Back to Nature Journaling

Adding details onto today's journal page.
Adding details onto today’s journal page.

Autumn is such a great time to nature journal! Everything is changing, color is exploding and the long winter is looming just ahead. What a great time to soak in the last warm rays of the season by taking a walk with a few art supplies!

KHertzler_fallcolor2019Today, I was able to do that at a trail I haunt frequently because it is so close to home. The clouds broke while I was driving there and the weather could not have been more perfect. The drive in was golden from all the hickory trees growing in the forest near the entrance. Once a the parking area, though, I saw only brown. At first. Then, like when your eyes adjust to the dark, my eyes adjusted to the colors all around me. Sure, there were some hickories, but also yellow poplars, red oaks, maples that could show red, yellow or green – even all three colors on a single leaf. There was plenty of green around, too. Pines up high and a variety of grasses, vines, ferns and shrubs down low.

KHertzler_lakeanna2019Last weekend, I had a wonderful and rare opportunity to go camping with several women from my church. We took kayaks and lots of amazing food. The last morning we were there, it rained continually. We sat under the canopy with a hot breakfast and great conversation. I didn’t find much time for journaling, but I did manage this page. I really like including a small landscape on my journal pages to put my observations in the correct habitat and location. The birds were seen while kayaking and I didn’t take my journal on the water, so I had to draw the birds from memory.

I will be teaching a Nature Journaling class coming up next week (November 6, 2019) at the JMU arboretum. Come join the fun!


Pond Journal: Frogs and More

Our pond has quickly become my “happy place.” I steal away several times a day, when possible, to see what is happening above and beneath the surface of the water. It’s rare that I don’t observe something new or changing. My daughter claims the pond is my favorite child. Maybe just some days…

The lay of the land. And water.

This spring, I decided to start a journal dedicated to observations at this one spot in the world that facinates me so. I choose a large journal (8.5″ x 11″) that was a gift from a friend. I would not hike or travel with something so big and it sat empty for more than a year until I found this perfect use for it. I have a case of pencils and pens with it (a freebie from the Shenandoah Natural Journaling Club’s Christmas supply swap) and keep those handy for quick trips out to the pondside table. I can carry art supplies in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Bliss.

My wonderful husband spent a day and a half digging our pond. It’s 10 by 15 feet and averages 2 feet deep. And the pond wasn’t his idea. This is what love looks like!

My husband and I started digging the pond Memorial Day weekend 2016. (He did 90% of the digging. Love you, Tim!) The night he finished, it rained buckets. Next morning, a frog was in the puddle at the bottom of the pond. Who told the frog? We soon had several frogs move in, then frog eggs and very shortly after, tiny tadpoles. Spring 2018, we had  enormous tadpoles (I counted 47 all visible at one time. Biblical plague coming soon?). Each tadpole is about four inches long. I learned that some species can remain tadpoles for two years. (My best guess is that these are Green Frogs.) In the last few weeks, they have been putting on legs and climbing out of the water. What a miracle to watch!

I was curious about those leaf packages floating the pond and investigated! This deserves a post by itself. Fascinating stuff!
Pickerel Rush, damselfly and multiple dragonflies, and of course the tadpoles.
The developing tadpoles are getting a lot of my attention. But this iris in the bog could not be ignored!
A very wordy post describing an encounter with a Twelve-spotted Skimmer female. And frogs.
A grown-up frog (this one migrated, not a tadpole of ours.). Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure now that it is a green frog and not a pickerel, so the eraser must get to work. And our white lily is starting the show with a bang – three blooms at once.

Plein Air at Big Meadows

A plein air sketch from Big Meadows at Shenandoah National Park shown small here because it’s a teaser. You’ll have to come to my show in December to see it well. This is a small piece – mat fits an 11 x 14 frame.

Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park is a big draw for area artists, appearing frequently in local exhibits. I’ve made several paintings there. Last month, I made another trek to see what I could see.


This October day is a spectacular color fest in the meadow. Blue skies with a drift of clouds, brilliant sunlight carves out the undulations in the landscape. Various species of grasses and low-growing plants wearing autumn are swiped across the expanse like a ready-made painting. The challenge is to capture those brilliant yellows and reds in a credible way. They look unnatural.

Parking in the lot at the edge of the meadow, I was able to set up within 50 yards of the car. I made myself comfortable in a director’s chair with side table. A backpack full of art supplies – my medium-sized kit – holds everything I might possibly need.

It’s a bit chilly and my daughter sits wrapped in a blanket reading a book while I quickly do two color sketches of the meadow. (“Are you done yet?”)

I use Schminck masking fluid for the milkweed pods. This is a new item for me and the control freak in me loves the tip of the dispenser. I’ll be posting about my small and medium-sized supply kits soon. (Large is my basement studio.) You can find links to specific art supplies I use on the resource page.

A plein air sketch from Big Meadows at Shenandoah National Park.


Later, one of those sketches was improved in the studio and is headed for a frame (upper right). The other has some good points and may be a reference for a finished piece later, but it is not deemed frame-worthy (shown at left). I like the color and variety of textures, but the values are too similar throughout.  I learned much by the study, so I’ll count it a success anyway.


A new composition has jumped from my sketchbook and into a full-color painting. The sketch was done several years ago on a hike with friends at Douthat State Park in Virginia. We stopped at this ‘waterfall’ (per park map) for a break . It was a bit of a stretch to call it a waterfall, but it was a beautiful spot.

Tributary, a watercolor by KHertzler. Copyright by the artist. All rights reserved.
Watercolor, 9″ x 12″

Tributary came about while at a workshop at Rockfish Valley Community Center last weekend. The instructor, Steve Doherty, mentioned how watercolorist Nita Engle would use primaries selected because they were both transparent and easily lifted. Lynn Ferris used a similarly limited palette at a workshop I attended several years ago. For Tributary, I adapted that technique. In later stages, I pulled in additional pigments. I love how there is no flat color; even the rocks are vibrant.

This little stream called Blue Suck flows into Wilson Creek, which in turn feeds the Jackson River. The confluence of the Jackson and Cowpasture Rivers become the James and winds over the Piedmont before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay.

Pencil sketch done on location and a quick color/value study done before beginning the painting. (c) KHertzler.
Pencil sketch done on location and a quick color/value study done before beginning the painting.

Update: Tributary has been sold.