Nell, who lived in Tayport, was trained in Edinburgh by John Duncan, a leading figure of the Celtic Revival. Nellie was a painter, but more particularly a textile designer and book illustrator. She exhibited at the Dundee (Graphic) Art Society between 1896 and 1911.

She contributed to The Evergreen, a Northern Almanac, a magazine important in the Scottish cultural Renaissance. A fine large appliqué embroidery (signed HK, or Helen Kippen, her married name) is in the possession of Dundee Art Society. Her sister Rosa was also a talented artist.