The following is a landscape painting online extra from The Artist’s Magazine (click here to download the complete issue).
“My goal is to paint something convincing,” says Randall Exon. “There’s a certain type of authenticity that I think I can only reach through my own memory banks.”
1. Taken in by the grand vista, I painted this watercolor of a grain elevator in Vermillion, South Dakota, while visiting the region along the Missouri River where my ancestors had owned farms. The day was cold, so I worked while sitting in my car—knowing the subject would be good for a larger studio piece. While painting, I took particular interest in the rhythm of the diagonal lines and the elliptical curves of the grain stacks.
2. Back in my studio, I used complementary undercolors—burnt sienna for the sky, which I intended to become a pale, crystal blue; alizarin crimson for the foreground, which I planned would become a golden ochre.
3. Gradually, I started mixing colors to block in my shapes. By this time the drawing and undercolors were dry to the touch, so I could go over these colors, mixing wet into wet.
4. Generally, I try to maintain a degree of transparency (as seen in the sky) until the final stages. For major revisions, I’ll often scrape down passages and start the painting process over. Such drastic measures weren’t necessary for this painting, but I don’t mind when they are because the varying surfaces contribute to a rich, painterly effect.
5. Elevators Near the Vermillion River (oil, 42×42) is about 90 percent complete. The sky isn’t finished, nor is the grass in the foreground. Foregrounds are a particular challenge for me. They’re an important bridge into the painting, so they must be convincing, and yet they can’t be allowed to take over. When I return from spending several weeks in Ireland, I’ll address this again with a fresh mind and finish the painting.
Paint: My favorite paints are Old Holland and Winsor & Newton, and my favorite transparent colors are ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, transparent gold ochre and sap green.
Medium: I use equal parts of distilled turpentine, refined linseed oil and damar varnish.
Brushes: In the drawing stages of the painting, I use mineral spirits, soft cotton rags and large cheap brushes to block out the shapes and apply undercolor. For the later stages, I use Robert Simmons Sapphire flats.
Surfaces: I prefer oil-primed linen with an extra-smooth weave on heavy-duty stretcher bars, even for smaller works. I sometimes make my own panels with traditional gesso grounds on muslin stretched over Baltic spruce plywood.