Whistling Ducks | Richard Tiberius & Kiry Tiberius

Black-bellied whistling ducks are native to Florida where my daughter and I used to have our studio. We saw this pair in a nature preservation area. They appeared to be very relaxed, engaging in personal hygiene like preening. They didn’t seem to show any of the skittish behavior often displayed by ground birds who must remain alert to predators. One reason for their laid-back style may have been their location, on a little island in the middle of a pond. A ground predator would have to swim over to reach them. They were also protected from aerial predators by several huge black mangrove trees overhead. I painted the so-called “knees” of the black mangrove trees popping up all over the island.

Whistling Ducks detail
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I enjoyed painting the background, intentionally rendering the reeds in a rough style to provide contrast with the birds’ velvety, smooth feathers. Painting knives are the perfect tools for  producing this kind of texture. Kiry was fascinated with the subtle blending of colors and forms of each of the different types of feathers. She depicted the texture of the fine body feathers by cutting hundreds of fine, long, parallel streaks into the paint with the edge of her knife blade. The result is a velvety appearance, contrasting with the rough background. These birds nest in tree cavities, when possible. As the abundance of old, hollow trees becomes more scarce, they are increasingly nesting in human made next boxes, according to the Audubon website. Let’s give a shout-out to those who construct these nesting boxes so that we can enjoy such beauty.

The Massive Sycamore | Kiry Tiberius & Richard Tiberius

36 x 23.75 in. | 91 x 60.3 cm

I first experienced the sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) as a teenager, when I visited my aunt and uncle in Arkansas. A large sycamore grew in their back yard. More accurately, it grew “over” their back yard, because its canopy covered most of the yard. I was fascinated with it at first because it was so massive. Later I learned that the sycamore is the most massive deciduous tree east of the Rocky Mountains, typically reaching up to 130 ft (40 m) and over 6 ft. (51 m) in diameter. And its bark is extraordinary. Its bark flakes off in irregular patches like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, revealing, under each flake, colors ranging from creamy white, yellow and reddish-brown to grey. Moreover, the structure of the Sycamore rivals the southern and west coast live oaks in its branches that curve in unpredictable twists. I thought the tree was beautiful. I was shocked when they told me they had decided to take it down.

Click to see detail

After this experience, whenever I told the story about this wonderful tree, I found that people who knew sycamores firsthand, asked if I were joking. They would tell me how much trouble it was to rake up bark flakes and cut down seedlings. A typical tree produces 10,000 seeds that sprout into fast growing seedlings, reaching as much as 10 ft. (about 3 m) in a year. One gardener told me you can’t kill them. If you cut one down, several shoots will appear from the stump like the Hydra. And, he added, the wood holds so much water that it isn’t good for firewood. As if that weren’t a sufficient condemnation, he told me that even the wildlife don’t benefit from the seeds, which have no nutritional value.

But from my point of view, sycamores are beautiful. How can an artist reveal this beauty in paint to those who see little good in the tree? I teamed up with my daughter, Kiry, with whom I share a studio. We decided on a close-up view of the central canopy to display its massiveness. As it turns out, our painting knives are well suited to making sharp-edged patches on the tree trunk. And, By the way, although wildlife doesn’t eat the seeds, they do live in the hollowed-out trunk.

Brown’s Creek, Late Summer | Richard Tiberius

24 x 17 in. | 61 x 43.2 cm

Trees in the Northeast of Canada and the US present a dramatic show of leaf colors in the fall. This show is so spectacular because the various species of trees turn color at roughly the same time. But if trees are stressed, for example by growing too close to the water, they may begin to turn color early. I made this painting based on a canoe trip down Brown’s Creek in late summer when only a few of the trees close to the water, mostly red maples (Acer rubrum), had turned to their fall colors.

Click to see detail

Although red maples are very tolerant of wet soil—they can even survive having their roots submerged for short periods of time—too much water stresses them. This ability to tolerate flooding gives the red maple an advantage. It can colonize swampy areas ahead of other species. One of the common names for the red maple is “swamp maple.” But too much water exacts a price. When trees are stressed, they can shut down food production and lose their green chlorophyll, which usually masks the other pigments. The result is this unusual landscape, a soft green backdrop studded with brilliant red color of the maples, a composition that drew my attention.

My wife Joyce and I have navigated a canoe down this winding creek many times. It’s a tricky run because there are lots of rocks and water logged stumps to steer around. But It is always beautiful and full of surprises. Once we startled a deer who lifted her head from the bank where she had been drinking. We have seen ducks, songbirds, great blue herons and even a beaver. Wildlife are unaccustomed to seeing people on this creek because most of the year it is not navigable.

All along the length of the creek were semi-aquatic shrubs like swamp roses (Rosa palustris), high bush cranberries (Viburnum trilobum), Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale) and Button Bushes (Cephalanthus). The tall pine trees (Pinus strobus) on the left and the boulders in shadow framed the composition urging the viewers to imagine themselves paddling quietly through into the sunlight.

Little Island on the Jacques Cartier River | Richard G. Tiberius

24 x 30 in.  | 61 x 154.9 cm

This is a third painting based on my early spring trip to the Jacques Cartier River. I described this place before, in connection with my second painting of the River, entitled “Jacques Cartier River, Morning Mist”. This painting is based on a part of the river that embraces a little island. The location of some yellow birches (Betula alleghaniensis) near the water provided an opportunity to show their structure.

Click for detail.

I was fortunate to catch this very short period, when the scales of the leaf buds have opened but before the leaves have opened. In another few days leaves would pop out but, on that day only the redish, coppery colored leaf buds were visible. Multiplied by tens of thousands, they clothed the mountains with a soft reddish glow. The Bebb’s willows (Salix bebbiana) and alder trees (Alder rugosa) in the foreground are also decorated with with reddish catkins, the downey flower spikes that look like caterpillars hanging from the twigs.

The balsam firs and red spruce trees (Abies balsamea and Picea rubens) helped define the distances of the mountains. As the distance from the viewer increases, the trees appear smaller, increasingly bluer, and more faded.

Jacques Cartier River, Morning Mist | Richard Tiberius

21.8 x 30 in.  | 55.2 x 154.9 cm – oil on panel, painted with knives

This is my second painting of the Jacques Cartier River based on the early spring trip I took to the Jacques Cartier National Park in Quebec. The combination of golden bark of the Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) with the dark greens of Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) and Red Spruce (Picea rubens) was irresistible. The low contrast lighting gave the colors a softness that is not present in direct sunlight.

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This phase in a tree’s life lasts no more than a few days each year. Despite the weather—cold, wet and overcast—I was fortunate to be there at that time. Perhaps if I had called the ranger station before booking my flight I would have missed this exceptional period. Besides, my spouse, Joyce, was born and raised in Quebec City and she loved being back home.

The Jacques Cartier river flows through the Jacques Cartier National Park, in Quebec, Canada. I have been to this park before, at roughly the same time, early in May, but at that time the trees were already bursting with new leaves. This time the winter held on longer than usual. Most of the trails were “fermé” (closed).

Bison in Yellowstone National Park

36 x 24 inches | 91.4 x 61 cm

This painting was a father-daughter collaboration. Kiry painted the Bison while I painted the background. Kiry was interested in capturing the protective posture of the mother Bison. She did so in two ways. First, the mother appears to be looking at the photographer with an expression that says “That’s close enough. One step closer and I will show you what I can do with these horns.”

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And the mother Bison could do a good job of it too. According to the information in the visitor’s center, female Bison can weigh up to 1000 pounds (454 Kg) and they can turn 180 degrees in a flash. That iconic hump on their back is not filled with water. Apparently, it is solid muscle attached to the neck. Whatever gets hooked by one of her horns could end up tossed like a rag doll.

Another thing that Kiry did was to place the calf in a protected position right behind the mother’s massive head. The mother’s head shades the calf’s, symbolic of her protective posture.

My task was to paint the background so that the viewer would appreciate the vastness of the Yellowstone landscape. To create the perception of distance I toned down the yellow and increased the blue and violet with each successive hill. The grasses on the distant hills would appear just as bright yellow as those in the foreground if you were to hike over to those distant hills, but colors desaturate (they become grayer) and often bluer as the distance to the viewer increases.

Three Ibises on Driftwood (sold) | Kiry Tiberius & Richard Tiberius

34 x 24 inches | 91.4 x 61 cm

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We enjoyed our family vacation on North Captiva Island in Florida. Some of us collected shells on the beaches while others went kayaking. Kiry and I went hiking to the other end of the island, where there was a nature preserve. We had hoped to take photos of wading birds for painting subjects, but there wasn’t much open beach left after the last hurricane. In most places the shore was covered with an impenetrable tangle of driftwood. We had to settle for walking along parallel to the water, peeking through windows in the new growth and driftwood.

One of these windows offered a clear view of the water, the usual pile of driftwood, and three Ibis hanging out on the driftwood! They were no more than a few yards from us. I’m sure they were as shocked to see us as we were to see them because they wasted no time taking flight. You can see, by its crouching posture and ruffled feathers, the Ibis on the left was preparing to fly. And it did. The other two followed within seconds. Fortunately, I was able to fire off several shots with my camera during those few seconds. It’s a good thing I did take more than one photo. My pictures suffered from the classical problem of photographers—each photo had at least one ibis whose head was tilted at a weird angle when the shutter snapped. Fortunately, for painters this is not a problem. We simply chose to paint each bird in its most favorable angle.

It was a collaborative work. I painted the water, clouds and drift wood in a rough style while Kiry painted the birds in precise detail. The softness of the birds’ feathers was enhanced by contrast with the rough background. In addition, their blinding white feathers were complemented by the foam of the crashing wave and the clouds on the horizon.

Rocky Mountain Juniper | Richard G. Tiberius

48 x 30 in.  | 121.92 x 76.2 cm

Rocky Mountain Junipers (Juniperus scopulorum) are readily available from nurseries in the Western states, but they don’t look like this one. Nursery trees are usually cultivars, selected and pruned to a single trunk and compact form like Christmas trees. Most of the naturally growing specimens in the semi-arid Southwest, where I found this tree while hiking, were much messier but also shrub-like. Their small size is not surprising considering their slow growth rate. An average 80-year-old tree is only 18 feet (5.5 m) tall. This one was closer to their maximum height at 30 feet. I could easily walk under its lower branches. It could have been over 300 years old. Only a tree of its great age could have the twisting and arching form of the branches and trunks that I found so enjoyable to paint.

Click to enlarge

The other feature I found attractive about this tree was its complexity. It had not been tidied up. The small dead branches that curved through the canopy in bright arcs and the grey stumps of fallen branches would surely have been pruned off if it had been in a garden. One of our dinner guests, after looking at this painting for a long time, made this single comment, “It looks very dry.” His comment was very gratifying. It confirmed the impression I was trying to create. The shrubs and other plants in the foreground are typical of the region, growing at a distance from one another out of competition for water. And the pines peeking out over the hillside are pinyon pines, another drought tolerant group. Although Rocky Mountain Juniper grows in moist environments in its northern range, along the west coast of N. America from British Columbia, its super power is its ability to survive in the semi-arid regions of Arizona and New Mexico where it receives only about 10 inches (254 mm) of annual precipitation.

Three Trees with Pale Bark | Richard G. Tiberius

24 x 30 in.  | 61 x 76.2 cm

As a painter of trees, I’ve earned a reputation among friends as someone who can help identify them. One of the common confusions is between trees that have pale bark. Distinguishing aspen (Populus tremuloides) from white birch (Betula papyrifera) is particularly difficult because they both have smooth, light-colored bark. North American beeches (Fagus grandifolia) are less often confused with the other two but it does happen, especially when the normal grey bark of the beech takes on blue reflections from the snow, as in this painting. Aspens exist in a range of colors from yellowish and greenish shades to almost white. The bark of the aspen in this painting is one of the greener tones. White Birch also show a range of colors, although their variation is more restricted. Some are chalk white, but most are off-white, with shades of ochre and pink.

Close-up of Three Trees with Pale Bark to show detail
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I smiled when I ran across this group of trees on a hike through a northern forest. There they were, all three of the species that have pale bark, providing a perfect opportunity for me to contrast the differences in paint. It was a lucky sighting because mature beech trees do not usually grow in close proximity to birches and aspen. Birch and aspen are the first to rapidly colonize newly opened land that has been burned or clear-cut. Usually beech arrive much later, growing slowly in the dappled light that filters through the loose canopies of the birch and aspen. Conversely, in a mature beech forest, you rarely see birch or aspen, which are too intolerant of shade to grow under the tight canopy of the beeches. I did not have to exaggerate the colors to make the point but tried to render the colors faithfully as they appeared in the several photographs I had taken. The differences in the colors of the bark even surprised me when I saw them beside one another in the painting.

Spruce Forest in Acadia National Park | Richard G. Tiberius

40 x 24 in | 101.6 x 61cm

The Spruces are tough trees. Their superpower is surviving harsh conditions like extreme cold, wet, snow, and wind. Such conditions exist at high elevations or regions close to the poles. Elevation divides plants into what Botanists call “belts,” each belt consisting of types of plants suited to conditions at that elevation. Spruce trees can thrive at the very highest belt in which full sized trees can grow, from about 9,500 feet (2900 m) to 11,500 feet (3500 m) in the Rocky Mountains and 4,500 feet (1372 m) in the Alleghenies of Tennessee and North Carolina. Latitude separates trees in a similar manner. And spruce trees thrive at lower altitudes in far northern regions.

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Acadia National Park is in Maine, at the 44th parallel, a latitude at which there are many broad-leaved trees. And the highest point in Acadia National Park is Cadillac Mountain is only 1530 feet (466 m) high. I was therefore surprised to find a spruce forest there. However, it is a rocky peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic where it is slammed with storms. And in such conditions, spruces have an advantage.

In this scene that I have painted, the extreme wet conditions are obvious from the heavy encrustation of lichen on the trees and the pillows of moss covering everything. The lichen and blue-green mosses provide a striking contrast to the yellow streaks of sunlight, creating the artistic theme of the composition.

It was particularly satisfying to make the bark on the trees and the mosses with a painting knife. I skipped the knife over the panel to make the bark stick out like shingles. And, using the edge of the knife, I cut thousands of grooves into the paint to make the moss look soft.

As for the species of spruce, the needles were too short for red (Picea rubens) or white spruce (Picea glauca). They were more likely black spruce (Picea mariana).

Sumac Up Close | Richard G. Tiberius

32 x 24 in | 81.3 x 61 cm

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

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

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

Two Ponderosa Pines | Richard G. Tiberius

30 x 36 in | 76.2 x 91.4cm

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

Click for detail.
Click for detail.

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

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

Red Maple and Sumac in Fall | Richard G. Tiberius

36 x 24 in | 91.4 x 61 cm

Few trees equal the brilliance of Red Maples in the fall. And Sumac is the unexcelled champion of color variation. Sumac shrubs have compound leaves, which means that each leaf has many little leaflets joined to a single stem. The colors on even a single leaflet can blend from purple to yellow-orange. I used more than a dozen knives at the same time, each with a different color. When these two species grow together, as in the scene that inspired this painting, the result is a dazzling feast of color. The soft yellow background reflected in the pond is mostly from sugar maples.

Click for detail.
Click for detail.

And to think that we almost missed this scene. Joyce and I were driving back after spending a week camping with our relatives. We took lots of pictures but they were rather disappointing. The mist and fog dulled the colors. Then, on the way home we spotted a flash of color on a rise beside the roadway. We pulled over, climbed up and found that the source of the color, a Red Maple, growing beside a quiet little pond, hidden from the road. The sun came out for just enough time for us to take a few pictures.

The red Maple (Acer rubrum) is one of the most widespread trees in North America, ranging throughout all the States and Provinces east of the Mississippi. I have seen them growing in the wetlands around Miami, Florida and the hills of Nova Scotia. Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina), is found mainly in the Northeastern States and bordering Canadian Provinces. The common name refers to the forking pattern of the branches, which resemble the horns of a stag. Don’t confuse it with poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), which is not even in the same family as Staghorn Sumac. Far from poisonous, the red seeds of the Staghorn can be steeped in boiling water to make a delicious tea high in vitamin C.

Engelmann Spruce in Yellowstone National Park (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

36 x 23.75 in | 91.4 x 60.3 cm

According to the Yellowstone Park website, “Forests cover roughly 80% of the park and lodgepole pine comprises nearly all of that canopy.” There is a little lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) peaking out of the lower right hand corner of this painting, but the focus of the painting is on a less common resident of the park—an Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmanii).

Click for detail.
Click for detail.

The Engelmann’s ragged appearance and complex pattern of branches caught my eye, while the brilliant yellow wolf moss provided a lively contrast to the dark chocolate brown bark. Its isolation against the sky allowed me to observe its beautifully complex structure. In contrast, had just hiked up from the valley where trees were so densely packed that they presented a uniform wall of green. I recently read an article in American Forests magazine (Summer, 2016) by Richard Higgins in which he quotes Henry David Thoreau “A tree seen against other trees is a mere dark mass, but against the sky it has parts, has symmetry and expression.” Old trees like this have so much character. I have no idea exactly how old it is because Engelmann spruce at high, wind swept elevations like this tend to be very slow growing. Some stunted trees can be 1000 years old.

The tens of thousands of spires poking up from the mountains in the distance are mostly young lodgepole pines. Living in New England, Thoreau may not have been familiar with lodgepole pines, but they are the perfect example of the “dark mass” in his description. Frequent fires kill the lodgepole pines but some of their cones are sealed and stay on the trees until a forest fire heats them, after which they burst open and drop their seeds onto the newly burned area. The new seedlings grow so thick you can’t squeeze between them if you are wearing a pack.

For me the most important feature of this particular tree is the fact that my daughter and son-in-law wanted the painting for a wedding gift.

Tall Delphinium and Triangular Ragwort | Richard G. Tiberius

30 x 30 in | 76.2 x 76.2 cm

Delphinium and Triangular Ragwort often share clearings in the subalpine woods. They are able to share the sunshine equally because both are tall, topping out at about five feet (1.5 m). Together the two flowers make a stunning combination, the Blue-Purple flowers of the Tall Delphinium (Delphinium barbeyi) are almost a perfect complement to the butter yellow of the Triangular Ragwort (Senecio triangularis). In the shaded areas the Delphinium are deep purple but appear distinctly blue in the sun. I used Permanent Mauve for the shaded flowers and French Ultramarine Blue for those in the sun. The Ragwort flowers also shift in color from shade to sun, moving from an orange-yellow toward a lemon yellow, but the shift is less dramatic. The suffix “wort” in plants’ names sounds like a disease, but it simply means “plant” in Old English.

Click for detail.
Click for detail.

I painted this composition in my studio based on a number of pictures I had taken of the field. The pictures reminded me of the limitations of the camera compared to the human eye. Some of the pictures were focused on only one part of the field: the foreground, middle or the background, while the rest of the photo was blurred. Other photos were taken with adjustments that enabled the camera to get everything in focus, but the resulting image was flattened like wallpaper with all the flowers squished together. To our eyes, in contrast, everything we look at appears in focus at the same time because our eyes instantly refocus wherever we look. Also, we don’t see the field as flat wallpaper because we see in stereo. Nothing beats the human eye. As an artist, I attempted to mimic the experience of the human eye rather than the camera by painting all of the flowers in focus, and using heavy application of paint with the knife to reveal the depth.

I first painted this field of flowers it was titled “Meadow at the Edge of the Forest”. The meadow ended with a dark forest at the top of the painting. After looking at the painting from time to time I grew critical of its perspective. The dark forest seemed to crowd the field. I thought it might be better to change the perspective so that my back was to the forest and I was looking out onto the open field. So I repainted it. Now “Meadow at the Edge of the Forest” no longer exists. It has become “Tall Delphinium and Triangular Ragwort”.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron | Kiry Tiberius & Richard Tiberius

24 x 28 in | 61 x 71.1 cm

The tri-colored heron is one of the most colorful of herons. Its chest and belly are white, neck is a rusty red, and the rest of the body and head are a slate blue. To complete this parade of colors we should add the yellow legs, which turn pink in the breeding season, and the yellow-orange bill, which turns blue in the breeding season.

Click for detail.
Click for detail.

All those colors make you wonder how they help the bird hide from its prey. But a fish looking up would see—or more to the point would fail to see—its white belly against the bright sky. And predators could easily lose sight of it against the rusty colors of the dead leaves and slate blue of the water. We painted it in the context of the aroids that typically grow in the swamps where Tri-colored herons forage. The Aroids are probably Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia). If there had been some white 3-petaled flowers we would have been surer but there weren’t any. In any case, the dark shadows of these plants provided a perfect frame for the heron.

The little umbrellas shining in the sun that range along the base of the aroids are Pennyworts (Hydrocotyle umbellata), sometimes called Dollarweeds. It is an edible weed in the carrot family that can be used in salads. But our heron is not interested in salad. He or she (male and female look alike) is focused on the meat dish.

Tri-colored Heron | Kiry Tiberius & Richard Tiberius

40 x 30 in / 101.6 x 76.2 cm

The tri-colored heron is one of the most colorful of herons. Its chest and belly are white, neck is a rusty red, and the rest of the body and head are a slate blue. To complete this parade of colors we should add the yellow legs, which turn pink in the breeding season, and the yellow-orange bill, which turns blue in the breeding season.

Click for detail.
Click for detail.

All those colors make you wonder how they help the bird hide from its prey. But a fish looking up would see—or more to the point would fail to see—its white belly against the bright sky. And predators could easily lose sight of it against the rusty colors of the dead leaves and slate blue of the water. We painted it in the context of the aroids that typically grow in the swamps where Tri-colored herons forage. The Aroids are probably Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia). If there had been some white 3-petaled flowers we would have been surer but there weren’t any. In any case, the dark shadows of these plants provided a perfect frame for the heron.

The little umbrellas shining in the sun that range along the base of the aroids are Pennyworts (Hydrocotyle umbellata), sometimes called Dollarweeds. It is an edible weed in the carrot family that can be used in salads. But our heron is not interested in salad. He or she (male and female look alike) is focused on the meat dish.

Red-winged Blackbirds on Pond Apple |Kiry Tiberius and Richard G. Tiberius

24 x 30 in | 61 x 76.2 cm

We were walking on a boardwalk in a wetland conservation area, taking pictures of wading birds, when a Red-winged Blackbird popped out of the marsh grasses onto a Pond Apple twig. We snapped a picture before he flew away. Meanwhile, on the other side of the boardwalk, a smaller bird, with very modest coloring was clinging onto one of the grasses. We thought it might be some kind of sparrow although it appeared large for a sparrow. We took a picture of it as well.

Click for detail
Click for detail

The next step was to send the picture of the unknown bird to cousin Paul, our family’s bird expert. To our surprise he said it was the female Red-winged Blackbird. We never imagined that it might be the mate, but we were delighted with the news because the pair made a better composition. Now all that remained was to put them together in the same composition.

When we viewed this painting in dim light one evening we could barely discern the female from her background. She blended in with the leaves and grasses so she might go unnoticed on her nest, which is precisely what Nature intended by providing her with a speckled, subdued coat. The male, in contrast, stood out dramatically against the pastel background, the better to impress females and intimidate rivals.

Pond Apples (Annona glabra) are tropical trees that grow in the water. Their name derives from their apple-like fruit, which are not very tasty. The important feature of this tree for our composition is not the fruit but the leaves, which encircle the birds with a colorful, complementary frame.

Cypress Flowerpots | Richard G. Tiberius

36 x 24 in | 91.4 x 61.1 cm

A powerful hurricane must have come through here many years ago leaving the five massive stumps seen here. I’m sure these trees were not logged since the Audubon Society established Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in 1912 to protect these ancient Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum). The stumps are nature’s flowerpots, providing a perfect habitat for ferns and bromeliads. Two of the more ferns in this painting are the Long Strap Fern (Campyloneurum phyllitidis) and Ladder-Brake Ferns (Pteris vittata).

Click for detail
Click for detail

A fallen tree trunk in the background attests to the massiveness of the trees. It would have reached my chest had I waded over and stood beside it. Mosses and lichen cover fallen trees in the foreground.

The sprays of wispy leaves curling out of the sides of trees belong to Tillandsia of the bromeliad or “air plant” family, which turn vibrant colors in the winter.

The Corkscrew River is only a few feet deep. Shallow, still water is a challenging subject for a painter. In some places you can see through the water to the bottom; others show only reflections; and others are covered by a heavy scattering of floating plants and fallen leaves. They catch the light and break up the reflections. This wonderful complexity is tricky to paint, but makes the water sparkle.

Bromeliad Fireworks | Richard G. Tiberius

24 x 24 in | 61 x 61 cm

The “fireworks” in the title refer to bromeliads, which are bursting out of the sides of these Cypress trees. Bromeliads are in the same family of plants as the pineapples we buy at the grocery store. The leaves of pineapples are usually green when we buy them. The leaves of these tiny bromeliads were also green in summer, but in the fall they turn various colors and become translucent. The backlighted sun in this scene lights them up like fireworks. I suspect that there are several species in this scene. Although I don’t know which species they are, they surely belong to the Tillandsia family.

Click for detail.
Click for detail.

In addition to the lively bromeliads the dark trunks of the trees provided a dramatic canvas on which Lichens of many shades were splattered. On first glance all of the Lichens may look pale grey but try looking from one trunk to another and back again, rapidly. This old painter’s trick makes the differences pop out. Although all of the lichens were shades of pale grey—none of the brilliant red colors that I painted in a scene ten years ago (called “Painted Posts”)—the differences in their colors were exaggerated against the dark bark. Some were tinted with turquoise, others with blue, and still others with green.

Not only do lichens provide interesting colors, they also add texture. They are ideal subjects for knife painters. Some of them are like shingles; others like rope; and still others more like paint. I painted the trunks first and then, when they had dried, I patted, streaked and ran my knife over the dry paint to create all of these shapes. By the way, Lichens are a fascinating life form. They are not plants. They are a composite organism formed by algae or cyanobacteria and a fungus living in a mutually beneficial relationship.

The shapes of the trees also added to the interest to this composition. These are not the massive Bald Cypress trees (Taxodium Distichum) that are as straight as telephone poles. These are Pond Cypress trees (Taxodium ascendens), a curvaceous relative of the Bald Cypress.