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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Click for detail.

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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Click for detail

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking on the Lake Through the Trees (sold)

24 x 24 in | 61 x 61 cm

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

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

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

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

Bald Cypress with 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.

Manzanita on a Rock Ledge (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

48 x 30 in | 122 x 76.2 cm

The Manzanitas enjoy the mixed blessing of being among the most desirable plants for use in decorative displays.  Their blood red bark and twisted branches make a perfect center piece for a dried flower arrangement.   Remember to pack a saw if you go picking Manzanita branches.  The wood is very hard.  The First Nations used the wood for spoons and tobacco pipes and early missionaries fashioned pegs from Manzanita wood to fix the joints of their Mission buildings.

Better yet, leave your saw at home and bring your camera.  While it’s true that a saw will help you harvest a decorative piece whose red bark and gracefully twisting branches will grace your living room for many years unchanged, with your camera you can capture some wonderful changes.

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For example, if you take your camera to the field in February, when few other plants are flowering, you can catch the  beautiful pink and white flowers hanging like little upside down jugs in dense clusters.  The Manzanita is one of the earliest bloomers in the Chaparral.  A few months later you can photograph birds eating the clusters of berries, maybe even catch a bear or fox if you’re lucky.  Take a wide-angle shot and you can see how the Manzanita sprawls out over the rocks, hugging every contour.

But don’t forget the rocks.  They are an important part of understanding the Manzanitas place in Nature.  The Manzanita live in the dry foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  I dedicated almost half of the composition to this rocky stone ledge to make this point.  Another reason for including the rocks is compositional.  The cool violet and blue colors in the shadows of the stones extend the color range of the composition.   I painted the stones with a technique called “wet on wet” in which I ran one oil color over another while the color underneath was still wet.  It’s a perfect technique for rendering the lichen encrusted and eroded surface of the soft rocks.  But I had to be careful to ensure that the color underneath was very viscous or my knife would smear instead of skipping over the surface.

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.

Autumn Reflections (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

35.75 x 24 in | 90.8 x 61 cm

On this Autumn evening the light was bright but hazy, the kind of light that intensified the colors and creates glare off the surface of the water.  The Red Maples (Acer rubrum), of course, stole the show, but the diffuse light also lit up the grasses and sedges on the banks.  White Pines (Pinus strobes) on drier ground towered above the maples, framing the composition.

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The surface of the pond was covered with the heart shaped leaves of Yellow Pond Lillies (Nuphar variegatum) mixed with round leaved Fragrant White Water Lillies (Nymphaea odorata). In contrast to the vibrant Maples and glowing banks, the pond lilies, usually a rich green, reflected the sky more than their true color because of their angle to the light.  As a painter in love with color, I enjoy painting brilliant colors more than dull ones.  I was tempted to paint the lilies in rich hues of green but it is important to stick to the mood created by the lighting effect—intense fall leaves and faded lilies.

The lilies had to look as though they were floating on top of the water rather than part of the reflections.  To create the effect of floating lilies I painted the reflection with a flatter technique while I laid the lilies on top with much heavier applications of paint.  Painting knives are so useful for these kinds of effects.

The ripples in the water in the foreground resulted from an attempt to steady the canoe.  Otherwise the pond was still.  Much earlier a beaver had slapped his tail on the water to signal a warning of our presence but his disturbance had died down before I took my photographs.  The pond was so shallow that I could see the beaver ‘s wake as it swam under water. Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata), which grows only in shallow water, frames the foreground.

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.

Under the Rhododendrons (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

20 x 18 in | 50.8 x 45.7 cm

Most of the thousand species of Rhododendron are small shrubs.  I remember as a child being fascinated with their brilliant flowers just at eye level.  But since I’ve grown a few feet taller I usually admire their flowers from above.  That is, I did until I went hiking in the Smoky Mountain National Park where giants live.  Here the Rhododendrons towered over us as we hiked.  This painting therefore represents an unusual perspective for these plants—looking up from underneath.  Huge trees and the famous Smoky Mountain mist provide the background.

The leaves Catawba Rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense) are so dark green and leathery that I have never observed their veins before.  But from the perspective of looking up into the sun the veins were revealed as darkened stripes with lighter patches between.  I first painted the leaf with a dark green and then repainted the patches between the veins with a lighter green.  Notice none of the leaves have bites taken out of them, probably because they are poisonous to deer.  The roundish holes chewed in some of the leaves suggest that some insects have stronger stomachs than deer.

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Long lengths of bare twigs are visible because the leaves are clustered in whorls at the ends.  I made sure that a short segment of the larger branch was included in the painting because I wanted to show how the bark becomes scaly with age.  I enjoyed making this bark with a painting knife, one of the many occasions when I’m glad that I paint with knives.  This scaly bark would be difficult to make with a brush.  While I am on the subject of the twigs, notice that the ends of the twigs are green.  This is the new growth.  Twigs grow about six inches per year, which is not very fast, a realization that increased my respect for these giants.

Sumac in the Rain (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

26 x 24 in | 66 x 61 cm

I have low expectations when hiking in the rain, but I shouldn’t.  Colors are more saturated in low contrast lighting.  And Sumac is unsurpassed for the brilliance of its autumn colors. They range from pale yellow-green through orange, red and scarlet.  A month earlier these Sumacs would still have earned their reputation for outstanding redness but not on account of their leaves.  In late summer dense cones of brilliant red fruit protrude from the ends of green leafy branches.  Indeed, the name “Sumac” is derived from the Arabic for “red”.

While we are imagining how this scene looked a month earlier, those brown clusters were once brilliant yellow flowers of the Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare).  It’s a good thing that they are not in their prime.  Their vibrant yellow would overwhelm the subtle yellow of the Sumac leaves.

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In contrast, the violet sprays of Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum), which were still in flower, do not distract from the composition.  Their dusty rose and ochre provide a contrast with the warm Sumac colors.

The Sumac fruit is the source of a red spice used in Middle Eastern cuisine to impart a lemony taste to salads and meat.  In North America we make a lemony drink (called “sumac-ade”) by crushing Sumac fruits in cool water, straining the liquid and then adding sugar or honey.

Staghorn Sumac (R. typhina) grows mainly in the Northeast, Midwest, Appalachian Mountains and Great Lakes regions including Ontario.

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

48 x 34 in | 121.9 x 86.4 cm

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

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

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

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

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

25 x 18 in | 63.5 x 45.7 cm

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

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

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

Sparkling Lupine (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

20 x 16 in | 50.8 x 40.6 cm

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

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

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

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

Red Spikes (sold) | Richard G. Tiberius

24 x 18 in | 61 x 45.7 cm

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

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

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

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

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

21 x 24 in | 53.3 x 61 cm

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

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

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

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