Flash Forward to Expressive Brushstrokes

With Randall Sexton

 To Register Call Jane 435-313-5008

Randall Sexton

Randall Sexton

My concerns as an artist have always been rather straightforward. The discipline of direct painting, both in the Plein air experience and in the studio, has helped me to develop loose handling of paint that speaks as much about the paint itself as it does any given subject matter. I try to combine traditional methods of painting with a “sense of myself living in the present”.   My paintings are a direct response from the world around me as I strive to be “in the moment” while I work.. Nature has proven to be the most demanding and inspiring teacher…so I work from life, as often as possible and try to remain open to new ideas and new approaches.

The painting process is an exploration and an adventure. Each work is a simple sentence in an ongoing story that will take a lifetime to unfold. The tale is a compilation of images that reflect the magic of life itself: the mysteries of vision, light, and color. Painting has enabled me to be more appreciative of the beauty and richness in everyday life.



  1. 1) Composition or Design
  2. 2) Value
  3. 3) Color
  4. 4) Edges
  5. 5) Brushwork or Paint Application


I believe composition to be the most important factor in the success of a painting.

It is the foundation on which you “hang” your paint. It is, in short, your “Statement”.

Depending on your experience….(take baby steps in the beginning), the complexity of the composition becomes increasingly more involved. The language of landscape painting is like “shorthand”….everything is simplified into your own personal script. With more experience… the language becomes richer and more involved, yet in the end – Simplification is the key.

The composition should be organized to establish a focus, create depth, and “break-up” the overall picture plane into a simple (yet strong) abstract pattern.

The complexity of your composition should be a function of both your experience level and “intention” (or idea)… one thing leads to another.

What I search for in any scene is a strong abstract pattern of values – (darks and lights)….or color contrast. This pattern is defined by the big masses (or shapes) that I see when squinting at the subject.

Contrast is a great tool for creating a focus in a painting. A dark accent in the midst of a lighter field…or a bright red spot floating in a gray-green fog…is going to stand out. To simplify the design into distinct “shapes is one of the keys to the success of any painting.

Using a viewfinder can help to crop or frame the borders of your composition. This can even be done with a camera (zoom lenses are especially useful) Drawing in a sketchbook is a great way to work things out. Don’t overly complicate things by rearranging reality…use what nature has to offer (as is), until you gain more experience.   

Questions:    Is there a focus?
What can you do to reinforce the focus?
Can you establish a foreground, middle ground, and background?
Is there a sense of depth?
Are there strong shapes that comprise the abstract design?
Are we having fun yet?

Value is the range of darks to lights from black to white. Squint to see your subject in terms of a “value pattern” – puzzle pieces that fit together to create your composition. If you can imagine a value scale of 10 value steps -(w/ black as #0 and white as #10)…try to assign a value to each big shape.  In a “pure” or conventional landscape, the trees are usually the darkest value followed by distant hills. The sky is generally the lightest value followed by the ground plane. There is more of a full range of values (and color…detail etc.) in the foreground…values “flatten” in the distance (this is referred to as atmospheric perspective).

     Relating the values the first step. What is your darkest dark?…next dark?…up to the lightest light…and so on. . Use your palette to determine some of these relationships before putting your brush to the painting.

     Oil paint is a relatively opaque painting medium…the dark values (or colors) are derived from using the darker colors on your palette. Lighter tints of color are derived from the addition of white (with more white resulting in an even lighter value). Identify the darkest dark shape(s) and the lightest highlights or shapes. Titanium white is an exceptionally opaque white

     The use of some simple tools can help you see/relate values. A small piece of colored plexiglass will create a monochromatic view of your subject. A couple of pieces of cardboard with small “portals” (hole punch) can be used to compare value areas. Slightly toning your canvas (or panel) can help if you are struggling with values.

     Once the overall value pattern is blocked in, subtle changes in value and color can be used to model forms, creating texture or more of a sense of space, etc.  Keep checking that these alterations don’t breakdown your original value pattern.

Relate the values of your painting to what’s “not in your painting”.

Color is your voice. It is personal…it is expressive. That being said, learn from “what you see” and try to emulate the relationships in color that exist in nature. Don’t get too bogged down with preconceived notions about color….it’s hard for everyone.

Color is often talked about in terms of temperature…the cool colors being like they “sound”..blues, purple, green and the warm colors being red, orange and yellow. This is an abstract way of trying to understand color. The tough thing to remember is…”It’s all relative”…there are cooler reds, warmer purples, cooler greens, etc.  In the beginning,  stick to a relatively limited palette.  Learn to mix colors.. and understand how they relate to each other)…..how to neutralize a warm color with a cool, etc.

Pure colors (out of the tube) are very “saturated” (or intense). By mixing colors together (especially from different color families) colors start to become more “neutral” (or muted). By comparing the big color areas in your subject (much like values above) you can learn to mix the more “elusive” colors.

Color (and value)  are affected by the atmosphere. This is called an aerial perspective. There is a more saturated color (especially the warmer colors) in the foreground and middle ground. Colors get cooler or more neutral as they recede into the distance….and again this is referred to as an atmospheric perspective. (Remember this in general terms and Not suggesting that you exclusively use cool colors to mix what you see in the distance…but, just how colors Relate.)


My advice;     

  • Keep your palette organized. Put the paint (and enough of it) on your palette in an organized way…much like a rainbow spectrum. This will keep YOU organized and less stressed out in the long run.

       Premix piles of paint that represent the Big Puzzle Pieces of your composition….starting with the colors that you feel you know and working towards the ones you don’t.

  • Look for changes in color at the edges of shapes.
  • Close one eye to see shapes flatly
  • Relate colors on your palette first, and then try test spots on your canvas.
  • Work on very small panels on location to experiment with color.
  • Make color charts that relate the various colors on your palette.
  • Stick to a limited palette.
  • Keep one hand on the wheel, glance at the mirror… and coast….


Painting has been described as just one spot of color next to another. The place where these “spots” (or shapes) meet defines an edge. The“drawing” (so to speak) is created at the edges of shapes. Edges can be razor-sharp (hard), cloud-like soft (blurry),  and somewhere between. Softer edges define softer “stuff” like clouds, grasses, or trees. They can also “turn”  a form, as in the soft transition of the shadow on a ball or the side planes of a tree.

Soft edges can also “push” an area into the distance.

Harder edges create more contrast between shapes, more clearly defining the shape. In general, architectural elements, geometric- planar shapes have harder edges. Contrasting edges can be used to draw attention to a focus.

Edges can be “handled” at any stage of the painting…meaning you can handle them as you go…or wait and deal with them towards the finish. They are created and manipulated with your brushes, palette knife, and fingers or rags.

It has been said that we aren’t “painting-things”….we are painting the “differences in things”. This thought can be helpful for distinguishing value, color, and edges. …(How much do they change….or how little).

Brushwork and Paint Application;
Brushwork is your other “voice”…your signature… It is recognizable whether you know it or not. Brush handling is like a “skill” that comes with practice….in spite of yourself. A basic rule of thumb is: Use as big a brush as possible…bigger than you think.

Brushes come in various styles, shapes, and sizes. The bristle brushes are traditionally the “work-horses” of an oil painting. They are stiffer and can carry a good amount of paint. The softer hair (sable, squirrel, and synthetic) brushes are very responsive (easier to control)…but, I find they force people to thin their paint down too much. It is amazing how personal our feelings are about the right brush…everyone has their take on it.

Painting mediums and/or solvents can be used to get the paint to a consistency that flows or spreads better.  Somewhat faster drying mediums are preferable for Plein air painting. These painting mediums also act like glue enabling the following layers of paint to adhere to the painting.

In very general terms; you can scrub fairly rigorously in the beginning stages of a painting. The paint will start to become sticky as it sets-up and will accept new layers of paint more readily. A softer touch is required to work into the wet paint if you don’t want to disturb the underpainting…like the difference between buttering toast…and buttering fresh Wonder bread…..and why would you ever consider…?

  • Use as large a brush as possible for as long as possible. One can learn to manipulate a large brush into a small area.
  • Hold the brush back towards the tip (away from the ferrule). This allows you to get back from the painting in the first place and it forces you to use your arm and shoulders…instead of your wrist and fingers for movement.
  • Think of painting as if weaving a tapestry…overlapping the negative shapes with positive shapes (and visa versa) to create  the edges of shapes….and to define the shapes in the process..
  • Brush-handling Exercise
  • A great exercise for learning how to paint more broadly is as follows:

Set up a very simple still life with a strong light source (so you have shadows etc.). Keep it simple! A glass or cup and one or two pieces of fruit will work fine.

* In no more than 2-3 HOURS finish a detailed painting of the set-up on a smallish canvas or panel ( 8x10 – 12x16).

* In 1 HOUR…repeat what you just did in the above painting with the exact same composition, values, and color.

* In a final version..redo the same as above in 1/2 HOUR!

This will help you to paint more broadly (or economically) and perhaps more loosely.


What follows is a general outline of my painting procedure, however, there is much more to the painting process than going from point A to point B. The very urge to paint is an important part of the process! I absolutely need to be excited… visually, mentally or emotionally about the subject before even putting paint to canvas.  Sometimes this mindset can be “eased into”…by doing small, more casual studies first…like “warm-ups”. The goal is to be “in the moment”, flexible and responsive to my environment. Plein air painting is an adventure……….

  1. 1) – Map it in. Simplify! Roughly sketch in your composition to indicate the big areas of value or color (like puzzle pieces). I prefer to use a warm darkish mixture of Transparent Red Oxide (or burnt sienna) and Sap Green.
  2. 2) – Mix your paint. Take the time to mix some piles of paint that correspond to the big shapes. Relate the colors and values on your palette as you go.
  3. 3) “Mass” in the big shapes. Try to work the canvas all-over by filling in the big “slabs” of color. As you apply the paint see if you need to adjust the value or color you have on your brush.
  4. 4) – Model and work the edges. Work back into the big shapes modeling for more definition and detail. Show the growth pattern of tree shapes, for instance, …or texture. At this point, it is a good time to check all of your overlapping contours to make sure that you are creating a good sense of depth.
  5. 5) – Get back from your painting to see how things are “reading” (or carrying) from a distance and check value/color relationships.
  6. 6) – Refine and continue to define your focus…. think PUSH, PULL, and POP. “Push and pull”, with adjustments in contrasts of edge, color, and value to maximize the illusion of depth. “Pop” shapes (or color) by sharpening edges (or softening surrounding edges) and using more saturated color…(usually in the focus area).
  7. 7) Stop before you overdo it!

Self Critique:

     Try to finish within three hours (four hours maximum) .. before the light has changed too drastically. When close to finishing a painting ask yourself the following questions (or find someone else to ask them for you):

Is the focus of the painting clear? If not, how can it be reinforced?

Does anything need work? Often the painting has it’s own “demands”.

Is there a general sense of Harmony? Does the technique (i.e. brush handling) or colorwork together and all seem of the “same world”.

What finishing touches could you add to give the painting more zing?

Is there a convincing sense of depth? Are there any tangents that flatten the illusion?

Does the initial abstract value pattern still read clearly?

Is there enough detail…and then of course,. Is there too much detail?

Does the painting convey the “mood” that you intended to express?. If not…then how can you resolve this in the next painting?

Is it really you?

As successful as the painting is….how could the next one be better?

Register Now
Call 435-313-5008

Workshop Supply List


Just so you know what use the colors below are listed. But you can use what you are more comfortable with…other mediums are ok too!

Basic Plein Air Set-up:

Compact as possible-French easel…or comparable.

Solvent container

Palette Knife

Rags or Paper towels

Medium: Graham’s Walnut Alkyd Medium  ( a non-toxic fast-drying medium  – recommended for the studio work…otherwise whatever you are used to the outside is fine)small sketch pad and sketch pen or pencil


I’ve listed the colors below that I use on my palette, however

It’s not mandatory that you use these. (feel free to use what is familiar).

  Ivory Black

  Ultramarine Blue

  Viridian Hue (Holbein Brand)

  Transparent Red Oxide. (Rembrandt)…(or Burnt Sienna)

  Quinacridone Red …………………… (or Alizarin Crimson)

  Cad Red Light…………………………(or  Cadmium Scarlet)

  Golden Ochre …………………………(or yellow ochre pale)

  Cadmium Yellow Light………………  (or Cadmium Lemon)

  Titanium White **as of 2017 I’ve been experimenting with Classic Oils replacing all the above colors (except white…still using Utrecht and/or Winsor Newton Titanium White.


( A well-maintained assortment that contains some of the following:),

HOG BRISTLE:: Filberts, Flats, and Rounds- #4,#6,#8…..with one larger flat

SOFT SYNTHETIC OR NATURAL HAIR Brights, 1/8”, 1/4”,  Flat; #1

Panels or Canvas:

We will be painting and 1-2 paintings/day (based on your own pace). So, bring a variety of panels (or canvasses) ranging from 8 x 10 to 14 x 18…(whatever your comfort zone is)…. (ie…personally,  I have to force myself to work 9x 12 s or smaller, but frequently feel that they are the most successful sizes for many folks

More often, I use 12 x 16 on location.

For the purpose of the workshop feel free to use cheaper panels. (I will discuss panels and supplies during the workshop