Mountain Clouds | Richard G. Tiberius

40 x 48 in | 101.6 x 121.9 cm

Although the subject of this painting is obviously a tree, I named it “Mountain Clouds” because the mountains were indirectly responsible for the graceful shape of both the clouds and the tree. The mountains created the wind currents that blew the clouds into ragged tatters. And the mountains shaped the tree as well, at least indirectly. In the valley Aspen trees are crowded together so they grow straight trunks like telephone poles to complete for light. But on steep mountain sides at higher elevations there are few places for trees to get a foothold.  Here the Aspen are solitary. Since they need not compete for light they do not need to grow tall and straight. Here their branches can begin to spread nearer to the ground. The result is a crown of gracefully curving branches, breathtaking when outlined with new snow against a cobalt blue sky.

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Since this was the first snowfall of the year the snow had not yet covered the land with a uniform white blanket. The snow sat on the trees like blobs of cotton decorations. As if that decoration weren’t enough the last leaves of fall were still hanging from the tree like brightly colored ornaments. There is another surprising bit of color in the scene as well. In the lower right is a cluster of trees that are probably Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), hanging with bright red berries.

This Aspen (Populus tremuloides) is lucky to live in the mountains where it doesn’t have to compete for light. The downside is that it is an excellent lightning rod during mountian storms. Notice that the middle main trunk is broken off at the top.  Also notice that the twin tops of the fir tree in the lower right hand corner are also bare. They have probably been struck by lightening too.

California Buckwheat (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

24 x 21 in | 61 x 53.3 cm

The best time to visit the semiarid Southwest of the United States and Northern Mexico is said to be after the rains, around February or March. During this brief wet season the deserts and coastal areas are ablaze with color. However, I had an opportunity to hike in this region in October, one of the driest months of the year.  As the last rays of the days sun were hitting the shrubs at a very low angle, the orange color of the shrubs was accentuated. The effect was striking.

But what could be flowering in October? On closer inspection I found that these rusty globes were the dry remains of what were once the white or pinkish flowers of California Buckwheat. Some of the flower heads were still white but most were a rusty color, greatly enhanced by the evening light.

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From an artistic perspective it was a perfect moment. The dry branches turned into bluish purple ghosts in the shadows offering a striking contrast with the brilliant orange. It was a study in dried flowers, an interesting change from the lush, dank swamps that I have been painting near Miami.

California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) is the dominant plant in this area. It looked so dry that I wondered why the fires that frequent this region had not completely incinerated it. When I read about it I found that it is one of the earliest perennials to regenerate after a fire, providing food for birds and small animals and important in fixing the soil against erosion. California Buckwheat grows on the hillsides and coastal meadows from Santa Barbara California to Cabo San Lucas in Baja California. This particular clump lives in Griffith Park in Los Angeles County.

Bromeliads in January (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

22 x 19.5 in | 55.9 x 49.5 cm

Twelve species of air plants, or Bromeliads, can be seen from the boardwalks that wind their way through the Corkscrew Swamp. At least that’s what was written in their field guide. I don’t know enough about Bromeliads to tell them apart.

The ranger told us that summers can be unpleasantly humid, hot, and plagued with mosquitoes. But on this chilly day in January, late in the afternoon, it was delightful. We were wearing jackets. It was a painless way to see swamp plants and wading birds, but I was feeling guilty about looking for the penny in the light. If I wanted to see Bromeliads in flower I should have visited in June, mosquitoes or not. Then, just as I was thinking about the poor trade I had made of beauty for comfort the boardwalk turned a sharp corner and the Bromeliads were back lighted by the afternoon sun. I did not know that their leaves turned color in the fall. Perhaps in true tropical climates they don’t turn color, but in January in Naples, Florida, it was chilly enough for the swamp maples to turn red, so why not Bromeliads? Backlighting creates one of my favorite effects, especially in the fall when the leaves are thin and translucent. What an extraordinary range of color!

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In addition, without the usual heavy moisture in the air, the shadows were dark and dark shadows bring out the electric blues and greens of the lichen, a perfect contrast to offset the warm tones of the Bromeliads.

I don’t know the name of the species. I know that they were small enough to fit into a soup bowl. Im not even sure about the names of the trees that they were clinging to, although they were probably Pond Apples (Annona glabra). The next time I visit Corkscrew I’m going to find out.

Scots Pines and Rushes (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

30 x 39 in | 76.2 x 99.1 cm

At the end of the day I was about to stuff my camera into its pouch and paddle back across the lake when I noticed the brilliant color of bark on a grove of trees.  Their bark was so bright that it reflected clearly, even in the dark water.  The low angle of the sun had sneaked under the layers of pine branches and stuck the trunks.

The composition was completed by the striking echo of red-orange colors on the plants that grew out of the water.  Each shoot displayed a bright red sheath at its base.  They were probably rushes.  I remembered the old mnemonic “Sedges have edges” and noted that these did not.  Their stems were round.  Probably the Canada Rush (Juncus canadensis).

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And what trees have such bright orange bark?  We paddled closer.  The upper bark was flaky, the unmistakable signature of the Scots Pine.  What we call the Scots Pine (or Scotch Pine) is the only pine native to northern Europe and eastern Asia because it is the only pine that survived the ice age in these areas.  Small wonder that it was named the “Pine of the woods”, or Pinus sylvestris, by botanists.  North Americans attribute it to Scotland because the early settlers brought them here from Scotland, the only place that they could be found on the British Isles.  More than 300 years ago they were extirpated in Wales and England due to over-exploitation and grazing.

This grove is growing very well on Buckshot Lake in southern Ontario where they have escaped from cultivation and have become “naturalized”.  The large pine to the right is a White Pine (Pinus strobus), which is native to Canada.  The White Birches (Betula papyrifera), are fading out as the pines take over.  Their time has passed in this slice of forest succession.

Crab-Apple-Blossoms (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

25.75 x 20 in | 65.4 x 50.8 cm

The Crab Apple trees that adorn our parks with violet color are probably the closest approximation to the way we drew trees when we were first learning to draw.  We made a stick for the trunk, followed by a circle of green for the branches, and then dotted it with bright flowers.  The result resembled more a spangled lollipop than a tree but strangely it was recognizable as a tree by everyone, especially adoring parents.  Wild Crab Apples rarely look so tidy.  Their crowns are more often irregular and they live in crowded thickets or sprinkled around under tall hardwood trees in the forest.  Also, the wild Crab Apple has white or pale pink flowers, rarely as colorful as the ones I have painted here.

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However, most of the Crab Apple trees in our parks are not foreigners.  Their ancestors were native to northeastern North America.  Landscapers selected specimens that had luxurious leaves, dense crowns and flowers of the richest color.  Then they gave them places in full sun, fertilizer and pruning into a rounded shape.  The result is the familiar lollipop tree, beautiful in the park, but not an appropriate subject for an art that celebrates undisturbed nature.  From a distance the tree seemed more a product of human ingenuity than of the forces of evolution.

But with my face virtually buried in the branches I could appreciate details that owed little to horticulturalists: the crenulations in the surface of the petals, the long stamens, the jagged angles of the twigs, the coppery color of new bark, the twisting and folding of the rosettes of leaves each bordered by rows of little teeth—all features that have defined the Crab Apple for thousands of years. The Sweet Crab Apple tree (Malus coronaria) is native to northeastern North America.

Silver Maple, New Leaves (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

36 x 30 in | 91.4 x 76.2 cm

Silver Maples earn their name from the very pale green, silvery undersides of their leaves.   But when the leaves first emerge in early spring you don’t see much silvery green or any green for that matter.  Chlorophyll manufacture proceeds more slowly than other pigments.  For a short time in the spring, therefore, the orange and violet pigments in the new leave have a chance to show their colors.  The process works in reverse in the autumn when the chlorophyll fades quickly leaving the other colors behind.

The old Black Willows on the far side of the river had already sprouted with bright yellow leaves a week before I came upon this scene.  By the time I arrived their leaves were already flushed with bright green chlorophyll.

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Silver Maples are very popular as a street side tree because they grow rapidly and their deeply lobed leaves have a delicate, lacy appearance.  They also tend to grow many trunks at once, all of them stretching away from the center toward the light.  The result from an artistic point of view is a gorgeous bouquet of limbs and branches.  In this scene they formed a graceful frame through which to view the bend of the river.

If you are tempted to plant a Silver Maple in your front yard, I would recommend cutting all but one of the trunks, and pruning that one yearly to keep it compact.  The stretching out of these long limbs like a giant bouquet is beautiful but highly unstable.  A little ice or wind can send them flopping down on your car, house and electric wires.  The Silver Maple tree (Acer saccharinum) is native to eastern North America.  Its favorite site is on the banks of rivers, streams and lakeshores.


Pond Cypress with Streaking Light (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

36 x 24 in | 91.4 x 61 cm

The unusual lighting effect in this painting results from a collision of two sources of light.  Reflections from the trees cross and melt into streaking sunlight.  There is even a third lighting effect.  If you look into the shadowed areas of the water you can see twigs at the bottom.  Painting this was enjoyable but very challenging.

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The trees are Pond Cypress (Taxodium ascendens), which are smaller than their cousins, the giant Bald Cypresses (Taxodium distichum).  Bald Cypress Trees are a highly popular subject of photographers, probably because of their impressive size.  But the Pond Cypress, while less impressive singly, radiate a playful spirit in a forest because their trunks lean in every direction and they display subtle differences in color and texture. Pond Cypress is native to the southeastern coastal plain from North Carolina to Louisiana in the United States.  It occurs in still, black water rivers, ponds and swamps.

The large-leaved aroids in the foreground form a natural frame for the scene, pushing the viewer’s gaze toward the middle of the painting.  They are Alligator Flag (Thalia geniculata), a name given by early hunters who noted that the waving of the tall flower stalks may indicate a moving alligator below, hidden by the leaves.

Ferns among the Cypress Trees (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

36 x 30 in | 91.4 x 76.2 cm

These ferns look so lively because their leaflets have curvy edges that catch the light.  To make them sparkle, I added a stroke of pure white to each leaflet.  The little fern at the lower left of the painting doesn’t sparkle, but it won’t be outdone.  The end of each of its leaves split into two like a fishtail.  This is the Fishtail Sword Fern (Nephrolepis falcate).

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I was delighted by another detail of the leaflets as I painted them.  Note the leaflet at the very end of the large fern in the foreground.  It is noticeably larger than its next two closest leaflets.  This feature marks it as the Swamp Fern (Blechnum serrulatum).   In contrast, the end leaflet of the tall fern on the right is not larger than its next two leaflets, and that marks it as the Ladder-Brake Fern (Pteris vittata).

The Cypress Trees in this painting are Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum).  “Bald” refers to their bare winter condition.   Unlike most other conifers they lose their leaves in the winter, although only their swollen trunks are visible in this painting.  The Bald Cypress grows best in the warm, humid climates of the Southern US.

Willow and Blue Heron (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

28 x 30 in | 71.1 x 76.2 cm

Deep shadows lend mystery and excitement to a composition.  We wonder what interesting creatures lie hidden there.  When my friend saw this painting, he said it made him want to go fishing for Large Mouth Bass.  If a trophy Bass is lurking under the pond lilies, the Little Blue Heron is not interested.  It is busy stalking smaller prey at the shoreline.

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In the Everglades, Coastal Plain Willows (Salix caroliniana) form bright green shrubby mounds along the edges of open waterways. Their tangled spreading branches provide the complexity that I enjoy in natural settings.

Since the water lilies were not in flower, I couldn’t tell whether they were the yellow or white type.  My guess would be the White Water Lily (Nymphaea odorata) because they have neither purple undersides nor curly edges to the leaves.  It was challenging to paint them because they float flat on the water.

Pines and Palmetto on Estero Bay (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

30 x 47.75 in | 76.2 x 121.3 cm

The ecosystem called Pine Flatwoods was once one of the most extensive ecosystems in Florida covering almost half of the state.  Most of the old pines have been logged, but I found this one after traipsing around all day.  The young ones are not as interesting because storms have not yet sculpted their symmetrical branches into unpredictable contortions.  This is a Slash Pine (Pinus Elliottii) but Sand Pines and Long Leaf Pines populate the Flatwoods in other regions.

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Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) was the most common understory plant in the original Pine Flatwoods.  Frequent fires bring these two plants together.  During a dry spell fires race through these forests burning off the grass and small shrubs but their thick bark protects the pines.  The fire does burn off the Palmetto leaves but they grow back quickly from their extensive trunk and root system.

White Ibis were feeding all over the Bay, their orange beaks plunging in and out of the mud like sewing machines.  There were other birds feeding with the Ibis.  They looked like Egrets with their black bills and long necks, but their legs were wrong—olive green instead of black.  Of course, to paint the legs of such small birds with a knife requires just a touch with the knife blade.  You probably can barely tell what color they are.  Still, I wanted to get it right.  And the only bird that fits this description is an immature Little Blue Heron.  That means the Ibis were probably babysitting.

When my cousin, who is an experienced bird watcher, saw the painting, he wanted to confirm the identity of green legged ones as immature Little Blue Herons, so he leaned in to have a closer look.  Of course, the image just broke up into blobs as he came closer.  You’re not at the Bay, I said, but I took the compliment.

Backlighted Aspen on a Mountain Trail (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

40 x 30 in | 101.6 x 76.2 cm

We were just starting out on a long mountain trail that promised to end in a lake.  The early morning light was beginning to spread over the far valley while the near valley was still cloaked in a deep cerulean blue.  The entire scene was framed by the smooth, yellow ochre bark of Trembling Aspens.  They were almost completely back lighted making the leaves translucent.  Only thin strips of sun struck their trunks.  The bark of this type of Aspen, Populus tremuloides, is a perfect complement to the deep blues in the background.

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I quickly set up my tripod to get some high quality pictures from which I could make a composition back in the studio.  I was feeling a little guilty because we had a long hike ahead of us and if I were going to be stopping every 100 yards, we would never make it to the lake.  I started to explain to my wife why I had to stop, but she was also lost in the magic of this moment.  She assured me that I had better get the pictures now because on the way back down the lighting would be totally different.  And it was.  On the way back down, we almost walked right past this spot without even recognizing it.  It’s all about light.

Initially I thought to anchor the trees in the shrubs that lined the trail, but instead I took a higher perspective, one which would give an impression of space.  Upon seeing the painting, a friend remarked that she imagined herself flying into the valley.  So, the high perspective was a good choice, I thought.  The light bending over the edge of the mountain turned the trees at the crest shades of mauve.  The sky itself was made with a very light tint of Cadmium Red, by gently slapping the flat of the knife onto the surface to create points of paint which were scraped with a knife when they dried and then run over with a light tint of Cobalt Blue to capture the speckled nature of the morning light.