We paint exclusively with knives, not brushes. With knives we can sculpt the texture of the paint, which provides a three-dimensional quality to the painting. Another advantage is that knives can be cleaned with a single stroke of a paper towel or rag helping us to keep our colors from becoming muddy from unwanted mixing.
We work in a studio from our own photographs, which we have taken on many hiking trips over the years. We find that photography is the best way to capture nature in its wild, messy state. Often pristine Nature is found in places where setting up an easel for any length of time would be impossible.
Second, when taking photographs, we try to imitate what our eyes would do if we were actually at the scene. While a camera freezes the image at one focus and exposure, being present in nature is an interactive experience. We do not experience Nature as a snapshot. The pupils of our eyes dilate to reveal the details within the dark shadows of tree trunks; they constrict to reveal the colors and cloud shapes of a bright sky. Our eyes change their focus too, from distance to foreground. After viewing a scene from various vantage points, and under different lighting conditions, we form a rich mental image, composed of many visual experiences—a mental collage—that no camera can capture in a single image. In parallel to the process of vision, we take many pictures at different exposures, focuses, and perspectives. When we return to the studio there is not a single photo that captures the magic of the scene. Each photo gives us a piece of visual information that can be used in the construction of a composition. The overexposed photo may completely wash out the sky but preserves the details in the dark trunks of the trees. The underexposed photo captures the colors of the sky and contours of the clouds while leaving the trunks of the trees are totally black. Our photos are merely visual “notes” from which we attempt to construct a painting that evokes the experience of being there.
Finally, we embrace complexity. Just because nature is ordered does not mean it is simple. It has a very complex organization that cannot be discerned by the inexperienced eye. To most of us, unspoiled nature looks messy. The tendency to organize perception is a strong feature of the human mind. The result is often orderly but boring. In our paintings we actively resist the temptation to clean up Nature. We will eliminate telephone poles from a scene we are painting, but we resist the temptation to remove seaweed from the beach in a painting of a white ibis on the beach. Complexity is an important component of what is exciting about the natural world. Also, complex scenes can hold our attention longer. One of the comments we love to hear from viewers of our paintings is that the more they look at a painting the more they see in it.