Crabapple Blossoms (sold) | Kiry Tiberius

Crabapple Blossoms  |  oil on panel  |  30×24

In real life, a crabapple blossom would fit in the palm of your hand. I chose to magnify the flowers in order to recreate the intensity of being close to the tree in bloom. The blooming crabapple is an unforgettable experience. The flowers are so densely packed in exploding clusters, with the leaves barely keeping up with their exuberance. “Spring is here!” they seem to say.

Click for detail

The complexity of form and colour that springtime brings to the crabapple is a delightful challenge to the oil painter. Bright sunlight creates shadows, reflections, and shifts in visible hue that can be almost overwhelming. Painting these little, five-petaled flowers much larger than life size gave me the opportunity to emphasize the intricate patterns that might go unnoticed if the viewer were farther from the tree. Even the slight, pink reflection from the flowers that shifts toward purple in hue when seen in the shadow on a leaf can be seen when we take our time, soaking in the beauty this tree has to offer.

 

 

Engelmann Spruce and Fireweed – Progression

The pictures in the slideshow will cycle every 2 seconds. To view an individual step in the progression, click “Show Thumbnails”.

In this painting I used the traditional method of blocking out large areas of color before filling in the details.  The first step was to adjust the relative colors of the near field, far field, and sky.

 

celebrating nature

Our art celebrates the beauty and complexity of wild nature. We hope our work will encourage the conservation of wild habitats. All of us are aware of the immeasurable value of plants in providing useful products—from food to furniture—but our art celebrates an aspect of nature that owes nothing to the industry of humanity. We don’t paint captive animals or garden plants. We are focused on the species in its natural habitat. Honoring the context that shaped each magnificent species is a kind of empathy. The more we learn about the natural history and ecology of each plant or animal the more connected we feel with it and the more likely we are to conserve it.

Another defining characteristic of our work is attention to details. The details are fascinating. Take the bark of a tree, for example. Trees grow from a layer just under the bark so they outgrow their bark every season.  Therefore the bark must crack or shed to make room for the growing trunk. Birches solve this problem by peeling off the bark the way a snake sheds its skin; Sycamores and Jeffrey Pines shed their bark in jigsaw-like pieces; and Oaks develop cracks that deepen and widen as the tree ages. When we are painting trees we pay attention to these differences to help the viewer appreciate the particular tree as if it were a character in a novel. We hope that these details will help you appreciate these lovable characters.

Richard learned quite by accident that this kind of empathy with natural things is close to what the First Nations People call understanding their “spirit”. He learned this as the guest at a wedding where he happened to be seated next to a Micmac Shaman. The Micmacs are a first Nations People originally from an area that is now the Canadian Maritimes. When he found out that Richard painted trees they got into a lively conversation about the native flora. The Shaman told fascinating stories from the mythos of his people. Richard told the Shaman how much he enjoyed his beautiful stories, but honesty obligated Richard to say “I appreciate that your people have had a connection to the trees of this land many thousand times longer than my people have had, but with respect, the tree that I want to paint was here long before even your people arrived”.  Richard was concerned that the Shaman might consider this statement insulting, but he looked at Richard with an expression of delight and recognition. He said, “That is exactly the idea of the spirit of the tree that we Micmac understand!”

Being in the presence of something wild can be an awesome experience. Most of us experience this awe when in the presence of large wild animals or dramatic flora like a giant sequoia or red maple in blazing fall color. We like painting such dramatic images, but we take a special pleasure in revealing the majesty of a species that may not be so dramatic, capturing the unremarkable at an ideal moment.

story telling in words

During dinner conversation, Richard was telling a friend about the story behind one of his paintings.  The friend found the story very interesting and wondered aloud whether Richard had ever written any of them down. On his suggestion Richard began printing the stories on sheets with the writing tucked around a small picture of each painting. The sheets were enormously popular at the opening of his exhibition. Everyone who bought a painting wanted a copy of the accompanying story.  When Kiry joined the Tiberius Studio she followed the tradition of writing a story for each painting.
People have told us that the stories helped them see features of the painting that they had overlooked. We experienced the value of context when we were in Madrid visiting El Prado. We engaged a tour guide for a second tour because we saw so much more in the art when the guide explained the context of the works. He not only explained the social and political context behind the subject of the painting, he also enlightened us about the perspectives and evolving techniques of the artists. We try to do the same with our stories. Each story contains comments on our perspective of the subject, our emotional response to it, a little biology, and often some notes about technique.

story telling in paint

The empathy we feel for a species is enhanced by knowledge of its natural history and ecology, that is, the story of each species and its relationships with the rest of the natural world. The story shapes the composition of our paintings. Richard once made a large painting of Black-eyed-Susans with some Ox-eye Daisies in the foreground. The daisies were clearly past their prime, their petals were faded and drooping below swollen seed clusters. He could easily have taken a few weeks off the lives of the daisies to show both ray flowers in their prime, but then he would have failed to tell the story. The story is that these plants stagger their peak flowering times to share the bees and other pollinators. As the daisies begin to fade, the Black-eyed Susans take over. Telling the story is an important part of our art.
There is some truth to the old cliché “to know you is to love you” when it comes to the appreciation of nature. This cliché may seem like a stretch when applied to trees, but that is only because they are less familiar to us than animals. We expect to see tigers in tropical surroundings and zebras in grasslands. We know so much about these animals that an image of the animal out of its natural context would be jarring. Perhaps as we know more about the flora, we will find satisfaction seeing plants in their natural habitat and among their usual companions˜like sun flowers in an open field or violets in the forest.

the process

We paint exclusively with knives, not brushes. With knives we can sculpt the texture of the paint, which provides a three-dimensional quality to the painting. Another advantage is that knives can be cleaned with a single stroke of a paper towel or rag helping us to keep our colors from becoming muddy from unwanted mixing.

We work in a studio from our own photographs, which we have taken on many hiking trips over the years. We find that photography is the best way to capture nature in its wild, messy state. Often pristine Nature is found in places where setting up an easel for any length of time would be impossible.

Second, when taking photographs, we try to imitate what our eyes would do if we were actually at the scene. While a camera freezes the image at one focus and exposure, being present in nature is an interactive experience. We do not experience Nature as a snapshot. The pupils of our eyes dilate to reveal the details within the dark shadows of tree trunks; they constrict to reveal the colors and cloud shapes of a bright sky. Our eyes change their focus too, from distance to foreground. After viewing a scene from various vantage points, and under different lighting conditions, we form a rich mental image, composed of many visual experiences—a mental collage—that no camera can capture in a single image. In parallel to the process of vision, we take many pictures at different exposures, focuses, and perspectives. When we return to the studio there is not a single photo that captures the magic of the scene. Each photo gives us a piece of visual information that can be used in the construction of a composition. The overexposed photo may completely wash out the sky but preserves the details in the dark trunks of the trees. The underexposed photo captures the colors of the sky and contours of the clouds while leaving the trunks of the trees are totally black. Our photos are merely visual “notes” from which we attempt to construct a painting that evokes the experience of being there.

Finally, we embrace complexity. Just because nature is ordered does not mean it is simple. It has a very complex organization that cannot be discerned by the inexperienced eye. To most of us, unspoiled nature looks messy. The tendency to organize perception is a strong feature of the human mind. The result is often orderly but boring. In our paintings we actively resist the temptation to clean up Nature. We will eliminate telephone poles from a scene we are painting, but we resist the temptation to remove seaweed from the beach in a painting of a white ibis on the beach. Complexity is an important component of what is exciting about the natural world. Also, complex scenes can hold our attention longer. One of the comments we love to hear from viewers of our paintings is that the more they look at a painting the more they see in it.

genre

Finding the place of our paintings within the world of art is perhaps a task better left to art historians. Our guess is that our paintings lie somewhere at the crossroads between Naturalism, Impressionism, and Realism. Surely, what we do is far from traditional Naturalism epitomized by pastel or water color drawings of flowers, fruit, and leaves, neatly arranged over a cursive script of the botanical name. Yet, we were pleased when a friend, who was a professor of forestry, was able to identify every tree in our paintings by genus and species.

Neither are we focused exclusively on capturing a moment of light, as true impressionists are. Claude Monet, whom we think of as the ultimate impressionist, showed the world that, under the right lighting conditions, even a train station is beautiful. If he were alive today he would surely be able to reveal the hidden beauty of a strip mall. Our appreciation of beauty is more confined to wild Nature. We were driving with Kiry’s grandfather, who is an engineer, past a vast landscape of rolling hills covered with flowers. The fields were also studded with giant wind turbines. Later, when we showed the pictures to Grandpa Frank he asked what happened to the beautiful windmills. He had assumed that Richard had taken pictures of the turbines although he had carefully directed the camera so as to avoid them.

From a distance our paintings may appear similar to Realism, but we strive to paint only with the level of detail necessary to capture the individual character of each subject rather than striving for photographic realism. It is at least clear that our work does not fit into Photorealism, since we paint with knives, creating a heavy texture, which is not very realistic at close range, but provides a three dimensional quality to the painting.

Frankly, we have less interest in discovering the particular genre of our art than we have in understanding its relationship to Nature. Years ago, at the opening of one of Richard’s art shows, someone asked him, while looking at his painting of an oak tree, “What is the relationship of your art to Nature?” Without hesitation, Richard replied “I was commissioned by the oak to paint its portrait.” Although they both laughed at this absurd image, there was something satisfying about it. It stayed in Richard’s mind long afterward. Even today, the idea of being commissioned by a tree, strikes both Kiry and Richard as an appropriately humble position for humans to assume toward Nature. The fantasy of being commissioned by a tree restores to the natural world a significance that is larger than art and even larger than humanity. In our view a successful painting is like a lens through which the viewers can learn to appreciate the beauty of a plant or animal for the first time or are reminded of the beauty they had known before.

Color Wheel

Color wheels

We arrange our oil color tubes on a rotating circular tray that has two tiers. The tray serves several functions. First a rotating tray gives us ready access to all the tubes without having to rummage around in a paint box. We use many colors for every painting—sometimes only tiny amounts from each—and we don’t want to compromise our range of color out of impatience with finding a tube. Second, we have arranged the oils in the order of a typical color wheel, across the color spectrum from yellow to violet. There is a photo of our double-layered paint tray under the section called “Painting with Knives”. The tray is made of a lazy susan with circular pieces of thin plywood on top to extend the surface. The top layer is a piece of scrap carpet that keeps the tubes from sliding around. Hanging above the tubes of paint we have two color wheels that correspond to all the colors on the tray. See photographs of them on the left. The wheels enable us to get a quick idea of the distance on the color spectrum of each tube of color. The proximity of two colors on the spectrum is very important because the closer two colors are on the spectrum the more brilliance will be retained in the result. Mixing colors that are across from one another on the spectrum will dull the brilliance “desaturate” the resulting color. Finally, the two-tier system enables us to separate the earth colors from the others. Earth colors, so-called because they are compounds of iron, are arranged on the upper tray while all the other colors are arranged on the lower tray. By separating our oil colors into these two collections we can more easily maintain the “fat over lean” rule of oil painting. The earth colors, by and large are “leaner” (they absorb less oil) than the others. When possible leaner colors should be laid down first. Moreover, the earth colors are less saturated (brilliant) than the other colors and dry more quickly. The saturation or brilliance of a pigment is very important because it enables us to create the illusion of depth and lighting effects by using the desaturated colors in the depth or shadows and more brilliant colors for the highlights or lighted areas.

The ground

Before applying any paint, the surface of the panel must be prepared by sanding, to roughen it, and by applying a layer of paint called a “ground”, a coating that bonds with both the panel and the oil colors. Until recently we used a procedure that has been used for hundreds of years, three coats of hide glue, applied hot, followed by two coats of oil primer. Today we use an acrylic “size” followed by an acrylic Gesso. We resisted the acrylic coatings because we were not certain that they would bond well with oil paint. However, paint chemists have informed us that good quality Gesso today is formulated to be porous, allowing the oil to make a strong mechanical bond with the Gesso even though the oil does not make a chemical bond with it.

Hardboard panels

Panels seen from the back

We paint on hardboard, as many knife painters do, not on canvas. Thick applications of paint could break if the canvas were rolled. Many of the great masters painted on natural wood or hardboard panels, including Picasso. The problem with natural wood is its tendency to crack or “check” over time. Hardboard is essentially homogenized wood, so it doesn’t crack. (Many of us are more familiar with the name “Masonite” than “hardboard,” but we cannot use the name “Masonite” anymore since it is copyrighted. Calling it “hardboard” avoids this copyright problem.) Hardboard is made by exploding wood fibers with steam and then pressing them back together into sheets without any additives or glues. The lignins and other natural substances of the wood hold it all together just as they do in the original wood. To prevent warping, we back the panels with a frame, as you can see in the picture to the left.

Painting with knives

Palette knives

People are often surprised when we tell them that we use painting knives instead of brushes. They point to some fine lines on a painting and ask if these were also painted with a knife. Yes, they were. We have some brushes somewhere in the studio but we rarely use them. For people who have never heard about knife painting we have to explain that painting knives are not like kitchen knives. They are more like miniature spatulas, usually triangular in shape. The photo on the left shows the large collection of knives that we have gathered over the years. Below that photo is one of my palette with the knives in plastic cylinders. By this arrangement we can use 10 different colors at a time, each one on a separate knife. We prefer knives because they allow us to control the colors better than we can with brushes. Years ago, when we used brushes, we weren’t able to clean a brush between every application of paint.  Consequently the brush continually mixed the pigments, making them muddy or desaturated. With the knife we can apply the pigments straight from the tube, wiping them between applications, so that the colors remain pure and bright. Where desaturated colors are needed, of course, we can mix the desired level of desaturation.Another reason for painting with a knife is that it allows us to sculpt the surface of the paint so that each object reflects light as it would in real life. This gives the painting a depth that we could not accomplish with a flat surface. A field of grass looks soft because individual blades scatter the reflected light. When painting grasses or pine needles we use the edge of the knife, making thin ridges of paint that give the surface a third dimension. The ridges break up the light in the same way that real grass would, giving the surface a soft appearance. Hard, flat surfaces like bark on tree trunks reflect light in patches while the cracks in between trap most of the light and thus appear dark to the viewer. When painting bark we might underpaint with dark brown, then build up the bark by laying on flat plates of paint, and finally, when the plates have dried, use a technique called “scumbling” in which we run over the dry plates with our knives to add highlights, moss, or other features. Essentially, we are painting in three or four layers. The picture on the bottom left illustrates the result of this technique. The photo was taken at an acute angle so that you can appreciate the three dimensional quality of the paint.

Special Oil Colors

To use our knife technique we require highly viscous paints. Oil colors that are the consistency of jam are formulated to spread easily with a brush, but they either slide off the knife or form drooping strings that make precise control impossible. A thick and granular consistency is ideal for knife painting, but this consistency should not be achieved by the addition of fillers, which dull the colors. Dense pigments are more expensive but well worth it because they enhance viscosity without dulling the color. Several manufacturers make oil colors of a suitable consistency, but strangely no one manufacturer makes colors that are all free of what we call “stringiness”.

Oils

Daler-Rowney Artists Oil Colours, Winsor and Newton and Old Holland are particularly suitable in consistency for knife painting, but there are odd exceptions. For example Old Holland earth colors are the perfect consistency for knife painting but their Titanium White is stringy. We use Winton Titanium White oil color.

Readers who know their oil colors will recognize that Winton is the brand name for Winsor & Newton’s oil colors for students.  This color is the single exception we make to the rule that we always use “artist” quality oil colors rather than “student” quality.  The reason that we use Winton Titanium White is simply that it has the very best consistency for knife painting of any white we have ever encountered.  Is there a downside?  No.  There might be a downside if we were comparing Cadmium Yellow (artists’ quality) with Cadmium Yellow Hue (students’ quality) because manufacturers substitute less expensive pigments in the students’ oil colors for their more expensive counterparts in their “artists” or “professional” lines.  The students’ colors  are sometimes not as brilliant or durable as the artists’ colors.  But Titanium is Titanium.  If it might be a little less opaque than the artists’ pigments the difference would never be noticed in the thick applications that we knife painters use.  Someone who paints with thin washes may be able to detect the difference.  Meanwhile, for knife painting, it’s gorgeous.

Tina Martimianakis

Yesterday Eva and I visited the gallery to see your paintings. You are amazing! The colours and texture really make the flora and landscapes come alive. The reproductions are so flat in comparison. The collection is spectacular. I really don’t have the words to describe how impressed I was.My two favourite are the Engelmann Spruce and the one in the gallery window with the daisies. What a gift you have Richard˜really awe inspiring.Thank you for sharing it with us!

Mary Hookey

Your art show was wonderful! I made sure that my daughter, who is an artist, went to see your paintings. Her first comment about your work was˜”It is just amazing.” I know that the focus in both the method of painting and the topic of your body of work were really helpful for her to see. Since so much of my time in the last decade was in North Bay, I had no idea that you were doing this kind of work. All the best for many more very successful shows!

Debra Sibbald

I am sure Gary told you how delighted I am with the magical dogwood painting he brought home from your show. For me, it is a perfect capture of the quiet mysticism of this damp yet vibrant foliage and it brings light, colour and texture into the room we have placed it. I was so disappointed to be at a technology seminar during your exhibit!! I have pressed Gary for the details of your other works, but words are never enough. I am looking forward to the next one, for sure.

Eva Mocarski

Just wanted to let you know that the highlight of last Friday was dropping into the Gallery and seeing your paintings … They said all but one of your paintings were sold! Must feel fantastic.I am a big fan of wildflowers too, have lots of books on them, and I continuously scour the ground and fields for them˜your paintings captured their beauty and made me feel as if I were there in the midst of summer. In particular I liked the chicory and brown-eyed Susan’s and the landscape of the yellow tree over the stream. I also enjoyed the personal touch, with your notes about the paintings.

Ambrose Cheng

The paintings on exhibit are superb! The texture in the works makes them so much more vivid than the invitation reproduction could suggest. The details … surely God is in the details… A real vitality in the medium and content. Thanks for the view.

Yvonne Hastings

When you live in the bush, or spend a great deal of time there, you begin to feel a sense of the mysticism, the powerful spirit of the land. Nature becomes a Presence that is woven into the landscape. Richard’s work captures not only the beauty of Nature but also that elusive spiritual Presence that is the essence of Nature. I feel that Presence strongly when I look at his paintings.Sometimes when I’m in the natural world I am startled by its beauty˜the light shining through the spring green of popular leaves, the rough trunks of trees, a mysterious swamp. I feel transfixed, overwhelmed. I try to memorize it so that I can carry it with me always. Sometimes I forget. Richard has captured those moments in oil. When I look at his paintings I relive my own experiences. They are like a catalyst for my memory.

Yvonne Hastings was born and grew up on an island in the Churchill River in Saskatchewan, close to the Manitoba border.

Earl Miller

Painting a subject with sensitivity actually requires a certain cool detachment from the chosen, revered subject. Otherwise, the painting˜recall Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray here˜reflects sensitivity to the artist not to the subject. Naturally, this approach is even easier to overlook if the subject is not human. Yet it is perhaps more important, something Richard Tiberius is acutely aware of as he paints his landscapes. Tiberius’ life-long interest in nature, particularly flora, has led to an accumulated knowledge and a humble appreciation of flowers and trees….Strengthening this bond of empathy is his study of flora, which allows for precise natural detail: the tiny hairs on the stem of a certain kind of flower or the roughness of twigs on a particular type of spruce.Yet his role is not that of a pedagogical illustrator offering clinical biological descriptions. He instead uses detail as a springboard for arriving at aesthetic truths. If, for instance, a tree is rugged by nature, he does not alter it for the sake of mood or atmosphere to appear delicate. Such aesthetic imposition gets in the way of interpretations ringing true to the subject. Ultimately, Richard Tiberius sensitively captures the essence of things natural by portraying them with accuracy, respect and empathy.