We are officially the Tiberius Art Studio

You may have guessed, from the updates to the website, that Kiry Tiberius has officially joined her father, Richard, to form the Tiberius Art Studio.  They have worked together on and off for many years, but recently have developed a shared space where they can more easily exchange ideas about composition and techniques.

Live Oak Grove (sold) | Kiry Tiberius

30 x 24 in  |  76.2 x 61 cm

This painting marks a turning point in my life. I was just coming out of a difficult period of doubt and personal struggle, and it was largely the creation of this painting that brought me to a point of clarity. Whatever else I might do with my life, painting was clearly the most natural path for me. The thrill of seeing fresh and vibrant oil paint coming out of the tube, the feel of the palette knife in my hand, seeing a composition take shape—it is hard to explain the visceral feeling I had, and still have, as anything other than it simply felt right.

Click for detail

The composition of this particular painting just happens to be symbolic of the sense of relief and joyful clarity I felt at knowing what I really wanted to do most. The relative darkness under the boughs of the live oak trees opens up into the bright sunlight of the clearing beyond. My mother suggested that this painting could be called, “Out of the darkness, and into the light.”

Instead, I have chosen to name this piece after the majestic trees that form such graceful shapes, the live oaks (Quercus agrifolia.) It is true that for many people part of the story of the work is the journey of the artist. For me, the focus of this painting—what originally drew me to the subject—is the almost magical feeling that the live oaks evoke as we pass under the shade of their spreading limbs. The little beams of sunlight that filter through, here and there, dance around as if to suggest that this might be where the fairies live.


Water Lilies and Pickerel Weed (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

36 inches (91.4 cm) wide by 24 inches (61 cm) high

Although trees in their autumn color are among the most popular landscape subjects aquatic plants are rarely included as part of autumn’s splendor.  But aquatic plants also change color as the weather turns cold.  My wife, Joyce, an expert canoeist, was maneuvering our canoe through aquatic plants while I looked for promising compositions with my camera.  At first, while we were facing the sun, the glare washed out the color of the leaves and water.  But as soon as Joyce turned the canoe around so that the sun was at our backs, the glare disappeared and the leaves came alive with many shades of violet, red, yellow, and green.  I snapped pictures as fast as I could.

Click for detail

In my studio I drew a composition based on the photographs.  In the final composition the leaves of the lilies swirled around a dense patch of Pickerel Weed like a cornucopia.  I could imagine a frog hoping across the flat leaves as if it were on a garden path.

Flat objects are difficult to paint with knives, especially when they are imprinted with delicate veins.  I rotated the bottom of the knife in a rough circle parallel to the surface to create the flat leaf.  Then I tapped the edge of the knife in paint of a slightly different color and tapped it onto the leaf in rays creating a pattern like spokes of a wheel.  Finally I stroked the rays to blend them into the leaf.  This kind of stroking must be accomplished with very light pressure.  I held the knife so lightly that only the weight of the knife was pressing on the surface.  In fact, every now and then the knife slipped out of my hand.

Almost all of the leaves on the surface of the water belong to Fragrant White Water Lilies (Nymphaea odorata).   Their rounded shape, narrow V-shaped split and white flowers distinguish them from other floating lilies.  I have also painted two flowers and three leaves of The Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar varietgatum).  Their leaves are smaller than those of the White Water Lily and heart shaped with rounded lobes.  The little oval leaves that are not split are something totally different.  They are Water Shield (Brasenia schreiberi).

And the Pickerel Weed?  Those are the tall shoots with long pointed leaves and violet flowers that look like little bottle brushes.  What a feast of color on such a little patch of water!


Hemlock and Pines on the Precambrian Shield | Richard G. Tiberius

24 inches (61 cm) wide by 18 inches (45.7 cm) high

One of the joys of painting nature is telling the story of their history. Underlying a huge swath of eastern Canada and the northeastern States is a vast stretch of smooth, bare rock often dotted in sparse patches by thin soil and stunted trees. Geologists refer to this rock formation as the Precambrian Shield because it dates back to that geological period. Most of us call it simply “bedrock”. A little further south, the soil is thick enough to support sizable trees. Here the bedrock is visible only at the banks of lakes where wave action has washed away the land. Such a scene I have depicted in this painting.

Click for detail

Notice the lines etched across the rock. These are scorings from a glacier, which dragged stones along the rock face as it ground over it. There is also a vein of quartz showing near the lake edge. These features make the rock way more interesting to paint than a concrete boat ramp.

There is also a story above the rock. The long feathery branches of Hemlock trees (Tsuga canadensis) reach out over the water. Note how the branches droop a little at the end. Early settlers confused the Hemlock Tree with a poisonous water hemlock, a plant that grows near streams. Apparently, the crushed leaves of the Hemlock Tree and the water hemlock plant have a similar smell. I don’t know this first hand because I never dared to touch the poison water hemlock plant. I also never tried to brew a tea from the new leaves of the Hemlock Tree, but apparently it is very rich in Vitamin C.

The other obvious trees in the painting are White Pine (Pinus strobus). Their layered branches are dotted with tufts of stiff needles. One Pine branch reaches into the painting from the left. A complete pine tree is in the distance.

I intend to come back to this spot again some day with a sandwich. I’ll bet the rock is warm in the sun, even on this fall day, and the mosses that cover it are soft.

Smoky Mountain River in Early Spring (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

30 inches (76.2 cm) by 24 inches (61 cm) high

In early spring, Smoky Mountain rivers run high.  The river I painted here has spread its tea-colored water over the stony apron, imparting a rich caramel tone to the stones.  Beyond the water’s reach the stones were almost white.  This dramatic contrast helped me define the water’s edge.

Click for Detail

Yellow Birch trees (Betula alleghaniensis) stretched over the open water to catch the light.  Yellow Birch are easily recognized by their peeling bark, like that of their better-known cousins the Paper Birches (Betula papyrifera). But the amber colored bark of the Yellow Birch doesn’t peel easily in flat sheets like that of the Paper Birch.  Rather it shreds in thin curls giving the trunk a rough appearance. I used a wet-on-wet technique, layering one color on top of another, to achieve this rough look.

Painting water is challenging, especially moving water, because it reflects all the colors of its surroundings. I used a wet-on-wet technique here as well, saving the white sparkles for the final layer.  I was particularly pleased when a friend–a fly fisherman–told me that he imagined lightly casting his fly on the water just above the rocks.  Then, when the fly swooshed over the rock a speckled trout would be waiting in the dark water to snap it up.  I was delighted to hear his description.  Apparently I had captured something that seemed authentic enough to stimulate the imagination of a person who knows and loves these mountain rivers.

Smoky Mountains in Early Spring, II | Richard G. Tiberius

38 inches (96.5 cm) wide by 24 inches (61 cm) high

This is the second painting I have made of the Smoky Mountains in Early Spring.  I find the soft pastel shades so peaceful that I could paint these mountains again and again.  In a few weeks all of these trees will be green.  But during a short period in the spring the trees are in flower or sprouting new leaves, which often begin red or ochre before turning green.

The trees covered with white flowers in the foreground are Juneberry Trees, also known as Serviceberry or Shadbush (Amelanchier in Botanical terms). Juneberry flowers are “showy” like the flowering trees in our gardens.  All of the other trees in the forest have flowers too, but they are not as showy.  From up close the flowers on the oak trees, mainly Red and white Oaks (Quercus rubra and Quercus alba), look like strings of breakfast cereal—tiny rust colored crumbles.  And the flowers of the Red maples (Acer rubrum) look like tiny red bouquets.  You wouldn’t be inclined to pick them for your flower vase.  But, when tens of thousands of them cover a huge tree, they look like pastel colored pillows from a distance.  This is what I tried to capture in this painting.
Click for detail.
Click for detail.

A few years ago, these pillowy mounds would be punctured by dark spires sprinkled all over the mountains.  The spires were Hemlock trees (Tsuga Canadensis and Tsuga caroliniana).  Today all that is left of the Hemlocks in this vista are bleached skeletons.  They have been killed by the woolly adelgid blight, an invasive bug from Asia.  As an artist I was faced with a dilemma.  I could have easily clothed these bare skeletons with the lush dark green branches or I could have left them out altogether.   After all, if I had painted this scene ten years ago, the Hemlocks would have been healthy and if I would have waited a few more years from now the bare trunks will have fallen down.  But in the end my respect for validity won over my desire to make a pleasing picture.  This is how these mountains looked in the spring of 2013.

Spring colors require a great deal of restraint from the artist.  Most colors, like orange or red straight from the tube, are too brilliant to depict the subtlety of the spring colors.  They have to be muted.  A better approach is to use the earth colors, so called because they are all compounds of iron oxides, like the siennas, ochres, and browns.  Even these need to be muted further to depict the greying of the colors as they disappear into the mist in the distance.

The Washington Post features Richard Tiberius

Artists don’t retire

Tiberius, now 73, figured that between his wife’s income, his Social Security benefits and the pension from his time as a researcher in Toronto, he could afford to spend more time in the studio at his Coconut Grove home. But he wasn’t ready to quit the university.

“When you’re cultivating something , growing something — whether it’s a business, painting or academic work — it’s hard to leave it,” Tiberius says.

…click to read full article


Wild Bananas | Richard G. Tiberius

38 inches (96.5 cm) wide by 28 inches (71.1 cm) high

The banana is one of the most popular fruits, sold in markets throughout the world. As anyone who has eaten one knows, they do not contain seeds. The only way the banana tree can reproduce is by sending up shoots. Yet today these seedless bananas are grown in over 100 countries. Humans are totally responsible for their dissemination by uprooting shoots and planting them, as did the farmers who first noticed this oddity more than 7000 years ago, somewhere in Indomalaya.

Click for detail

The folks who planted this clump of bananas could not have known that their farm would become part of a nature park where no one cleans out dead leaves or prunes and replants the shoots. So perhaps I should refer to them not as “wild” bananas but as “bananas gone wild” or “Feral” bananas.

For an artist, this clump represents a rare opportunity. It doesn’t look anything like a farm. Here we see the whole range of colors from the deepest green to yellow with brown and rusty edges. New leaves with their smooth borders look like huge paddles. As they age, they split into segments. Then, as the parent plant recalls its nutrients and pigments from the older leaves to use them in newer growth, the older leaves fade to a dull tan and the segments between the splits curl into conical rolls. The result is almost abstract—a panoply of color and form.

The bright sunlight reflecting off the leaves added sparkle to the riot of colors and shades. From a distance these patches of reflected light were pure white. But as I approached closer, the veins of the leaf, which had been masked by the glare, became apparent as pale green stripes. In this painting I retained both the sun patches and the green stripes. A painting can be more than a snapshot. It can include several perspectives.

These bananas live near the beach in Playa Pinuela, a park in Costa Rica. They are probably Musa acuminate or Musa balbisiana, two of the common cultivated species.

The Return of Texas Wildflowers (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

30 inches (76.2 cm) wide by 28 inches (71.1 cm) high

My favorite subjects are plants and animals in their original habitats, growing and living as they did before people changed their environment.  But often these original habitats are difficult to find.  Sun-loving wildflowers like these used to grow in open prairies.  The prairies were kept open by millions of Bison who stomped and chomped the trees.  Before Europeans arrived in America, Bison ranged throughout most of the middle States including all of Texas except its very southern tip.  Later, when the Bison were nearly wiped out, the trees started to grow back.  Also, farmers plowed and sowed the land with grass for cattle and horses.  As a result sun loving prairie flowers receded.

When I visited central Texas recently I discovered that some landowners have kept their fields free of trees but have not cultivated the fields.  In these fields the wildflowers have returned.  I was delighted to see that these domestic fields offer a window into the early Texas prairie environment.

Click for detail

The main flowers in this painting are all Texas species: The blue flowers are Texas Blue Bonnets (Lupinus texensis); the orange-red flowers are Texas Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa), and the yellow flowers are Texas False Dandelion (Pyrrhopappus multicaulis).  However, the grasses are probably not the original prairie grasses.  I suspect that the early European settlers planted cultivated, European grasses.  The original prairie grasses were taller and tougher.  The woods at the edge of the field included a mixture of species, dominated by Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoids).

Notice how the colors of the trees and flowers shift toward the blue end of the spectrum in the very distant field.  The distant flowers are really the same color as those in the foreground but they appear pink and violet instead of orange and blue because the blue light rays of the sun, being shorter than the yellow and red rays, are scattered by the atmosphere, creating a blue haze which affects all the colors.


Smoky Mountains in Early Spring (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

36 inches (91.4 cm.) wide by 24 inches (61 cm) high

A friend mistakenly assumed this was an autumn scene because of all the colors even though he had spent many days as a boy hiking in the these mountains. I’m not surprised. Most of us have never seen the spring colors. They last only a few days in April or May when we can’t get away for a holiday. By the time summer arrives the colors are masked by green chlorophyll. Since plants make the red, yellow and violet pigments responsible for these spring colors much more quickly than they can make chlorophyll, the other colors appear first. Then the underlying colors appear again in the fall when the chlorophyll dies off, unmasking them.

Click for detail.

The brilliant red bits on the tall Red Maple (Acer rubrum) trees are not leaves but little winged seeds, commonly called “keys”. Botanists call them “samaras”. When dry they float down off the trees, spinning as they go. Kids in my neighborhood used to split open the ends and stick them on their noses.

The Golden colors are a combination of the new leaves and flowers of oak trees, mainly Red Oak (Quercus rubra). The white and pink flowers are from Juneberry Trees, also known as Serviceberry or Shadbush. The genus is Amelanchier but I’m not sure which of the three species represented in the smoky Mountains is the one that I painted.

Painting mist—the “smoke” in the Smoky Mountains—is tricky for a knife painter. If I were using brushes I could have mixed a pale wash and brushed it over the underlying scene. But to create the effect of mist with a knife, the colors had to be adjusted so that the background appeared lighter, duller and shifted toward the blue-violet end of the spectrum. These are the changes that take place in light when it is filtered through a dense atmosphere.

Smoky Mountains in Early Spring – Progression

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

Because of the mist—the iconic feature of the Smoky Mountains—there was a great difference between the barely visible distant mountains and the tree trunks.This scene required a careful adjustment of value from foreground to background.To strike the right relative darkness between the trees and the mountains before investing time in the entire painting, I painted a stripe along the left side of the painting.When the values were adjusted I continued with each layer horizontally across the painting.

The trees consisted of many colors. I back painted areas with a mid range color (panel three) and then added the higher and lower tones. I made the twigs and branches first, following my drawing. Instead of working around the twigs and branches with the background, which is a very tedious process, I waited until the twigs dried and then swept my knife over them with the background color, scraping along the twigs so that dark lines were left defining each twig. You can’t do this with brush painting. The technique depends upon painting the twigs with little ridges of paint using the side of the knife.

The Lake through the Trees | Richard G. Tiberius

26 x 20 in | 66 x 50.8 cm

Personally I think lakes looks more interesting when viewed through the trees. At least this is the argument I always give to cottage owners whenever they talk about clear-cutting the trees in front of their cottages so that they could have an unobstructed view of their lake.

Despite the yellow color of the leaves, this is not a fall scene. In the midday sun these leaves were green. But when struck by evening sunlight at just the right angle, they appear yellow. Also, in evening light the birch bark glows because the sun shines right through the thin peals of bark lighting them up like candles.

Click for detail

These Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) are at the very edge of the lake. It’s a good place for a young birch because they need lots of sun, but there is a downside. Summer storms and winter ice will eventually undermine them and they will bend out toward the lake. Eventually it will fall into the water, providing a refuge for little fish.

In the foreground is a little Red Oak (Quercus rubra). If I were to revisit this place in the fall, the leaves of this oak would be brilliant red. As much as I would like to show this brilliant red, the artistic license that I allow myself doesn’t stretch to mixing the seasons. Fortunately, a few of the shrubs at the shoreline are in the process of shedding some lower leaves, which turn bright orange.

Looking on the Lake Through the Trees (sold)

24 x 24 in | 61 x 61 cm

On a beautiful summer morning as I paddled along the lakeshore, I spotted the perfect place to stop for a snack. A rock bed jutted out from the forest like a skirt, dry and flat enough to pull up my canoe. I lay down on the rock looking out at the lake. Behind me was a wall of foliage created by vigorous growth of branches enjoying the unimpeded sunlight.

After emptying my water bottle, I decided to visit the woods before setting out on the water again. I couldn’t see an opening in the dense tangle through which to squeeze so I clawed and pushed my way through the dense tangled growth of shrubs and branches. But when I emerged on the other side everything was different. I was amazed at how much space there was in this place where deep shade prevented growth. And there was a rock shaped like a perfect little seat. I was struck by how interesting the lake was when framed by the trees. Since then, I have often plunged into the woods, turned around and viewed the lake from inside. This painting is one such view.

Click for detail

The sun was low enough to sneak in under the trees and light up the trunks of a young Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) and a Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera). You can also see my little stone chair on the left. In between these two trees were the offspring of each of them, saplings of Red Pine and Paper Birch.

Pine needles are arranged like rays in a starburst while the heart-shaped birch leaves form cascades. The contrast of forms is one of the features that attracted me to this composition. Each leaf requires a different technique. I made the pine needles by tapping the edge of the knife on the board and the birch leaves by using the flat surface of the knife.

Bald Cypress with Bromeliads | Richard G. Tiberius

35.75 x 26 in | 90.8 x 66 cm

The tea colored water surrounding these Cypress trees gave an orange color to the mulch below. But I could see the bottom only in the shadow of the trees where the reflection of the sky was blocked. Between the trees the surface of the water was like a mirror, reflecting the bright sky. I was struck by this combination of orange and blue stripes.

Click for detail.

Another feature of this scene that caught my eye was the many colors of the Bromeliads. The one clinging to the second cypress from the right, for example, is an icy green, probably reflecting the bluish surface of the water. Some of the other Bromeliads, especially the large one at the extreme right in the painting, are back-lighted. The sun was able shine through its leaves because the leaves in early spring are thin and translucent. Later in the summer the leaves will be more opaque, loosing their stained glass window effect, but brilliant flower spikes would no doubt make up for the loss. Another sign of spring is the pale yellow-green of the new leaves on the Cypress trees. Cypresses are one of only three conifers in the world that lose their leaves. And when new leaves emerge they are extremely delicate and pale yellow-green.

These Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) live in the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida.

Texas Bluebonnets and Texas Paintbrushes | Richard G. Tiberius

21 1/4 x 22 in |  54 x 56 cm

From a distance Texas Bluebonnets and Texas Paintbrushes present stunning displays of blue and red-orange. But a closer look reveals their complex and beautiful forms. I painted this composition from a close perspective to celebrate these forms.

The Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) is no daisy. At the top of the plant, where the flowers are first developing, they are white, tinged with a little yellow-green toward the base. Older flowers lower down the stem, become dark blue, brushed with a deep purple. The flower consists of two distinctly different types of petals. At the bottom, two petals are clasped together like hands in prayer, forming what looks like a little blue football. The upper petal is more like a lacrosse racket. It’s called a “banner petal” in the guidebooks because it’s open like a banner. It sports a white or pale yellow “eye” in the center. I discovered as I painted by first Bluebonnet that these white “eyes” changed color with age. The older eyes, lower in the stem, turn lavender and then deep violet.

Click for detail.

The Texas Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) is every bit as fascinating and challenging to paint as the Bluebonnets. The bright reddish and pink ovals that look like petals are really leaves (called leaf “bracts” by botanists). What makes them so challenging for a painter is that they are tipped with red, followed by a band of yellow and then fading into green like the rest of the leaves. Protruding out from among these orange leaves are tubular structures, mostly yellow with red or pink tips. But these are really not flowers either. They are what botanists call the sepals, like the little green flaps at the base of a rose. So where are the real flowers? The real flowers are inside this funnel, barely sticking out. I really enjoy painting flowers like this but, as I said, they’re no daisies. After working on this painting for a while my palette looked someone had been painting Old Glory—red, white and blue paint.

The leaves of Bluebonnets are lined with a pale green. To make thin edges with a knife is difficult, so I used a trick. I laid down a pale green leaf followed by a darker green right on top of the first one. Since the second application was smaller the pale edges squeezed out on the sides. This little patch of flowers lives in Ennis, Texas, where my wife and daughter and I stayed at a beautiful B&B specifically to see the Texas Bluebonnets.


Sugar Maples, Old and New – Progression

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

Since the trunk of the old Sugar Maple is the center piece of this composition I painted it first, adjusting the shadows so that the trunk would stand out against the sky. Next, I painted the foreground using shadows that are darker than those in the trunk to create the illusion that the tree is more distant.  Once these colors were set I added a block of bright yellow as under-painting for the new leaves and then filled in the details.

I use several different methods to make bark.  In this case I began by painting all the crevices with a dark brown and then building up the spaces in between with heavy applications of lighter brown using the side of the knife.  It would have been easier to paint the whole trunk dark brown first because then I wouldn’t have had to squeeze the lighter color between the cracks, which is a bit tedious.  But, the natural cracks in the bark are what makes the old tree so interesting.  I sketched the cracks exactly as they were on the original tree and I wanted to follow my sketch precisely.

Pond Cypress with Streaking Sunlight – Progression

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

Since all of the tree trunks in this painting are Pond Cypress it’s tempting to paint them all the same color.  But when I examined them closely I found that each tree trunk is slightly different in color from the others.  One way to ensure these differences is to begin the painting by under-painting the trunks of the trees in different colors.  Then, even after I apply the leaves, and the bromeliads and lichen that grow on the trunks, these differences in the undertone will shine through.

Tamarack Bog – Progression

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

To capture the essence of the Tamarack I wanted to show its long, wispy branches that bend easily under the weight of snow.  To show individual branches I would have to paint them against a dark background, keeping in mind that this background should not be as dark as the shadows in the foreground or it will not look more distant.  Therefore, I began this painting by adjusting the two dark areas–the shadows behind the little Tamarack in the center, and the shadows in the foreground.

Then I made sure, in photo #5, that the little Tamarack stood out sufficiently clearly before I painted the rest of the trees.  I made them less brilliant to keep the viewer’s eye on the little guy in the center.


Silver Maple in Early Spring – Progression

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

The graceful, complex structure of the Silver Maple is the center piece of this painting.  I painted the tree first so that I would not lose even one twig from my sketch.  Of course, this meant that the background had to be painted between the twigs and branches, a very time-consuming and tedious task.  But I made the task easier with a trick.  I waited until the twigs had dried and then I scraped over them with my knife loaded with the color of the background, thus filling in between the twigs and leaving a brown line where the knife scraped along the twigs.  If you look closely you can see where the twigs are almost submerged in photographs #2 and #3.

Then I refreshed the twigs and branches with another application of paint using the side of the knife.  And lastly, added the leaves.