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.

MountainMood1
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.

mist
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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Plein Air Learning

ChimneyRock_closer
Plein air painting at Chimney Rock nearing completion.

I love both painting and being outside, so painting en plein air should be right up my alley, right? It’s actually a bit of a stretch. I tend to do an enormous amount of planning before beginning a watercolor. The spontaneity of plein air with oil paint is a refreshing change of pace.

Another liberating factor to this adventure is that I’ve decided results don’t matter. (Much like nature journaling: the process is more important than the final result.) My goal is to become reacquainted with oil painting and if a few successful paintings happen by accident, that’s okay, too. (I ended up being pretty happy with most!)

Today, I found myself with unscheduled hours to myself after dropping my daughter off in a beautiful mountainous area near the Virginia/West Virginia border. I had many astounding mountain views to choose from on the drive back, but this one won out due to the subject matter, a great parking spot and a safe location to put up my easel off of the road. Chimney Rock is a striking geological formation and was well lit in the autumn sun. (A man that stopped by to chat informed me that it is the most photographed location in Rockingham County.)

The two photos above show the beginning of the painting session and the end (about two hours later). Shifting values and shadows are part of the plein air challenge. I included just a portion of the VFW building to the right because it helps to show scale and locals know the VFW is there! It seemed a lie to leave it out, although I did omit several structures.

ChimneyRock_KHertzler_web
Chimney Rock
Oil, 11 x 14
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My plein air education so far has included workshops with Stephen Dougherty at Rockfish Gap Community Center and Kevin Adams at Shenandoah National Park. Here are a few other attempts:

Big Meadows_1

Big thanks to my mom! She loaned to me the red easel that appears in all of these photos. She also gave me cartons of canvases, countless tubes of paint, brushes and mediums. And encouragement. Thanks, Mom!

October at Big Meadows II by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved. 11" x 14" oil. Available.
October at Big Meadows II
11″ x 14″ oil.
Available.