Shenandoah River Revisited

The waters close to home have had my attention recently. I love the reflections, the movement, the way the trees hug and lean in. I took photos of this one in progress, Have a look at the slide show below to watch it develop.

Shenandoah in Gold-web


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I used a very limited palette for this watercolor. One red, one yellow, one blue and in a very few places some burnt sienna. It ends up being a complicated color scheme, though. The complementary yellow and purple might be the strongest. But there is also a triad of secondary colors (orange, green and purple) pulling the whole thing together. It’s all on a half sheet of Arches 300 lb. hot press watercolor paper. And it’s finished in time to hang in my show next week.

Last fall, I painted North River, upstream. This is from the same location, but looking downstream. That’s the North River directly in front of you. South River is coming in from the right (you can’t really see that in my painting – it’s behind the big yellow tree). What you see in the distance is the confluence of those two rivers as they become the South Fork of the Shenandoah. While the reference photos were taken on a evening in late fall, this painting was heavily influenced by a pre-dawn drive by the same spot when I saw the sun flooding the sky with color and backlight the scene before it had risen high enough to peek over the Blue Ridge. (Those distant mountains are in Shenandoah National Park.) I love what happens when I can take a memory and fuse it with a image.




North River Watercolor


This one is finished! It’s a half-sheet of paper (that’s about 22″ x 15″ for the non-painters). I’ve been posting the progress but all the stages are included below.

I’m pleased with this painting because I’ve done a few things better than I have before. The river reflections were somewhat complicated and completely out of my head. I had to think out how everything should look based on past observation rather than direct observation. It was very freeing and the painting benefited by my not feeling like I needed to represent reality. (my reference photos were taken after the leaves had fallen and so doesn’t have this color, lovely light or quite the same composition.) I generally like earth tones and my paintings often are created with subdued hues, but this time I was determined to have clean color show the golden glow that illuminates autumn evenings. Earth tones play a supporting role here.

The view is looking upstream of the North River from the bridge in Port Republic. (Next project is the view downstream.)

Work in progress - North River, Upstream. Watercolor by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved.

Work in progress - North River, Upstream. Watercolor by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved.

North River, Upstream. Watercolor by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved.
North River, Upstream. Watercolor by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved.

On my Easel, Part 2


After several more hours of work spread over a few days, the Shenandoah River is flowing lazily through my painting. I masked the rocks and highlights on the water with liquid frisket and then added color on the river. When that was dry, I added texture on the water where the ‘riffles’ are. I had to look that up to make sure it is a real word (it is!), but my husband has taught me that fish like to feed in those areas because the insects will get churned in and disoriented. He commented that in the warm autumn sun, there would definitely be a hatch coming off right now.

The first “On my easel” featuring this painting is here:

On my easel…

I love, love, love it when other artists post partially finished pieces (and later the finished one) so I can learn from them. For that reason, I’m sharing the in-progress watercolor that now sits on my easel. For you locals trying to place this scene, it’s the view from standing on the bridge in Port Republic looking upstream on North River just before it flows into the South Branch. The painting is on a half-sheet of 300 lb. hot press watercolor paper, or about 20″ x 15″.

Watercolor in progress by Kelli Hertzler
Work in progress – Shenandoah River in fall. Official title TBD.

I recently discovered the work of British Columbia watercolorist Carol Evans and have been studying everything of hers I can find – finished and partially complete (I bought her book the first night I saw her work on Pinterest). Her extraordinary crispness, vibrant color and method of working one section at a time are influencing the painting of the Shenandoah River on my easel now.

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