Many Moods of the Mountains

It still takes my breath away. For more than twenty years, I have had the pleasure of living in view of the Shenandoah National Park. The peaks and ridges dominate my view to the southeast.

Collection of mountain studies by artist Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved.
Collection of mountain studies.

The Blue Ridge is the name of this chain mountains that stretch northeast to southwest through the length of Virginia. Granted, blue is the color it appears most often. But I have seen those mountains be every color of the rainbow and then some. Verdant green on rare summer days when the humidity drops. Chartreuse creeping up from the foothills in the spring. Subtle red, blazing orange and even golden in the setting sun of autumn. Shades of magenta when the summer sunrise sideswipes it from the east. Violet as the morning sun comes up from behind in the colder months.  Brown and grey in the doldrums of winter, or suddenly snow-covered in dazzling white with every tree defined in wet black.  And blue. Deep cobalt in the heat of summer when the air is thick – deepest in the hollows. Dark, brooding blue as the heavy thunderclouds dump untold tons of rain onto her slopes. Thin periwinkle blue fading more with each distant ridge into the sky on a cold, overcast day.  Royal blue, watery blue, steel blue.

Golden Glow, watercolor by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved. #colorsoftheblueridge
Evening sun hitting the blue ridge in the peak of autumn colors gives off a golden glow.

The light can flatten or sculpt the hills. Back-lighting in the early morning or scant light on a overcast day creates the illusion that the hills are cut out of paper or air-brushed onto a wall. But their volume is revealed in strong evening sunlight. Shadows offer contrast in value and color. Orange on the light side, purple on the dark. Or green on the light side, blue on the dark.

Photo of cumulonimbus above the park.

Weather patterns add another dimension. Small, puffy clouds can leave a mottled shadow pattern on the undulating surface.  We might have clear skies above our valley, but on the other side of the park a storm rages with thunderheads dwarfing the tallest peaks. Fog can blanket the base or clouds might obscure the peaks. Sometimes a low blanket of clouds rolls over the whole range, creeping over the ridges and sinking into the lowest parts.

Photo of misty clouds obscuring the park.

It goes on and on like this. My twenty years of observation are a drop in the bucket to the millennia that God has been creating new works of art here on a constant basis. The ever changing kaleidoscope defies any one description. Thus, a series of paintings to explore the many moods of the mountains.

When the Morning Falls, watercolor by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved. #colorsoftheblueridge
In winter, the sun comes up behind the mountains. Spectacular sunrises happen frequently.


The view I have is directly into Big Run Portal and just to the south, Madison Run.  Rocky Mount, Rocky Mountain, Rocky Top, Brown Mountain, Austin Mountain, Furnace Mountain and Treyfoot Mountain are a few that can be seen frequently in this series. I’ve hiked in these areas, but it is still hard to identify the peaks without a topo map. And some days I am sure a new hill has sprouted up that I’ve never noticed before.

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Upcoming Show

In August, I’ll be a featured artist at the Rockfish Valley Community Center in Nellysford, VA along with Amy Shawley, another Virginia artist from the flatter part of the state. It’s a huge exhibit space – a gymnasium – so I’ll be bringing almost everything that’s in a frame.

The reception is from 3:30 – 5:00 on Saturday, August 12. But I’ll be hanging the pieces on August 4. You are all invited! FYI, on the same beautiful country road as the center are several wineries, breweries and a distillery. It would make a great road trip (perhaps with a designated driver).


Sunlit Moss

I have been hard at work at two watercolors inspired by one location. It’s a lovely open forest with ground carpeted by ancient-looking moss. I was lucky enough to be there as the winter sun was rising and shining a spotlight onto the intensely green forest floor. I hope these help you experience that magical moment, too!

Misty Forest with a sunkissed carpet of moss.
Sunlight on Moss I
KHertzler_Sunlight on Moss II
Sunlight on Moss II


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