Bearfence Mtn. Watercolor Demonstration

Since a trip to California some years ago, I have often thought someone should give Shenandoah National Park the same kind of glorification that Ansel Adams gave Yosemite. Although SNP is every bit as pretty, it lacks the massive scale. When I saw the cliff at Bearfence, I decided it was perfect to aggrandize. From the trail at the base of the cliffs, you get an impressive look at the face of it. I’m guessing it is at least 60 feet high – one website said 100 feet. One problem: there were so many trees at the base of the cliff, I couldn’t get a clear photo. But in a painting, I can simply remove them. Problem solved.

Beginning a new watercolor. Here's the composition sketched out with reference material to the right (color and value studies and a photo I took at the site.)Ready to start! I have a detailed drawing on the paper and a few areas masked with frisket. On the side of the board are a color study, a value study and a black and white photo for details(my own taken on location). I’ve also selected my palette. I like to work with a limited palette of about six or eight colors, but the choices change with each painting. I make as many decisions as possible before the paper gets wet. Then I can concentrate on just painting. Here, all the color being applied early on is transparent. Later, I’ll add details with more opaque earth tones.

Initial color lay for watercolor painting.This is fun! I’m just killing the white everywhere that isn’t a highlight. I carefully chose my palette, but I’m not painting ‘local color’ at this stage so it doesn’t matter which color I use at this point .

Adding darker color and details to the rocks of Bearfence Mountain. Watercolor by Kelli Hertzler.
Carving dimension out of the paper with shadows. I also put some sun and shade on the ridge in the background.

Finished watercolor, Bearfence Mountain, Shenandoah National Park by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved. 2014.Moving to the foreground, I’m shaping boulders and giving volume to the dead tree on the ground. Local colors are becoming dominant.

Finished watercolor, Bearfence Mountain, Shenandoah National Park by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved. 2014.Protective mask removed from trees. Texture and more shadows added. A hour or two of agonizing to decide if it is finished. Yes! The finished watercolor is 15″ x 21″. Completed in 2014.

I have taken some liberties with the color of the cliff here. My painting makes it look nearly white in the sun – it’s not. But truly, there are an amazing number of colors in the cliffs due to different types of rock. Read how a geologist sees the cliffs on If you now have a yearning to see it for yourself, read about the location and trail at


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