Now Showing: More Colors of the Blue Ridge

The Wilson Downtown Gallery in Harrisonburg, Virginia is currently hosting an exhibit of my paintings. This gallery participates in First Fridays and will have an Artist’s Reception on March 6 from 5 – 8 pm.  The show will stay up until the end of March. Located within Harrisonburg Homes just south of the square, the gallery (and realtors who make it possible) welcome viewers during regular business hours as well. See the website or Facebook event for more information on the location.

Title image for 2020 Exhibit by Kelli Hertzler. All rights reserved.
This montage was created by splicing four paintings together. I’ve been painting the same view of Shenandoah National Park as seen from my home in many seasons, weather and lighting situations.

Two new additions to the Colors of the Blue Ridge series are on the walls there, along with fourteen other pieces celebrating the natural landscape in the Shenandoah region.  (I’ve been working on this series for over a year now. Catch up with my previous posts: Colors of the Blue Ridge and Many Moods of the Mountains.) I will have notecards available featuring many of these scenes at the reception, as well as fine art prints of select paintings.

First Light on New Snow, 18
First Light on New Snow
18″ x 12″ framed watercolor.
Available. All rights reserved, Kelli Hertzler.
Last Light. 18" x 12" framed watercolor. Available. All rights reserved, Kelli Hertzler.
Last Light
18″ x 12″ framed watercolor.
Available. All rights reserved, Kelli Hertzler.

One more first for this show: I included three plein aire oil painting studies.  These were painted in 2018 and 2019. Because oil paintings need to cure for 6-12 months before being varnished, this is the first time I have displayed them.

At the February reception, I was thrilled to talk with friends, family and lots of local art lovers. I’d love to see you there on March 6!


Colors of the Blue Ridge

Swan family
12″ x 18″ framed watercolor.

Tonight, I’ll be showing my Colors of the Blue Ridge series for the first time (along with several other pieces) at a gorgeous location, Joshua Wilton House in Harrisonburg.  My very first art sale happened there more than twenty years ago while showing with a group. What an encouragement that sale was!

This time I show at JWH, I’ll have several dining rooms in which to display my art. Local photographer Erin Harrigan will have the front two rooms of the house. To prepare for the reception, I’ve made giclee prints and notecards to offer in addition to original pieces.

For the past six months, I’ve been working in a series exploring the view I have to the South from my home. More than twenty years of observing these mountains of the Shenandoah National Park and every day brings new sights. Two of my pieces from this series are below.

If you are local to Harrisonburg, you can see these and others at the Joshua Wilton House for the months of July, August and September 2019. I’ll be at a Meet the Artist event this Friday, July 5 from 4-5 pm. Light refreshments are provided and wine is available for $5 per glass. Stop in to say hello before you head into Harrisonburg for First Friday!

Scattered Showers
Scattered Showers
12″ x 18″ framed watercolor.
Thunderhead Over SNP
12″ x 18″ framed watercolor.


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.

Follow me on Facebook to keep up with the latest #colorsoftheblueridge.

Magnolia in Watercolor

My husband planted a Southern Magnolia in our yard several years ago. This summer, it became mature enough to give us dozens of blooms though it is only about eight feet tall. The flowers take turns in the spotlight and have kept the show going for months, rather than all bursting into flower at once. This seems like a rather southern trait to me: graciously taking their time as if speaking with a slow, southern draw.

Southern Magnolias: Queen and Debutante, watercolor by Kelli Hertzler, all rights reserved.
Southern Magnolias: Queen and Debutante
16″ x 20″ matted watercolor.
(mat opening is 11″ x 14″)

The petals begged to be painted in glowing watercolor, although I did use a lesson learned from my oil painting here.  I have been toning my oil canvases with yellow ocher and burnt sienna before starting a new composition. For this watercolor, I toned the entire sheet – the white areas of the two blooms excepted – with the several of the pigments I would use on the foreground. It immediately created a warm, comfortable atmosphere and subdued the background to allow the whites to sing the high notes.

<u>Southern Magnolia: Queen and Debutante</u> detail. <br> By Kelli Hertzler.
Southern Magnolia: Queen and Debutante detail.
By Kelli Hertzler.

The limited palette included: Scarlet Red, Cadmium Orange,Winsor Yellow Deep, Pthalo Blue, Winsor Blue (green shade) and Burnt Sienna. The substrate is Arches 140 lb. hot press paper. The mat opening is 11″ x 14″ and it will frame to 16″ x 20″.

Watercolor is Like a Cat

With enough training, most art media will fall into line, obey and express the will of the artist much like you can expect a well-trained dog to respond to you in obedient, predictable ways. Watercolor is, well, not like that. And that is its attraction.

The watercolor artist soon learns that he or she must build a relationship with the water. The water has its own behaviors that in time we can generally but not precisely predict. Yet we can learn its tendencies and quirks. We can coax, stroke and guide while allowing the water the freedom to flow.

Disapproving cat.
Cat disapproves of my developing watercolor.

Cat “owners” may recognize this kind of relationship. We respect and appreciate the qualities of our feline friends. Each cat has a mind of its own, a unique personality and absolutely no instinct to obey a superior or assimilate into a pack. Those who love cats value their independence and the gift of affection freely given in the form of a headbutt to the ankle, loud purr or spontaneous lap sit. We do not like, but sort of understand, the cat’s need to push things off shelves at 3 am. We adore the opportunity to stroke the soft fur, waggle the red laser dot and lure the kitty into playtime. It’s an interaction that may include impossibly large pupils, spectacular jumps, lightning fast paw grabs and spring-loaded pounces. Or, honestly, a bored cat that won’t even LOOK at the feather wiggling on a string. You just don’t know until you try. But those failed attempts at connecting make the successes so much sweeter.

So let’s take those lessons taught by our cats and apply them watercolor painting.

Each combination of paint, paper and water will create something unique. The more the artist understands the properties of the materials chosen, the more he will be able to guide the finished result, but it is unwise and undesirable to be in control of everything. Think cat on a leash. No one wants to see that.

Allow water to do its thing. Sometimes it will create a happy accident that you never would have planned. Follow its lead, be inspired and make the most of it. Sometimes, you will have a disaster you will not know how to remedy. Don’t get too invested. Remind yourself that your watercolor painting is just a piece of paper with some marks on it. Learn what you can from the experience and move on. Kinda like parallel scratches on the back of your hand.

Enjoy the act of painting. It is just plain fun to charge wet paper with a pigment-laden brush and watch the magic happen. Let your brush jump, dart and pounce, or smooth in a graded wash. Give yourself permission to purr a little.

Do not push the hairs of your brush in the wrong direction.

Watercolor is a medium that you will not master. No one calls themselves a Watercolor Master – that is a label applied by others and I suspect the artist called such will be laughing on the inside as much as a cat companion chuckles at the idea of owning a cat. It just doesn’t work that way. I’ve read about many aged watercolorists who say the enduring attraction of watercolor is that the learning never stops. Dogs have masters; cats have staff. Embrace your role.

Cat “helps” me with my drawing.

Now smooth your hair into place and keep painting. Right after you lift the cat off the piece of paper you need to use. (How do they know?)

Do you have a cat for a studio companion? Leave a comment about what you have learned about painting (or general life lessons) from your feline.

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.

December Reception for Solo Art Show

Mossy Forest III. Watercolor by Kelli Hertzler.
Mossy Forest III



I’m thrilled to have another opportunity to show my art in this beautiful gallery space within Harrisonburg Homes realty. December 1, 2017 from 5-8 pm will be the Artist’s Reception for this exhibit. Fifteen or more of my watercolors and colored pencil paintings will be on display. Local landscapes, forest-scapes and micro-landscapes (where I zoom in to a tiny corner of the natural world) are featured in most of these pieces.

My mother, Snuffy Hartman, will join me with a few of her paintings in celebration of the article in Bloom magazine this quarter featuring both of us (see Bloom post). The author, Michelle Henry, might also stop by. In addition, all of this is happening:

  • a flute trio will provide live music
  • light refreshments will be provided by the Harrisonburg Homes team
  • it’s First Friday in Harrisonburg
  • and the Christmas Parade at 7pm goes directly past the front door of the gallery

Stop in and warm up before or after the parade. This is always a fun, festive night!

The show runs from December 1 through January 29. Open 10 – 5, Monday – Friday. Plus First Fridays! 5-8 pm.

83 South Main Street, Harrisonburg, VA
(Now Harrisonburg Homes, formerly Wilson Jewelers)

Mingling crowd in the awesome space at Harrisonburg Homes’ Holiday Open House. Hertzler Reception, December 2015.

New works.

These are a few new watercolors currently hanging at the Rockfish Valley Community Center (until early September). They are all on the smallish side and priced between $90 – 125. Framed size is 14″ x 14″ for all except Sunset on Massanutten, framed at 16″ x 20″.

To purchase, contact me directly or leave a check with Sara or Cathy at RVCC.

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.



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).