Maples at the Edge of a Pond | Richard G. Tiberius

32 x 24 in | 81.3 x 61cm

The subtle range of colors of these trees and their reflections in this little pond caught my attention. Often fall colors can be gaudy in their dramatic contrasts, but there was a peaceful softness to this scene created by the blending of a range of muted colors and by the fine twigs of the shrubs.

Judging from across the pond, the trees appeared to be sugar maples (Acer saccharum). I didn’t wade across the pond to check them out, but through my binoculars the leaves had the classic sugar maple shape. Usually Sugar Maples don’t grow so close to the water. They prefer dryer sites while their close cousins, the red maples (Acer rubrum), often called “swamp maples”, can tolerate wetter sites. I’m guessing that the little seedlings with the flaming red leaves at the very edge of the pond are red maples. At the water’s edge they would have a competitive advantage.

 Click for detail.

Sugar maples can turn a range of colors from yellow through orange and red but often at each site the trees display similar colors because they are all subjected to the same temperature changes and sun. But in this place every tree seemed to be a different color. The answer may in genetic differences or their proximity to water. Flooding will stress trees and stress can affect the color of the leaves. A few feet above the bank may make a huge difference to a tree.

The rust colored shrubs at the bank of the pond are surely Sweetgale (Myrica gale). The foliage has been used as an insect repellent to keep biting insects out of tents. First Nations people used it as a condiment to flavor meats. This is a plant that is completely at home near the water in the north, both in North America and Europe. It can grow in nitrogen poor bogs because it has nitrogen-fixing bacteria on its roots. And it is very cold hardy. It grows in northern US, Alaska and in every province in Canada right up to the Arctic Circle.

Cephalanthus – Progression

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In this painting I set the range of values first by painting a portion that included both the dark foreground and the lightest background. This first section set the range of values.

Shiny New Leaves – Progression

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The little patch that I painted in the middle at the bottom contained the entire range of values from the darkest to the lightest colors. After that range was set I could follow those values for the rest of the painting.

Corkscrew River – Progression

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Ferns among the Cypress Trees – Progression

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In painting this composition the sequence  was not critical because it didn’t include distant background objects that require gradual fading out. Most of the features are at the same distance from the viewer. The exception is the tree trunks. Since they needed to fade out with the distance, I painted them first to ensure the transition. After that I just painted from upper left to lower right because I’m right handed.

Jeffrey Pines, Evening Light – Progression

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I painted a stripe down the middle of the painting between the two trunks in order to adjust the values and hues of the background. This was necessary to create the perception of distance but also to ensure that the tree trunks would stand out. Next I painted the tree trunks and then I finished the painting.

 

Mountain Clouds – Progression

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The intricate pattern of twigs on the aspen tree is critical to this composition so I sketched them very carefully then, using the side of my knife, replaced the lines with shallow ridges of dark brown paint. When the ridges dried I was able to run over them with a knife full of blue sky color. As the knife scraped over the surface of the twigs it filled in the spaces between the twigs and allowed the twigs to stay visible.

Smiling Gator – Progression

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Purple Columbine – Progression

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White Ibis – Progression

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Sumac Up Close | Richard G. Tiberius

32 x 24 in | 81.3 x 61 cm

Carl Linnaeus, the famous botanist and father of the modern classification system of plants, remarked that the branches of Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) look like deer antlers in velvet. That’s in winter. In the fall our attention would surely focus on the spectacular show of leaves when they turn almost every color in the rainbow. I was so taken with the range and variation of these colors that I decided to paint them very close up, focusing on leaves rather than branches. Sumacs have compound leaves—each leaf has many little leaflets joined to a single stem. Surprisingly, each of these leaflets can take on a different fall color. And not only that, with this painting I observed something even more amazing: each leaflet can be one color on the outside and another on the inside!

Sumac, Up-Close, Detail
Sumac, Up-Close, Detail

The inner sides of the leaves are pale yellow and green, a beautiful complement to the pinks on the outside. My daughter chose these pale greens and pinks for her wedding theme. Botanically, the greens are pale because the chlorophyll is being drawn out of the leaves along with other valuable nutrients as the tree prepares to shed them in fall. Not all of the chlorophyll has gone, however. There was enough left to provide the energy for production of large quantities of anthocyanins (the red pigments), but the process requires bright light and warmth during the day and cold nights. The bright light fuels the chlorophyll, which provides the energy for the process, and the cold nights trap the remaining sugars in the leaf providing raw material from which the pigments are made. Since the outsides of the leaves receive more light than the inner sides, they develop stronger reds. You can read more about leaf color in my favorite book on trees, “Trees: Their Natural History” by Peter A. Thomas.

Old Red Maple on River Bank – Progression

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I painted the base of the old tree first because the beautiful complexity of this tree is the center piece of the composition. Everything else needs to be subordinated to this.

Pond Cypress with Green Heron – Progression

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I started with the eye and then the bird as I usually when it is the dominant feature in the painting. If I can’t get the eye right, there’s no point painting the rest of the bird and if I can’t get the bird right there’s no point painting the background.

Water Lilies and Pickerel Weed – Progression

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It was extremely important to get the right gradient from a very dark blue at the bottom to light blue at the top. So I first painted a stripe on the left side of the painting, adjusting the colors until I was satisfied with the gradient. It would have been much more time consuming to adjust the colors across the entire panel. Once I had a satisfactory sample gradient I could then continue all the colors to the right, covering the entire background.

I followed the same plan for the leaves, making sure that they faded out from bottom to top before painting all of them.

Willow and Little Blue Heron – Progression

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I painted the bird first because I’m insecure about painting birds. I figured that if I messed up the bird I wouldn’t have invested a lot of time on the rest of the painting. As it turned out I was reasonably satisfied with the bird, so I continued the background, from top to bottom. I started at the top so that I could place my fingers on the panel to steady my hand without getting them in the wet paint.

Two Ponderosa Pines | Richard G. Tiberius

30 x 36 in | 76.2 x 91.4cm

The semi-arid mountains of the American Southwest are among my favorite hiking places. Low rainfall prevents the lush growth that would otherwise blanket the mountains. Instead, trees are spaced out, leaving wide-open vistas such as the one I have painted in this composition. In these dry hills the Ponderosas thrive. They stand out like massive cinnamon sticks adding red-orange exclamation points to the scene. In fact, the word “ponderosa” in their botanical name, Pinus ponderosa, refers to their massive size. They grow over 100 feet (30 meters) tall, out of what appears to be sheer rock. The record for the species is 268 feet high. I don’t know how they do it in such thin soil and sparse water.

Click for detail.
Click for detail.

When I saw two Ponderosa trees at the edge of a cliff overlooking a valley, I thought this made an excellent composition. I particularly enjoyed the graceful curves of the branches and rich, textured bark. The broad plates of orange-red bark separated by dark cracks echoed the dramatic crevices in the distant rocks. In painting the bark.

I first made the cracks, with the edge of my knife, following the sketch I had drawn. I did this because I wanted to maintain the natural pattern of the bark. After the paint forming the cracks had dried, I skipped my knife over the surface with orange and red paint to form the plates of bark. I made the needles by loading the edge of the knife with a very viscous paint, and then planting the tip of the knife on the panel while rocking the knife back and forth, the way a chef cuts vegetables.

Smiling Gator | Kiry Tiberius

30 x 24 in | 76.2 x 61 cm

I never would have guessed that I would be interested in painting an alligator, or any reptiles for that matter. I’ve always been more drawn to cute, fuzzy mammals or birds. But I’ve begun to discover that what I paint is not so much determined by the animals or plants that I generally like best, but rather whichever I feel most excited about rendering in paint. This alligator, whose photographs were taken by my dad’s cousin Paul, struck me as special. When I first saw the images, I was amused by how unusually (and deceptively) friendly this gator seems to be. But it wasn’t so much the charming smile that compelled me to paint it. It was the bright dappled sunlight and sharp patches of light and dark that made it a dramatic composition. My favourite part of creating this painting was the skin. The way the scaly lumps seem like smooth, shiny pebbles set in cement. Each little bump has multiple colours that add dimension and interest. It was a delight to paint.

Click for detail.
Click for detail.

I was at a dinner party recently, and was asked to show some pictures of my latest painting. The group was very interested in the gator, but expressed that they thought I really ought to paint an ibis to be fair. They were referring to the rivalry between University of Florida and University of Miami sports teams. Most of the guests were UM graduates, so they wanted to see a painting of their own mascot, the ibis. As it happens, I had already started painting an ibis. A few weeks later, I had a painting for each of the two teams. My father-in-law, the host of the dinner party and one of the UM alumni, was very pleased.