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.

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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.

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 | 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.

Smiling Gator | Kiry Tiberius

30 x 24 in | 76.2 x 61 cm

I never would have guessed that I would be interested in painting an alligator, or any reptiles for that matter. I’ve always been more drawn to cute, fuzzy mammals or birds. But I’ve begun to discover that what I paint is not so much determined by the animals or plants that I generally like best, but rather whichever I feel most excited about rendering in paint. This alligator, whose photographs were taken by my dad’s cousin Paul, struck me as special. When I first saw the images, I was amused by how unusually (and deceptively) friendly this gator seems to be. But it wasn’t so much the charming smile that compelled me to paint it. It was the bright dappled sunlight and sharp patches of light and dark that made it a dramatic composition. My favourite part of creating this painting was the skin. The way the scaly lumps seem like smooth, shiny pebbles set in cement. Each little bump has multiple colours that add dimension and interest. It was a delight to paint.

Click for detail.
Click for detail.

I was at a dinner party recently, and was asked to show some pictures of my latest painting. The group was very interested in the gator, but expressed that they thought I really ought to paint an ibis to be fair. They were referring to the rivalry between University of Florida and University of Miami sports teams. Most of the guests were UM graduates, so they wanted to see a painting of their own mascot, the ibis. As it happens, I had already started painting an ibis. A few weeks later, I had a painting for each of the two teams. My father-in-law, the host of the dinner party and one of the UM alumni, was very pleased.

White Ibis (sold) | Kiry Tiberius

23.75 x 21 in | 60.3 x 53.3 cm

By the end of the day, we had taken so many pictures of white ibises that I had to laugh at how digital cameras have freed us from needing to conserve film. The wonderful thing about having “too many” pictures, is that somewhere in the bunch there might just be one that makes a good composition with very few changes needed. This Ibis composition was almost one photograph, but I still ended up using a second in order to get the true range of colour for the eye and bill.

Click for detail.
Click for detail.

I had fun with the juxtaposition of textures in this painting. The background and the body of the bird are very smooth, while the shells that the bird stands on are rough and thickly layered. I almost couldn’t believe how much white paint went into making that pile of shells. Now that it’s dry, the foreground is quite sharp to the touch.

For me, this composition seems to express some of the peacefulness that I always find when visiting the islands of Sanibel and Captiva. Almost the whole painting is made up of soft colours. The few points of intense colour are the eye, the beak, and the small pieces of seaweed in the foreground, which add refreshing contrast.

Great Blue Heron | Kiry Tiberius

40 x 30 in | 101.6 x 76.2 cm

This painting, at 40 inches wide and 30 inches tall, is one of the largest I have done to date. Choosing the size of panel for a specific composition requires careful consideration. For my work, the size must emphasize the aspect of a subject that I want the viewer to appreciate.

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Click for detail.

This great blue heron had to be done on a grand scale, in order to give the viewer a feel for how bright and open the water’s edge was. The great blue heron is a large and stately bird, the long neck moves with a fluid grace that echoes the smooth shifting of the waves.

All that being said, this particular bird has a story that is a little less noble. Apparently, the locals of the area call this bird “Steve.” He is often seen close by the people fishing along the beach in North Captiva, Florida. Steve doesn’t just hope for a fishy handout; he will try to steal the fish that the humans have caught. Hey, he was there first!

Whether viewed as elegant or crafty, the charm of the great blue heron is undeniable.

White-tailed Deer in Autumn | Kiry Tiberius

30 x 18 in / 76.2 x 45.7 cm

The north in autumn may be my favourite location and time of year for hiking. As beautiful as the summer is with its warmth and stillness, I find the fall invigorating. I feel more awake in the crisp fall air. The breezes that come with the season bring so much movement and sound to enjoy. I love the rustling sound that the trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) makes all year round, and at this time of year the other trees join in. Even the grasses, like the clusters of taller grass (Agrostis scabra) in the foreground of this painting, move and sway with the wind. As if all this colour and sound weren’t enough beauty to take in, these white-tailed deer came out into the open to feed on the shorter grasses in the clearing. Their resources diminish as winter approaches, and this relatively damp land at the edge of a marsh provided some grass that was still green and tender enough for them.

Click for detail.
Click for detail.

For us, this clearing offered a delightful view as the deer stepped out to eat. Two of them were clearly older and more accustomed to coming across people. The little one was not so sure. Those bright eyes and large ears focused in on these strange new intruders. Here in the nature preserve, the deer are protected. In time, the little one will learn that we mean them no harm. For now, though, I can enjoy the magic of an encounter with these deer, looking into the long-lashed eyes of this adorable creature.

 

 

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.

Purple Columbine (sold) | Kiry Tiberius

18 x 15 in / 45.7 x 38.1 cm

One of my favourite things to do when I’m hiking, or in a garden, is to sit close enough to a flower so that the features of the flower become a landscape of colour and texture—a magical world unto itself. In this painting, I invite the viewer to see the purple columbine in such a way. I chose to use an unusually small panel to encourage intimacy between viewer and flower.

Click for detail
Click for detail

The purple columbine (Aquilegia coerulea) is a hardy little flower, despite its delicate appearance. It can live through cold temperatures, at high altitudes, and even wedged in the cracks of very rocky terrain as it is here. There are so are many species of columbine that it sometimes becomes difficult to determine the name of one particular plant. This flower gives itself away by its deep violet, almost indigo and white petals.

When my grandmother first saw this painting she told me a story about the columbine in her garden. The columbine is a perennial, so they should return every spring. But the little sprouts that popped up in the spring looked a lot like weeds to my grandfather, who pulled them out. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that my grandmother was especially excited about this painting. The painting now hangs in her bedroom, where she can see it every morning as she awakens, all through the year.

Pika on Lichen-covered Rocks (sold) | Kiry Tiberius

28 x 24 in | 71.1 x 61 cm

When I was a kid, I was familiar with the usual animals like cows and ducklings from my children’s books but I had never heard of a pika. It wasn’t until I grew up and went hiking in the mountains that I met one. I saw the pika in this painting while hiking in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park.

Click for detail
Click for detail

Pikas are not rodents like mice or hamsters. They are related to the rabbit, which is not actually a rodent. The pika is an elusive little mammal that lives in the spaces formed between the rocks of boulder piles (called talus fields), which collect at the base of mountain cliffs. It’s about 15-23 cm long (5.9-9.1 in) without the tail because it doesn’t have a tail. It eats all kinds of leafy plants during the summer. But in winter, because it doesn’t hibernate when these plants are not available, it eats dried plants that it has collected all summer in little haystacks and dried in the sun. Once dry, they are dragged into the burrow for the winter.

In North America you will hear two different pronunciations for the word “pika”, pai-ka and pee-ka. Only in the UK is it pronounced consistently as pai-ka, as you will hear if you watch David Attenborough’s delightful video. Personally, I like pee-ka because it sounds like the adorable squeak that the pika makes as a warning cry. The name pika may bring to mind the animated character called Pikachu. The most common explanation of the character’s name is that it is comprised of two sounds that are onomatopoeic representations in Japanese of crackling electricity (pika) and mouse sounds (chu.) But it is possible that the character was originally based on a pika not a mouse, despite being labeled as a mouse-type pokemon. The marketing folks might have labeled it as a mouse to be more recognizable while at the same time being aware of its double meaning—crackling electricty in Japanese and the little mammal in English.

I was very excited to use the knife technique to create three-dimensional fur. Little cuts in the paint make the hairs stand out when light hits the surface of the painting, which creates a soft furry look. In additional to looking three-dimensional, the whiskers had to be perfectly curved and very fine. I came up with a strategy that worked quite well. Using the edge of the knife I painted a thin line of pale grey over my drawing, and then closed in on that line from either side with the darker color of the background. By squeezing the pale grey paint thinner and thinner, I was able to maintain the curve while achieving a much thinner line than any I could create with the edge of the knife.

Lichen is not a plant. Rather, it is an organism made up of algae or cyanobacteria (sometimes both) living in symbiosis within a fungus. Together, these components allow for amazing variations in shape and colour. There are branch-like forms, leaf-like flat forms and, perhaps my favourite, a flakey form that looks like someone splashed paint on the rocks. The colours of the lichen colonies can be quite vivid. Among the large range of pastel colours were brilliant yellow and orange patches. I chose to paint an area of the rocks that had mostly smaller patches of these colours because I thought that viewers might have a difficult time believing large areas of such vivid colours were natural. The lichen was fun to paint. I made the various forms using heavily textured clumps of paint, which create a very rough and realistic feel to the rocks.

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.