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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

Red Mangroves, Ten Cormorants and a Pelican (sold) | Kiry Tiberius & Richard Tiberius

24 x 30 in | 61 x 76.2 cm – oil on panel, painted with knives

My daughter, Kiry Tiberius, has been painting all her life but not with painting knives. In the last ten years she has become increasingly interested in using painting knives and wanted me to teach her the techniques. I was, of course, delighted, especially since I had more time after retiring from the university.

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The thought had occurred to us that it would be great fun to collaborate on a painting. An occasion arose when a couple, who had bought a painting of a Great Blue Heron from me a few years before, requested a painting of a pelican as a companion piece.

Kiry offered to paint the pelican if I would do the trees. She loves painting birds. So do I but trees are my favorite subject. I left a space for the bird. The space looked weird, like a ghost of the bird, until Kiry painted in the pelican. The result looked seamless. She even captured the reflections of the water under the wing and the slight violet tint to the upper side. – Richard

Sitting in a kayak, looking at faraway cormorants through binoculars, the waves quietly lapped at our sides, and the soft rustling of the red mangrove leaves whispered around us. In this peaceful moment, we didn’t expect to be startled by the majestic grandeur of a brown pelican. These unexpected glimpses of wild beauty swell the heart with joy. The sense of awe is overpowering.

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Click for detail.

This painting my father and I created together captures the experience we shared. The open edges of the composition give the viewer a sense of the endless expanse of the water and bright sky. The mangroves in the distance seemed to be organically connected to the silhouettes of those cormorants we were watching. The powerful bird dominates the view, an inescapable focus point. The broad wings are lifted in flight, a fitting symbol of our soaring spirits on that beautiful day. — Kiry

Thirty-four Geese in Cord Grass (sold) | Kiry Tiberius & Richard Tiberius

40 x 24 in | 101.6 x 61 cm – oil on panel, painted with knives

My daughter Kiry and I painted this scene together. It was fun painting with my daughter and discussing the composition. I’m guessing that the grass is Prairie Cord Grass (Spartina pectinata) because this species is so common throughout the Great Lakes and Midwestern States, where we found this marshland, but it may be different species of Spartina.

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The geese no doubt had a different perspective on the grasses. For them the wetland grasses were either a cafeteria or refueling station half way through their migration. They frequently winter in Canada and migrate to the US South for the summer, but in the mid States, just south of the Great Lakes, where this scene is located, they can stay all year. So these might be permanent residents rather than refueling migrants. Whatever their status, they were all over the place. In this one bank we counted more than 50. Thirty-four made it into the final composition. I have read that geese eat the leaves as well as the underground stems (rhizomes) of cord grasses in winter although I can’t imagine how they get at the underground stems.

There are two kinds of geese in this scene—Canada geese (Branta Canadensis) and Cackling geese (Branta hutchinsii). The Cackling geese are about half the size of the Canada geese but otherwise are very similar in color and markings. This posed a problem of perspective for us. If viewers assume that they are all Canada geese, they might conclude that we goofed on the perspective, painting some of the geese in front smaller than those more distant. We didn’t. The smaller Cackling geese just happen to be in the front and we painted them as we saw them.

In painting both the grasses and the geese we used the edge and tip of our knives. In contrast we used the broad flat part of our knives for the water and sky.

The icy look of the water was a perfect complement to the warm colors of the grasses. For the water we used a combination of Blues, Cobalt Stannate and Phthalocyanine Blue, which gave the water the icy look that we saw on this clear fall day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Bananas | Richard G. Tiberius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Lake through the Trees | Richard G. Tiberius

26 x 20 in | 66 x 50.8 cm

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

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

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

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

Bald Cypress with Ferns (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

48 x 34 in | 121.9 x 86.4 cm

Whenever there is a telephone pole or barbed wire cutting right across an otherwise perfect scene I’m grateful that I’m a painter rather than a photographer. One of my friends once asked me if I intentionally “paint out” objectionable elements like telephone poles. Yes but it’s actually easier than that. I just leave them out. This scene of Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) and ferns was the exception. Nothing was in the way.


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Even the balance was perfect. Okay, the tree on the right would have overwhelmed the scene if I had included all of it. It was massive. Bald Cypress trees get that way. So I didn’t show all of it. By the way, you won’t find many ancient Bald Cypress outside of this Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Most of the old giants were logged for shakes and shingles. The Audubon Society had the foresight to buy a piece of the unlogged Cypress back in 1912 to preserve it.

One of the features about a forest like this is the subtle variation between the colors of the bark. Although they are all the same species of tree each trunk is a slightly different color. The ones on the left are more reddish; in the middle they are decidedly yellow-brown; and the big guy on the right has pink tones.

Since the scene is backlighted you wouldn’t even know the sun was shining if it weren’t for the ferns. The sun can’t peek around the trees because it is directly behind them but it shines through some of the fern leaves and reflects off others. The combination of arching stems and angled leaflets produce every possible angle to the sun making the ferns come alive.

Birches in the Snow, with Cardinals (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

48 x 31.9 in | 121.9 x 81 cm

Painting white birches in the snow reminds me of the joke that kids like to play. They ask if you like their drawing, which is nothing but a blank piece of paper. When you look puzzled they explain that it’s a drawing of a polar bear in the snow. I was reminded of this story when I considered painting this scene because the colors of the landscape in the North on cloudy days after a snowfall are very subtle.


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But, after walking through the woods for a while my eyes adjust to the dull colors allowing me to see just enough color in this scene to find it an exciting challenge. I begin to see green in the leaves of the little Spruce tree in the foreground although they are dull compared to the fresh new leaves of spring. I begin to see the blush of mauve in the background, the little flecks of orange in the remnants of fall leaves, streaks of pink on the birch trunks and a range of brown colors on the trunks of the little Maple saplings.

After a while I’m not even aware of how subtle the winter colors are. Enter the Cardinals. The Cardinals’ brilliant colors provide a striking contrast that throws the whole winter palette into perspective. Cardinals seem to belong to another region. In fact, they do.  Cardinals have traditionally been a southern bird until the last few decades when parks and bird feeders have enabled them to move north. When I lived in the North I was grateful that they stayed with us all winter. Apparently my feelings are widely shared. The Cardinal is the official bird in seven U.S. states.

Both the White Birch, or Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) and the White Spruce (Picea Glauca) live throughout Canada, Alaska and some northern States.

Sawgrass and Great Blue Heron (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

26 x 33 in | 66 x 83.8 cm

The phrase “river of grass,” so familiar to Everglades National Park visitors, was coined by Marjory Stoneman Douglas in her book “The Everglades: River of Grass”. Sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense), in fact, grows out of a slow moving, shallow river that formerly covered the whole of south Florida . With its triangular stems, Sawgrass is actually not a grass but a sedge.  The name is derived from its edges, which are serrated like the teeth of a saw.  You can’t walk through it in short sleeves without sustaining numerous cuts.  You can’t climb over it either.  It grows to nine feet tall, dwarfing the Great Blue Heron in this painting, which is a little over four feet (about 120 cm) tall. Besides its vast expanse in the Everglades National Park, Sawgrass is also found in coastal areas north to Virginia and west to the Texas Gulf coast.

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A huge diversity of birds, alligators and amphibians depend upon Sawgrass for nesting and food.  Its energy rich nutlets at the ends of the flower spikes sustain migrating ducks and geese.

Painting Heron feathers with a painting knife was an enjoyable challenge.  The wing feathers are soft and overlapping while the long breast and back feathers stand out individually.  To achieve the soft, blended look of the wing feathers I patted the panel with the flat surface of the knife.  The long feathers required a completely different technique.  After wetting the background with a base of blue, I loaded the knife and, tilting it on the side, I pulled it over the base color in one continuous stroke, delivering an edge of paint that stuck out from the panel.  When it dried I could actually pinch it with my fingernails.

The water lilies on the surface of the water are likely the Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar luteum). Pond Lilies rest peacefully on the surface and have a slit separating the leaf into lobes.  The round leaves, without a slit, held above the water by a thick stem probably belong to the Yellow Lotus (Nelumbo lutea).  Any fish reckless enough to venture out from the cover of these leaves, will surely be detected by the vigilant eyes of the motionless Heron above them.

The Rowan Tree (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

30 x 40 in | 76.2 x 101.6 cm

In North America the Rowan tree is called a Mountain Ash but it’s not actually an Ash.  It is in the Rose family, producing the characteristic fruit of that family, looking like clusters of bright red rose hips.  Early Americans called them Ash Trees because they had compound leaves like the Ash.  A compound leaf has a main stem with little leaflets coming off of it.  This was good news for my daughter who wanted to plant one in her yard but was concerned about the Emerald Ash Borer Beetle.  I told her not to worry about the Emerald Borer.  Beetles know their trees.

I was disappointed when I first sketched the drawing for this painting.  The panel was too small to allow individual leaflets to show.  Each leaf became nothing but a streak of paint while the clusters of berries became red blobs.  So I sketched another drawing on a larger panel.  On the larger panel I could paint individual leaflets and berries, but it was very time consuming.  The painting took over 100 hours to complete.  It was time consuming but satisfying; one of my interests in painting is the celebration of details like these compound leaves.  At least I didn’t have to count the leaflets!  Rowan Trees are rather forgiving about the number.  Anywhere from seven to seventeen leaflets are allowed.

By luck I encountered this tree at a most interesting time in the development of its fall color.  About half of the leaves had turned color.  They ranged from deep summer green to a spectrum of yellow, orange and red.  Even more surprising were the variations within a single leaf.  Leaflets at the end of the leaf were often a different color from leaflets nearer the twig.  Sometimes there were even variations within a single leaflet.  A leaflet might be dark orange where it attaches to the leaf and grow progressively more yellow toward the tip.  To execute a single leaf could take 20 applications of paint with the tip of a knife.

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I prefer the name “Rowan” because it avoids confusion with the Ashes but especially for this painting since Rowan is derived from Old Norse raun, and ultimately from a proto-Germanic word raudnian meaning “getting red”.

The Rowan is clearly a Northern tree, ranging across Eastern Canada and the most northerly states.  Isolated patches grow as far south as North Carolina but only at the coldest heights of the Appalachian Mountains.  If you bought a Rowan tree from a nursery for your garden it likely was the “Showy Mountain Ash” (Sorbus decora) preferred by gardeners because of its brighter fall color rather than its cousin, “The American Mountain Ash” (Sorbus Americana).  By the way, if you are curious about the pink flowers in the foreground they are the dried remnants of Joe-Pye-Weed (Eutrochium).

Dwarf Cypress and Red-Shouldered Hawk (sold)

24 x 24 in | 61 x 61 cm

One of the features of a successful painting is a broad color range.  A scene combining brilliant blue water, rich green leaves and bright flowers usually grabs our attention.  This scene is the opposite.  It is a study in muted colors.  But it fascinated me because of the harmony of the colors between the trees and the Hawk and the story that they told.

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The pale grey color of the bark distinguishes the Pond Cypress (Taxodium ascendens) from its big cousin, the Bald Cypress (Taxodium Distichum).  In poor and drier soils, where the Pond Cypress often grows, it forms thick savannas of stunted trees.  These dwarfs can be hundreds of years old and yet attain heights of only 20 or 30 feet.  In this composition they form a grey-brown tapestry—a tangle of twigs and small trunks dotted by bits of blue sky.

The brown and ochre tones of the Red-Shouldered Hawk blend into this background.  Even the russet colors in the feathers are echoed in the Cypress cones and in a torn section of the branch.  The Hawk’s hunting success depends upon stealth, its brown and creamy flecks blending into the surrounding forest.  Notice that its tail feathers are spread rather than ending in the usual point, indicating that it is preparing to fly.  And fly it did, moments after I took the pictures from which I made this painting.

I used the edge of the painting knife to make the feathers, creating many fine cracks and ridges.  This texture broke up the light so that the surface looked soft.  I painted the trees in the background imprecisely so that they would appear out of the focus of the viewer.  I wanted to push the viewers’ focus to the harmony between the tree in the foreground and the Hawk.