de Montet and sent it to our friends as a thank-you. They loved it and encouraged me to do more."

Nelva showed one of her paintings to a friend attending an Italian class down the hall. When the instructor, Franca Lingren, saw her work she immediately envisioned great possibilities.

Franca, who also directs tours to Italy for Dario Sattui of the V. Sattui Winery in Napa, gave Nelva a commission to paint the Castello delle Serre, where her tour group would be staying. Franca distributed cards reproduced from Nelva's painting to each person on the tour. She also gave prints to the proprietor of the Castello in Italy as well as Dario Sattui. Seems Nelva had a new manager... and she was well on her way to success.

Her next commission was to paint the newly opened Castello di Amorosa in Napa Vally -- using their own Cabernet Sauvignon. They continue to sell prints and cards of her artwork in their gift shop.

Last year, a trip to Yosemite National Park inspired a couple of wine paintings of the Ahwahnee Hotel.

"I started one of the paintings and then stopped for a while before going back to it. It was interesting to see how the color of the wine had changed as it oxidized. The cliffs behind the hotel were much deeper -- almost mahogany -- while the newly painted lodge and trees were burgundy."

"Each wine is different in color and character and I usually use only one wine for each painting," explains Nelva. "Wines are transparent -- it takes time to build darker tones. You have to apply many, many layers to each piece, so patience is key. As you may know, wine can be unforgiving if you make a mistake."

Recently, Nelva has spent time painting portraits of other wineries in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.

"There are many beautiful places already photographed and painted by other artists," Nelva explained. "My challenge is to find a purposeful view of each location and paint it using the estate's own wine."

Nelva sells reproductions of her paintings as matted glicée (high quality digital inkjet) prints. The Castello and Ledson prints are currently for sale at the winery locations in Napa and Sonoma. Her largest painting to date is of the Ledson Winery and Vineyard in Sonoma Vally. She is available for commissioned work, and is branching out to include portraits for anyone interested in capturing their likeness in the wine of their choice.

You can view the artwork of Nelva Richardson, as well as place inquiries and orders through her website at

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