Engelmann Spruce and Fireweed | Richard G. Tiberius

28 x 24 in | 71.1 x 61 cm

The striking contrast of the brilliant patch of Fireweed against the dark shadow of the Spruce drew me to this scene.  Fireweed virtually sparkles because of the brilliant white flags that stick out from the center of each flower.  These are the stamens, the male flower parts that contain pollen.  By reaching so far out of the flower, their pollen is more likely to reach other flowers rather than their own, one of the objectives of sexual reproduction in plants.  This is all very interesting to me because I love the story behind the scene, but from the artist’s point of view, the white flecks added sparkle to the brilliant pink.

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Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) is brilliant in other ways too.  Its network of underground runners (rhizomes) stabilizes the soil after a fire.  Moreover, according to Janis Huggins, author of “Wild at Heart”, the shoots are eaten by indigenous people and the flowers produce so much nectar that Russian and Canadian honey industries depend upon it.

The trees in this scene are Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii).  Engelmann are among the few trees that can survive the harsh conditions at the tree line in these mountains of New Mexico.  It should be no surprise that a little further along the trail we encountered Bristle Cone Pines, the all-time champion of mountaintop survival.  I cannot be absolutely sure that some of the smaller trees in the background are not Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) because the Blues also live at high altitudes and the bluish cast of the leaves is not a reliable discriminant. Both species have variations that are quite bluish.

Binding Love (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

18 x 16 in | 45.7 x 40.6 cm

Hiking in the hills above the sea on the California Coast, I found this little Morning Glory clinging to dry stalks of grass.  The petals seemed too delicate to compete in such a harsh environment.  It made a direct hit on my protective instinct.  How bravely it seemed to hold onto the grass on this dry, windswept hill.

After finishing the painting I reached for my flower guide certain that it would confirm my discovery of some rare and delicate native beauty.  Here’s a summary of what Wikipedia has to say about Convolvulus arvensis (“Field Bindweed”).

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Although it produces attractive flowers, it is often unwelcome in gardens as a nuisance weed due to its rapid growth and choking of cultivated plants. It is one of the most serious weeds of agricultural fields in temperate regions of the world.  Its dense mats invade agricultural fields and reduce crop yields; it is estimated that crop losses due to this plant in the United States exceeded US $377 million in the year 1998 alone.  It was most likely introduced into North America as a contaminant in crop seed as early as 1739, as an invasive species.  It intertwines and topples native species, and competes with other species for sunlight, moisture and nutrients.  It is difficult to eradicate because the seeds remain viable in soil for up to 20 years and one plant can produce up to 500 seeds! The deep, extensive root system stores carbohydrates and proteins and allows it to sprout repeatedly from fragments and rhizomes following removal of aboveground growth. It’s even toxic to cattle.

It’s a monster!  I had to laugh at myself.  This little vine challenged my moralistic principle of painting only plants in their natural habitat.  It forced me to choose between two perspectives—art or environment.  I asked myself, as a dedicated environmentalist, if I had known about the history of this vine would have painted it?  My answer was “yes”.  Aren’t there beautiful faces in a rogue’s gallery?  Besides, this tough little plant was here before the United States was a country.  Doesn’t that give it some “native” status?  And art is in the eyes of the beholder.  In this composition it evokes my sympathy.

Strap Ferns on the Corkscrew River (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

48 x 34 in | 121.9 x 86.4 cm

The meandering Corkscrew River is the life blood of the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a protected habitat for a stand of ancient Bald Cypress.  Its visual complexity has inspired a number of my paintings.  There is so much plant life in this forest that almost everywhere you look you can find sufficient variation in foliage and color range to make an exciting composition.

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Clearly the central feature of this painting is the Long Strap Fern (Campyloneurum phyllitidis).  A magnificent specimen dominates the center of the painting.  It has earned its place in the name of the painting. These epiphytic ferns take root on and grow on top of other plants.  They are not parasites; they take nothing from the plant but a boost into higher elevations and more sunlight.  I enjoyed making the scalloped leaves with my painting knife by twisting little blobs of white into each curve of the edges.  The texture of these edges creates an undulating effect as you walk past the painting.

Adding to the visual feast are the ferns and bromeliads hanging from every place that provides a foothold.  On both sides of the foreground the large leaves of Alligator Flag (Thalia geniculata) frame the painting.  They are called Alligator Flag (Thalia geniculata) because the waving of the tall flower stalks may indicate a moving alligator hidden in the leaves below.  Their fading leaves lend shades of ochre and orange to a scene that is dominated by green.

Even the cypress trees themselves add to the complexity.  These are not the giant Bald Cypresses (Taxodium distichum), which stand tall and straight like pillars.  These are Pond Cypress (Taxodium ascendens), a closely related but smaller species that, in contrast to the Bald Cypress, lean and twist unpredictably. 

Dark Pines and Light Birches | Richard G. Tiberius

28 x 23.75 in | 71.1 x 60.3 cm

The dark trunks of these grand old pines and the shadows they cast on the shrubs in the foreground formed a dramatic frame for the scene.  The valley stretching out below created a striking bright window provided by pale yellow tops and white trunks of birch trees.  As I stood on the edge of the bluff looking out I could see beyond the valley to the next hill and the one beyond that.  The yellow colors of the birches faded to dusty rose and then pink in the distance.

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The composition required the pine trunks to be very dark.  Dark colors alone were insufficient.  I used the side of my knife, laying each strip of bark on separately until they formed a pattern of little ridges that trapped the light.  Then I lightly dragged the knife over these ridges to create the mauve and green overtones to depict lichen and reflected light.  The result would look rather stark were it not for the riot of color in the foreground provided by the Viburnum shrubs that turn multi colored in the fall.  Each leaf seems to be able to turn color independently.  The birch leaves, too, range in color from butter yellow to orange and ochre tones, but the effect is more subtle.

The “white” in the name White Birch is obvious, although the botanical name refers to another aspect of their bark, namely its papery texture (Betula paperifera).  As for the White Pines (Pinus strobes), the whitish lines on the leaves (needles) give them a shiny whitish appearance, but you surely can’t see this in a painting.  I made the Viburnum leaves egg shaped with a rather long point to distinguish them from another species that looks very similar.  These are “Downey Arrow-wood” (Viburnum Rafinesquianum) for Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1783-1840) naturalist and author of many new plant names.

Winter Color in Spring (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

25 x 18 in | 63.5 x 45.7 cm

Many landscape painters love this little shrub for the accent it gives to winter scenes. The new twigs provide dramatic exclamation points of brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges that stick out from the snow at every angle. In summer the dark green, velvety leaves, add considerably to its beauty but they hide the colors of the branches. However, if you happen to see one in early spring, in the few short days that the buds are first opening, you will be treated to a rare combination of the best of both seasons—the dazzling colors of the branches decorated with new leaves, bursting out like green fountains. The fuzzy new leaves shine white like sprays of water when they catch the light.

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A typical landscape composition, executed from a distance, would miss these dramatic effects. To appreciate the wild tangle of colors you have to be close enough to touch the branches. I remember thinking that weavers must feel like this when they make complex textiles. I love the complexity of nature. If I tried to make this up out of my head, it would look a whole lot more regular.

In Northeastern North America, where this shrub is common, it is referred to as Red Osier Dogwood. The word “Osier” is an ancient word for a number of shrubs with pliable shoots used in basketry. In this case I prefer the botanical name, Cornus stolonifera. “Cornus” comes from the Latin word Cornu for “horn.” “Horn-like” is a perfect description of the hard wood and twigs that often curl up like horns on some species of dogwood. And “Stolonifera” explains why it always seems to grow in thickets. It spreads by prostrate runners called “stolons.” The French name, Cornouiller Stolonifere, follows the Latin closely, as it often does. There is another reason to prefer the French name in this particular plant.  It lives in Cap Tourmante, in Quebec.

Sparkling Lupine (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

20 x 16 in | 50.8 x 40.6 cm

I have seen many types of Lupines on my hikes, some of them over three feet tall.  In contrast, this little Lupine was no more than a foot tall, yet it caught my eye. The white center zone of the petals was more brilliant than other Lupines and the leaves bore silvery fringes. The whole plant sparkled.

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The problem for me as an artist was how to bring this sparkle to the viewer. I painted the flower from a low perspective, about 6 inches off the ground. (Fortunately, that position was not unpleasant because ground was covered with soft pine needles.) From that view the white spots on the petals stood out like flags against the dark green conifers. To capture their brightness I used mostly Titanium Oxide to make the white spots. Titanium Oxide produces a brilliant white. The problem is that it is more translucent than some of the other whites. Translucence is no problem if you are painting with a knife. I just laid on more paint.

To test the effect I hung the finished painting on the wall and turned down the lights with a dimmer switch. The white spots kept shining until it was pitch dark. I think it worked. Also, I wanted to convey the context, the stunning mountains that were the backdrop for this Lupine. I painted the mountain from the perspective of standing up and painted the Lupine from the perspective on the ground. After all, I want the finished painting to recall the real experience, not what is possible through a camera lens.

Brilliant white patches, hairy leaf boarders and small size point to a Brewer’s Lupine (Lupinus breweri), common to the Western Mountains from California to British Columbia. This little Lupine lives in Yosemite National Park in California.

Red Spikes (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

24 x 18 in | 61 x 45.7 cm

After I had been living two years in Miami my friends wanted to know why I was still painting northern flora. When would I turn my attention to sub-tropical plants? Since my passion is painting flora in their natural habitat I did not feel comfortable painting tropical plants until I had learned something about them. Since then I have acquired a small library on sub-tropical plants.

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It will surprise no one that the first plant I have come to know in South Florida is one of the “air plants,” a relative of the pineapple. A plant the size of a beach ball growing on a tree branch is sure to grab the eye of someone raised in the land of ice and snow. The tree branches are so crowded with plants in the South that at first it’s difficult to distinguish one from another. But after studying them I began to notice that each is quite distinctive. The relatives of the pineapple family, called bromeliads, look like the tops of pineapples—different from the ferns, mosses and orchids. The bromeliad that I have painted here is a native of Florida. Because its leaves are a dull grayish-green you might overlook it until January when it begins to flower, but from January until about June you can’t miss the brilliant red spikes that seem to burst out like little explosions among the leaves.

People call it “Wild Pine” or “Cardinal Air Plant.” The botanical name is Tillansia fasciculata. The flowers, or more correctly the bracts, are not always red. They can be green, yellow, white or rosy-purple.

The deeply cracked bark and horizontal limbs of the oaks, especially the huge Virginia Live Oak (Quercus virginiana), provide an excellent home for these plants. This particular cluster lives on an old Virginia oak tree in Coconut Grove, Florida.

Old Red Maple on River Bank (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

21 x 24 in | 53.3 x 61 cm

I have painted Red Maples more often than any other subject, possibly because they present themselves in so many different ways. Ironically, until this painting I have not painted a Red Maple in one of its most common habitats, hanging over a river bank. Their other name, Swamp Maple, is well earned. They are highly tolerant of water. They thrive even on the banks of rivers that are periodically flooded.

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As they grow heavier and as the river bank erodes the branches lean more and more until they are touching the water. Eventually they fall into the river, where they provide shelter for fish and nutrients for aquatic plants. This tree shows the whole sequence of life on the river bank. Fresh new branches reach vigorously toward the sky. Older branches hang so low that I had to bend into my canoe to slide underneath. I paddled around branches still floating on the surface and slowly over old snags at the bottom that could rip the canvas on the bottom of my canoe.

What makes this such an exciting scene to paint is that the older trunks turn color before the younger ones, so in early fall the full range of colors are displayed, from brilliant reds to rich greens. Added to these colors are the ocher tones where patches of missing bark reveal the wood and the blue-green lichens and olive mosses on the North side of the tree where they are protected from the sun. Finally, the reflections in the river gave me an opportunity to repeat all this beauty in muted shades.

Red Maples (Acer Rubrum) grow just about everywhere east of the Mississippi, from Canada to Florida. This particular old Red Maple lives on the Edge of Brown’s Creek, off of Buckshot Lake, in Plevna, Ontario.

Hemlock Perch (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

18 x 13.75 in | 45.7 x 34.9 cm

There is a story here and, of course, it’s about a tree. Hemlocks are irresistible to porcupines that can sit up in a Hemlock all winter and devour all the leaves, branch by branch. The tree usually sprouts again but not every branch does. Some branches die back and break off, leaving a stumped perch with a clear view in every direction, a perfect launching pad for a little flycatcher. I watched it dart out after flying insects and return to its perch. With the longest lens on my camera I was able to take some close-up pictures. Three of the best pictures gave me sufficient material to sketch a composition for the painting.

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Speaking of trees, a close-up scene like this allows me to enjoy the special characteristics of the Hemlock like the different lengths of the needles (leaves) on the twigs and the silvery stripe along each leaf. I also enjoyed painting the little cones hanging from the very tip of the twigs, another characteristic feature of the Eastern Helmock (Tsuga canadensis). I wanted to refer to the bird by its proper name in this story but I didn’t know what kind of flycatcher it was. I pored over Phoebes, Pewees, and a whole page of what they called Empidonax Flycatchers without much success. They look so similar. Then one day I received an email from my cousin Paul, who is a birder. It read as follows: “I’ll put my money on Eastern Phoebe. The wing bars are fainter than a Pewee and the lower mandible appears black. Also the half eye ring and lighter throat. All that’s needed is for him to flick his tail.  I watched him for quite some time but he never moved.”

As an artist I was more interested in capturing the green and violet colors reflected in its feathers than I was in providing a scientific account of the colors as they might look in a photographic studio. One clue that helped Paul was its location in Southern Ontario, in Canada.

Graceful Hamamelis (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

30 x 23.75 in | 76.2 x 59.37 cm

Witch Hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) are small trees with multiple, arching trunks and branches.  I have often admired their graceful shape but never found one that was sufficiently dramatic to become the subject of a painting.  At least not until I hiked up a knoll of Hemlock trees (Tsuga Canadensis) and saw a row of them at the edge of a pond.  They like wet soil and can tolerate a good deal of shade, but not as much as the Hemlocks provide, so they stretched out over the pond to catch the sun.  The graceful beauty of their branches was accentuated by the dappled light and reflections behind them. Their new leaves dotted the open space like flocks of tiny birds.  They contrasted dramatically with the massive, darkness of the Hemlocks.  Since almost nothing can grow under the shade of the Hemlock, the fresh green sprouts of Trout Lilies (Clintonia borealis) stood out against bare leaf litter.  The Trout Lilies were not yet in flower.  I missed them by only a few days, but the Witch Hazel would not flower until the end of summer.

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The Witch Hazel has a weird set of names, both English and Botanical.  The English name comes from colonial America, where its flexible forked branches were used as a “witching stick” or dowsing stick, to find hidden water.  The word “witch” is derived, not from witches, but from the old English word for a pliable branch, “wych”.  The botanical name is equally interesting.  It combines two Greek word roots meaning “apple” and “together,” referring to the tree’s habit of flowering in the fall, at the same time that the apple matures. Witch hazel bark is a traditional herb of the First Nations of North America who used it to heal wounds, treat tumors, and eye problems.  Witch Hazels are native to every State and Province east of the prairies.  This particular cluster lives in a conservation area near Hamilton, Ontario, in Canada.

Cephalanthus (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

36 x 24 in | 91.4 x 61 cm

While kayaking in a slow moving river in Southern Ontario I noticed an attractive shrub growing right in the water that looked like a little Gardenia or Coffee tree. It had the same bright green glossy leaves as a gardenia or coffee but the flowers were unusual. They were arranged in perfectly round, creamy-white spheres, like little star bursts. I wanted to paint them but not from my kayak. When I identified the plant from “Shrubs of Ontario” I found that it was indeed in the same family as the coffee and the gardenia. It has some very beautiful relatives. No wonder it grabbed my attention.

While kayaking in a slow moving river in Southern Ontario I noticed an attractive shrub growing right in the water that looked like a little Gardenia or Coffee tree. It had the same bright green glossy leaves as a gardenia or coffee but the flowers were unusual. They were arranged in perfectly round, creamy-white spheres, like little star bursts. I wanted to paint them but not from my kayak. When I identified the plant from “Shrubs of Ontario” I found that it was indeed in the same family as the coffee and the gardenia. It has some very beautiful relatives. No wonder it grabbed my attention.

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At the end of the summer, when I had a chance to return to that spot, the flower heads were gone. The creamy white globes had morphed into brilliant red seed heads. The fruit heads are often rusty brown but some varieties have white or red globes. I was delighted to find red ones.  They are the life of the painting. I painted the shrub from a close perspective so that its graceful structure and brilliant fruit could be appreciated. In the background I painted its natural neighbors—other aquatic plants like Pickerel Weed and Myrica gale—and even a beaver run. I used a heavy application of three colors, from the brightest red to the darkest to paint the spheres. Then, I tapped the soft paint on each sphere with the end of the blade to simulate its bumpy texture.

You don’t have to look hard to find this shrub. Cephalanthus occidentalis grows almost anywhere in North America from Nova Scotia to Ontario, south through Florida, and west to the eastern Great Plains. There are even scattered populations in the far West—New Mexico, Arizona, California, and northern Mexico. I hope you find the red type. Whatever the color, the seeds must be very nutritious. They are eaten by eight species of waterfowl and the twigs by three species of mammals, but don’t be tempted. They are poisonous to humans.

Aspen Grove and friends (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

34 x 48 in | 86.4 x 121.9 cm

Trembling Aspens (Populus tremuloides) are one of my favorite subjects, especially during peak fall color in the late afternoon when back lighted. The leaves light up like stained glass windows.

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I used a lot of Cadmium Yellow Deep in this painting, a pigment made from a compound of Cadmium and sulfur. It’s an expensive pigment as every artist knows, but well worth it if you want to express a very intense yellow. While I’m on the subject of colors, at first glance all of the trunks of these trees looked alike. In fact, since Trembling Aspen spread by shoots from the tips of their roots, they are probably genetically identical. Fortunately for the artist, genes don’t rule here. Reflections can cause dramatic differences in bark that would look the same in a studio.

This painting contains a little secret. Once someone startled me with this question, “You paint plants so beautifully, why don’t you paint Nature?” Apparently her concept of “Nature” did not include the flora. I’m not surprised. In a typical popular image of Nature a deer family is placed in the middle of the painting with some evergreen trees sprinkled around the deer like garnish to the main dish. In my experience animals reveal themselves in fleeting moments, not in posed photo ops. You don’t see the deer until one cocks an ear or looks up. In this painting there are three deer but they are too small to show up on the monitor. The enlarged picture contains one of the deer. (Unfortunately, the picture is a little blurry because I sold the painting before I was able to take a high resolution picture of it.)

This grove lives in the Wasatch Mountain State Park, in Utah, but similar scenes can be found in most of the Western United States and Western Canada.

Tamarack Bog (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

42 x 30 in | 106.7 x 76.2 cm

Tamarack is the name given to these trees by the First Nations People.  The botanical name is Larix laricina, or Eastern Larch in English.  Although they are one of the most beautiful of trees in North America, they are not very well known.  Even some of my Canadian friends asked me what they were, although Larches live in every single Canadian province.

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Two features may explain the Tamaracks relative obscurity.  To Cross country skiers Tamaracks probably look like a patch of dead spruce or fir because Tamaracks lose their leaves in the fall, a rare characteristic for conifers.  In summer, they are probably confused with other conifers.  But in autumn they are unmistakable, when they turn brilliant shades of yellow and orange.

They have long flexible twigs with their needle like leaves arranged in little tufts along the twigs. To paint them I loaded the edge of my knife with paint, placed the edge along the twig and the flicked it to the side so that little spikes of paint appeared to shoot out from the twig.  Then I went back over and added a pinkish or dark twig in the center.

I tried to make the branches look wispy, as though they would easily bend under the weight of heavy snow, releasing the load rather than breaking, which is just what happens. The range of the Tamarack is almost entirely Canadian.  They often live in bogs like the one in my painting.  The large flower-like structures in left hand corner are the empty pods of Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnate).  The brilliant shrubbery in the foreground is some type of Heath. This little Tamarack and its neighbors live in the Luther Marsh, one of southern Ontario’s most significant wetlands.

Red Pines Close Up (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

24 x 30 in | 61 x 76.2 cm

The Red Pine was named for the red cast of its bark.  To capture these colors I painted this group from a close perspective.  A close up view of the bark reveals at least half a dozen shades of orange and rust colors.  I used Cadmium Orange, and six different iron oxides to produce the rusty colors.  The sunshine was critical to bringing out these colors, but so was the young age of these trees.  The lower trunks of old Red Pines turn grey, their reddish bark appearing only at the top.

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These trees were in a completely natural area.  Had they been near a camping ground, all of the dead lower branches would have been snapped off for firewood, depriving me of a feature that added greatly to the composition.  The branches were jagged, traversed with deep fissures, spotted with algae, and their smooth exposed wood reflected the colors below.  They added variety and unpredictability to the composition.

The smaller branches and twigs near the bottom of the panel served an equally useful role in the composition.  They obscured the lower quarter to keep the viewer’s gaze in the center of the painting.  Ansell Adams, the great nature photographer, recommended darkening the lower part of a photograph to keep the eye of the viewer from wandering off the picture.  A complex network of twigs serves the same function.

The Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) is a tree of the northern United States.  Most of its range is around the great lakes or above.  Red Pines reach down to the eastern mountains of the U.S. only as far as Pennsylvania, with one exception.  They are also found in Jefferson National Park at the border of Virginia and West Virginia.

Mt. Tabor Oaks in Flower (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

49 x 37 in | 124.5 x 94 cm

These Tabor Oaks in full flower were an awesome sight.  Oaks, like many other trees, produce flowers before the new leaves sprout thereby allowing the pollen to disperse in the wind unimpeded by leaves.  They were festooned with flowers with the new leaves barely peaking out like pale green wings from the top of each flower cluster. The bunches of hanging, pale greenish yellow strings are actually flowers, although they are very different from the archetypal flower with large, showy petals like roses.

The flower strings are called “catkins”.  They form little bouquets that flashed like little pompoms in the sunshine.  It made me happy just to look at them.  The shining bouquets were echoed in the mottled light on the trunks.

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Mount Tabor Oaks (Quercus ithaburensis) at one time covered the coastal plain of the eastern Mediterranean.  You can see remnants of this forest in the Tel Dan Park and in Sharon Park south of the Hadera Forest in Israel and in other locations.  Large Tabor Oaks are famous because of their proximity to holy places such as the top of Mount Carmel.  In Arab villages, they have many medical and practical uses. This oak, which shaded King Saul, is mentioned numerous times in the Bible.

Deep in the Cypress Swamp (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

30 x 42 in | 76.2 x 106.7 cm

I was amazed by the enormous variety of plants growing together in this tropical swamp.  Plants grew out of the water, on top of the water, under the water and even on top of other plants.  I thought that the best perspective to capture this profusion is one that is close to the water.  From a low perspective you are forced to look through the many layers of foliage.  Creating the impression of multiple layers on a flat surface was challenging.  More than once I had to scrape off a frond or twig that I had mistakenly painted in front of something when it should be behind it.  Here is where knife painting has an advantage.  I can add front layers of foliage on top of rear layers, just as it is in reality.

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I had to be careful that the final result wouldn’t look like an impenetrable wall of foliage.  I wanted to retain the feeling of depth.  The strap ferns (Campyloneurum phyllitidis) growing out of the base of the trees helped me create the illusion of depth.  They are a dominant feature of the painting because they glow in the back lighting, and, with two clumps, one nearer and one further, their diminishing size signaled the distance.

An odd feature of this composition is that it is totally back lighted.  The trees have no side light striking their trunks whatsoever.  The trunks appear dull purple in reflected light.  The direct effect of sunlight is reserved for the leaves.  They are either lit up from behind or bouncing the sun off their top surfaces creating brilliant white spots.  In fact, if you turn down the lights in the room while viewing this painting, the trunks and shadowed areas of the water disappear into darkness.  All you can see are glowing and sparkling leaves.

These Pond Cypresses (Taxodium ascendens) are preserved in The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Florida, run by the Audubon Society.

White-Birches, Pipes and Spice (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

24 x 30 in | 61 x 76.2 cm

I never tire of painting White Birch trees, especially when they are at the shore of a lake where the many colors reflected in their white bark are echoed in the water.  The Red Maples that are further back from the shore are another favorite of mine.  I have had many opportunities to write about these trees in stories about my paintings, but this is the first time I have had a chance to mention two of their less dramatic neighbors that also inhabit the shoreline.

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Sweet Gale (Myrica gale) just made it into the painting at the shoreline, on the right.  In many eastern lakes it dominates the lake shore.  In this composition it served to keep the viewer’s eye from following the ancient log right out of the painting.  It also serves a useful purpose to its neighbors. Because Sweet Gale possesses nitrogen fixing bacteria on its roots, it provides valuable nitrogen to the soil.  It also provides a refreshing treat on a hot summer day.  Pinch a few of its leaves, crush them between your fingers and breathe in the spicy-sweet fragrance.  You can see why the first nations used to make tea from them and spice meats with them.

Another little plant that grew in a fortunate place, at least for my painting, is called “Pipewort” (Eriocaulon aquaticum).  Its little white flower heads look like buttons held above the water on straight stalks.  These little stalks keep the eye from following the water right to my canoe and off the painting.

The Birches and Maples live throughout northeastern North America.  Sweet Gale is prolific in wet places from the Alaska to Newfoundland, south to Oregon, Minnesota and North Carolina in the east. Pipewort is supposed to range from Newfoundland down to Delaware, but I swear I saw it in Florida’s Big Cypress Preserve.

Red Maple on Bedrock (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

20 x 18 in | 50.8 x 45.7 cm

One of my favorite places to canoe is the Boundary Waters, a region of thousands of lakes and bogs that stretches north of the Great Lakes along the boundary between the United States and Canada.  Outcrops such as you see in this painting are among the oldest rocks in North America. They are actually the bottoms of very large volcanic mountains (about 39,000 ft or 12,000 meters) that were the first rocks to rise out of the sea in North America, dating back to the Precambrian Era (between 4.5 billion and 540 million years ago).  Over the millennia the younger rocks at the tops of the volcanoes were eroded away until the area became a plain of relatively low relief consisting of ancient bedrock.  This bedrock is called the Canadian Shield or Precambrian Shield.  I felt awed by the age of these rocks.

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From the artistic perspective I was grateful for this bare outcrop from which I could see over the lake.  In this relatively flat region there are few vistas, but here, where surfaces were scoured clean by glaciers, dense forests were not yet able to get a foothold.  Only one small red maple and fir tree struggled to survive by exploiting a crevice in the bedrock. Red Maples (Acer rubrum) are one of my favorite northern subjects, especially in the fall when their leaves turn brilliant shades of red.

The low angle of the sun added to the drama of the composition by creating a high contrast between the sunlit surfaces and shadows of the rock.  The setting sun was also responsible for the inky blue color of the water.  The lake reflected the darkening sky above rather than the lighter sky at the horizon.  Finally, it was a cool fall day, when there is little moisture in the air to tame the sharpness of the features.

Pond Cypress with Welcome Splash (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

30 x 37.5 in | 76.2 x 95.3 cm

I asked the guide who was leading our group through waist high water in the Everglades, why there were so few mosquitoes. He said that the Mosquito Fish (Gambusia affinis) was responsible. A little fish, about the size of a minnow, picks mosquito larvae from the top of the water, which it does in great number. One fish can eat up to 500 mosquito larvae a day! You can’t see the little helper in this painting but you can see a circular ripple where one of them had just plucked a larva from the surface. With no mosquitoes to distract us, we could enjoy the flora. The Pond Cypresses (Taxodium ascendens) were covered with bromeliads, of several different varieties. None were in flower at the time but the translucent leaves glowed with various colors when the sun hit them from behind.

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There were many kinds of ferns. They hung from the trees and arched up from the water and old stumps. Capturing the delicate structure of the ferns was challenging. I held four painting knives in my left hand at the same time, splayed out like a fan. One knife was for the almost white shine on the top of a fern where the sun bounces off of it. Another held dark green paint for the shadow. A third made the soft green of indirect light and the final knife held the brilliant yellow green of back lighted fronds. I kept rotating knives as I made each fern.

Trying to identify them was fun and also helpful in appreciating subtle differences in their structure. Some fronds taper at the tip while others taper at both the base and the tip. Some have leaflets that are separate; others are close together and still others overlap, just to name a few ways in which they differ. The one with the long, thin green straps growing out of the tree on the right is a Strap Fern (Campyloneurum phyllitidis) and the one cutting across the center of the painting is likely the Giant Sword Fern (Nephrolepis biserrata) because the Frond tapers only at the tip not the base.

Sugar Maples Old and New (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

23.5 x 36 in | 60 x 91.4 cm

Old trees are highly prized for their character and history.  People find them inspiring and awesome.  Advertisements for arboreta boast about their oldest inhabitants not new plantings.  Since the tree in this painting is well over two feet in diameter, it is probably about 150 years old, based on the calculation that it takes about 5 years for a Sugar Maple to grow an inch in girth.  Its advanced age gave me so much to look at the textured bark, the huge irregular limbs, and a shelf fungus protruding from it.  Looking at the painting, someone even saw a face in the trunk.

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In contrast, the young saplings surrounding the ancient tree are rather predictable. The structure of their branches is even and regular.  Of course, youthful vigor is beautiful too.  Younger trees can resist the onslaught of winter a little longer.  These young trees were just turning color when I painted this picture, while the old Maples leaves had turned color earlier and were, at the time of the painting, already past their prime.  From a compositional point of view, the faded leaves were useful.  They enhanced the color of the young tree by contrast. I was impressed with how this old tree had created its own environment.  Broken limbs and piles of leaves from many autumn seasons surrounded it.  The young trees are likely its offspring.  The abundance of leaves it produced was obvious as I slogged through the heavy leaf litter in the fall.  The chemical contribution of Maple leaves to the soil, although not obvious, is also important.  It includes calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen.

Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum) favor the cold. They stretch from Wisconsin across the great lakes and Mid West right out to the coast, and up the coast from New York to the Canadian Maritime provinces. Further south, Sugar Maples keep to higher elevations where it is colder.  So you will find them in all their beautiful fall colors in the western parts of Virginia and North Carolina.