Her early paintings were exclusively watercolors, but later in life she learned how to prepare paints from natural pigments (a process similar to, but not the same as fresco secco). She used these paints to produce what she called "earth paintings". She obtained the pigments from minerals and rocks, which she ground on a metate and mano until the result was a powdery substance from which she made her paints.
In 1939, Velarde was commissioned by the National Park Service under a grant from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to depict scenes of traditional Pueblo life for visitors to the Bandelier National Monument.
Following her work at Bandelier, Velarde went on to become one of the most accomplished Native American painters of her generation, with solo exhibitions throughout the United States, including her native New Mexico, as well as Florida and California. In 1953, she was the first woman to receive the Grand Purchase Award at the Philbrook Museum of Art’s Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Painting. In 1954 the French government honored her with the Palmes Académiques for excellence in art.
In a 1979 interview she said, "Painting was not considered women's work in my time. A woman was supposed to be just a woman, like a housewife and a mother and chief cook. Those were things I wasn't interested in."
Velarde's work is exhibited in public and private collections including the Museum of New Mexico, the Bandelier National Monument museum, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, in Santa Fe, the Avery Collection at the Arizona State Museum, the Ruth and Charles Elkus Collection of Native American Art, and in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
In February 2007 a yearlong exhibition opened at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico memorializing Pablita Velarde and her time spent at Bandelier National Monument. A collection of 58 paintings from the 84 works that Monument officials commissioned Velarde to produce between 1939 and 1945 went on display. Pablita's grand daughter, Margarete Bagshaw owns a gallery in downtown Santa Fe that is named after Pablita's Tewa Name - "Golden Dawn". The gallery is the Exclusive Estate Representative of both Pablita Velarde and her daughter, Helen Hardin.