Kathleen Hudson won the Grand Prize at the 6th Annual PleinAir Salon. “How much did she win?” you ask. How about fifteen thousand dollars? It was a large pay day for Bright Morning, Timberline Falls, a painting that only took a few hours to complete. Oh, forget that last statement; all artists know, in order to achieve what she did in a few hours was preceded by years of study and hard work.
The PleinAir Salon is an annual event sponsored by PleinAir magazine. The name seems to imply that all submitted paintings must be done en plein air, but that is not the case. Although Hudson’s winning work was done in open air before the motif, studio works also qualify for the big bucks.
The bi-monthly competitions, leading to the big payoff, have grown significantly over the years; they not only include three overall winners, best work in oil, acrylic, pastel, and watercolor, but also winners in 15 distinct categories of varying subjects. All 22 winners from each bi-monthly competition are automatically eligible for the grand prizes, given each year at the PleinAir Convention. Of the thousands of entries submitted during the year, only a possible 132 entries can make it to the final cut…of those there are three overall winners and three Honorable Mentions. What we have here is a pretty select group.
I thought you’d be interested in learning more about each of the six winners, so they were asked to talk about their winning painting, the inspiration behind it, any artistic license taken, and any expectations as a result of their win. I think you will find it very interesting.
“The landscape has always been my chief source of artistic inspiration. I love to capture sweeping views of rugged terrain, shimmering waves, and dramatic atmospherics. My paintings represent specific places and moments in time: the brief point during a sunrise when the sun fills the air with an ethereal golden glow; a break in a storm where light pierces through heavy clouds; or the sight of glacial runoff sending waterfalls down the side of a mountain wreathed in fog. Scenes like this are real, but because my paintings highlight rare moments of particular beauty, they tread a fine line between the “real” and the otherworldly. A mountain may become more than just a mountain when you stand beneath it and watch sunlight dance across its slopes’ jagged contours. You listen to the wind whistle overhead as it enters rock crevices and rushes downward; moments later, you feel its breath across your face. The same atmospheric forces that make the mountain arrestingly beautiful—moving light, air, clouds—envelop you, too. You become part of the landscape. It is then that the mountain becomes part of a visual drama that can awaken something within you, filling you with wonder and even longing. When I envision a new painting, I focus on points of shifting light and atmosphere in the scene. To me, these are the source of a landscape’s beauty: the things that make us stop and look before continuing on our way.” Kathleen Hudson website
What was it about the subject that inspired you to paint it? I always do a lot of research on painting sites before I travel to an event. I’d seen photos of Timberline Falls before I traveled to Plein Air Rockies last year, and I knew it would be on my shortlist of painting subjects if I happened to have a full day free of thunderstorms. Luckily I did have a clear day about a week into the event, so I was able to plan the nearly ten-mile round trip hike with the falls in mind. Most falls in the RMNP are found along streams in ravines, but Timberline Falls is unusual in that it cascades down a rock face out in the open, the light on it unobstructed by trees. I wanted to capture the early morning light that catches the mist on the crest of the falls.
Please explain the painting process used in the creation of your winning painting. I had to hike five miles with some significant elevation gain to get to Timberline Falls, so I started before dawn. I arrived at the Falls around 9am and spent a long time on my sketch – I knew I’d need some good guidance for my painting once the shadows on the rocks changed. I probably started painting around 9:45am, then painted straight through until 3pm. I knew I wasn’t going to get a chance to return (we had afternoon thunderstorms every other day of the event) and so I tried to achieve a high level of finish in one marathon session. I think the pressure of “no return” actually helped me focus better—I knew I couldn’t hike all the way up there and back and make a dud! I actually had one of my more harrowing plein air experiences on the way back down. Lacking the right size panel carrier, I had the wet painting strapped to my pack facing out. About halfway down the mountain I came across a tourist couple taking photos of an elk calf a little off the trail…and the mother was not happy about it. I shouted at them to get back on the trail and away from the calf; fortunately they listened. Unfortunately, though, when I tried to continue down the trail past the elk several minutes later, the doe elk decided to tail me for a while. It was a scary 5 minutes! She was right behind me and I thought that I (and the wet painting facing her) was toast. Thankfully she peeled off after a while and returned to her calf.
What artistic license, if any, did you take with the subject? I mostly painted what I saw in this case, only tweaking a few angles (adding and subtracting some boulders) for the sake of composition. I certainly played up some atmospheric elements – I emphasized the warm mist at the crest of the falls, and I made the distant ridge recede by lightening the value of the shadows a little and cooling them. I usually take more artistic license than I did in Bright Morning, Timberline Falls…but it just wasn’t necessary in this case because so many of the elements I wanted in the painting were right there in front of me.
Do you expect your 6th Annual PleinAir Salon Competition success to have a positive impact on your career? Absolutely. It already has, in terms of peer recognition—which is an incredible honor given the level of skill and creativity in contemporary plein air painting. And I imagine that the Salon prize will bring the notice of some galleries and collectors as well. That may pick up more once the next issue of PleinAir hits the press. It will be surreal to see one of my paintings on the cover. I remember getting American Artist while I was in middle and high school, and first learning about Matt Smith, Scott Burdick and so many others by seeing their work on the covers of those issues. As for next month’s PleinAir, I’ll have to duck into a bookstore here in Kentucky and see it for myself to believe it!
Nancy Boren’s first painting, a watercolor, was done at age 12 while sitting next to her artist father, James Boren, as he painted at the Grand Canyon. Since then she has branched out to original print making and oil painting, depicting a variety of landscape and marine subjects, and is often captivated by scenes in which the figure fills the canvas. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Abilene Christian University and cites the influence of notable traditional painters such as Sargent, Sorolla and Fechin. Boren’s painting, “Aloft in the Western Sky,” is part of the permanent collection of the Booth Museum of Western Art in Cartersville, GA. She has also exhibited at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, the Gilcrease Museum, The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City, and the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Show at the National Arts Club, NY. Her paintings were used in the feature film 9 Months and the ABC TV show The Benefactor. She was one of five finalists in the state of Texas for the design of the Texas Quarter in 2004. Nancy Boren website
What was it about the subject that inspired you to paint it? This idea grew out of a previous painting, “Thunder on the Brazos”. That painting depicted a girl jumping, caught in mid-air, and I wanted to further explore that theme.
Please explain the painting process used in the creation of your winning painting. It is very straightforward oil painting. I draw with thinned down oil paint, get all the big shapes organized with their respective values and then start to use thicker paint.
What artistic license, if any, did you take with the subject? I deleted any hint of background, but that is about it. I made the dress the model wore; I picked the location and time of day as well as the transparent balloons, so the raw material was pretty close to my vision from the beginning.
Do you expect your 6th Annual PleinAir Salon Competition success to have a positive impact on your career? Every bit of recognition is great and reinforces people’s perception that you are prize-winner worthy. Time will tell about the future impact.
Jacob Aguiar has been working in pastels for several years, and is passionate about the medium. He has won several international pastel awards including awards in the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Pastel 100 competitions, Best of Show in the 2016 Pastel Society of New Hampshire annual show, and 3rd place in the 2016-17 Plein Air Salon Competition. An International Association of Pastel Societies Master Circle member (IAPS-MC), signature member of the Pastel Society of America, and professional artist member of the Copley Society, he is currently teaching regular classes in Westbrook, ME, as well as workshops throughout the country and internationally. Jacob Aguiar website
What was it about the subject that inspired you to paint it? I find that I am naturally attracted to simple but strong design. When a scene makes an impression on me, it’s most often due to the composition at first, and then I may notice the color or value relationships. This was the case with this scene. I was at a plein air auction gala at Spurwink Farm in Cape Elizabeth, ME, strolling around the farm land when I spotted this scene overlooking the ocean and a favorite beach of mine. Unable to set up and paint, I took a variety of photos in landscape format, portrait format and also in square format. The high horizon line and the asymmetry of the pathway I felt worked best as a square. The flat light and lack of shadows and highlights further emphasize the simple design.
Please explain the painting process used in the creation of your winning painting. I painted this scene almost a year after taking the photograph. Anytime I would scroll through my reference photos, I’d stop and say “now that would make a good painting.” I would consider the underpainting process I’d use, how to handle the sky, the shape of the path, and other aspects key to the future painting. I think allowing the scene to work in the background of my mind for awhile, working out the problems in my subconscious, made it a little easier to paint when I finally put pastel to paper. I started with a piece of UART 400 grit paper dry mounted to archival foam core. The first pastel I use is an orange Nu-Pastel to block in the scene, ensuring I like the composition and relationship of shapes. I modify the drawing before using softer pastels as a first pass through the scene. I am still blocking in at this stage. I try to allow a fair amount of the orange to come through to unify the scene and warm up the naturally cool, blue and green dominated scene. I then take 70% isopropyl alcohol to set the pastel in and allow the orange to mix and blend with the colors placed over it. This stage often produces a somewhat darker (the alcohol darkens the pastel), duller underpainting. I then use a variety of soft pastels to closer approximate the colors and values appropriate to the scene. It’s difficult to see in the photo, but there is a slight orange cast to the otherwise, blue/gray sky that helps to relate it to the ground plane. Particularly in the foreground, a lot of the drippy orange underpainting is showing through.
What artistic license, if any, did you take with the subject? I only made minimal compositional modifications to the scene to simplify it even further. There were containers and barrels sitting next to the fence on the left I felt did not add to the scene so I remove them. The only major modification I made was to add warmth to the otherwise very cool, green/blue dominated scene.
Do you expect your 6th Annual PleinAir Salon Competition success to have a positive impact on your career? It’s tough to say. I’d love if it did, but I’ll keep my expectations low and perhaps be happily surprised! I’m hopeful that awards like this will help to give more credence to the pastel medium in the broader art world. Certain pastelists have been working tirelessly to elevate the medium, and I hope that I can continue that process in whatever small way I am able to.
Horn grew up in a small town in Ohio, and moved to New York City to attend the Cooper Union School of Art where his focus was graphic design. After graduation he worked in the field of design for 22 years, first in New York and then San Francisco. During his career, he continued to explore a number of extracurricular creative pursuits including portrait photography, furniture making, and creating clocks and medicine cabinets from salvaged materials, before he finally found his ultimate medium of expression in oil painting. After a couple of years of regular plein air classes, he was completely hooked and phased out the design business entirely in 2006. With diverse subject matter that includes old buildings, classic cars, Airstream trailers, working ranches and urban street scenes, Horn’s paintings are as much about the subjects he paints as they are about the effects of light within a particular scene. His work has won numerous awards, has been featured in several magazines, including the cover of Southwest Art in 2012. He lives in Northern California and teaches painting workshops around the country and abroad. He is an Artist Member of the California Art Club and a signature member of Oil Painters of America. Tim Horn website
What was it about the subject that inspired you to paint it? I came across this car during the Door County Plein Air festival last year. It was tucked behind an old garage and farmhouse on a remote country road. It was a very peaceful day and the setting just had a really tranquil, stillness to it. That peacefulness really allowed me to explore various compositional ideas without being distracted by wind, time, traffic or any human activity in the area. I did one painting of the car on site, which turned out to be my favorite of the week. While I was wandering around figuring out what to paint I took probably 20 – 30 photos, most of which included this old black car, which I think is a Buick, or maybe a Chevy. Once I got back home I created this larger painting while working from photos. I really liked the dramatic light of this late in the day, back lit scene. I was trying to convey some of the stillness by using a lot of open space and very few elements.
Please explain the painting process used in the creation of your winning painting. I usually do a small pencil sketch before I start a painting which helps me to solidify the composition and really just warm up to the whole thing. Then I begin the painting by blocking in the big shapes and establishing the value pattern with a thin wash of ultramarine blue. Generally I work dark to light, except for blocking in the sky fairly early on. This first pass is also fairly thin. Once I’m satisfied with the approximate shapes, colors and values, then I proceed to an application of thicker paint, staying with larger brushes until the very end.
What artistic license, if any, did you take with the subject? I added that little utility pole and wire on the right. I just wanted some small element to overlap that barn shape so it wasn’t quite so flat. I also experimented with different colors and sizes of those sun flare spots you see in the central grass area which did not appear in the photos I was working from. I think I also pushed the grass in the foreground to a much darker value than it was. Other than that I just made some minor tweaks to some of the background shapes and values.
Do you expect your 6th Annual PleinAir Salon Competition success to have a positive impact on your career? My experience tells me it will likely just contribute to building my name recognition. I’ll probably pick up a few more followers on Facebook and Instagram and I guess there’s a chance that could lead to another student in one of my workshops, or maybe even a painting sale. I’ve learned to keep my expectations low and just continue to work on my painting.
“I’ve always thought of myself as an artist; growing up, I was inseparable from my sketchbook. It wasn’t until college, though, that I became interested in painting landscapes. I worked during the summers as a wild land firefighter and fell in love with the enormous scale and overwhelming beauty I saw, and when I started my new career as a graphic designer I began painting landscapes in my free time. After a couple of years fighting with watercolors I tried oils and immediately knew it was my medium. I love exploring and painting the incredibly varied landscape of my native Inland Northwest, I feel like it’s this little secret gem of a place. I find inspiration on road trips, day hikes and while camping with my husband. I feel really lucky that my job is basically to go out and find beauty, then share that beauty with others.” Melanie Thompson website
What was it about the subject that inspired you to paint it? The Wallowa Valley of Eastern Oregon has been a bit of an obsession of mine, I love that I can paint pastoral scenes, snow capped mountains, and dramatic desert canyons all in one place. I visit every chance I get, and whatever the time of day I’m constantly in awe. For this specific painting I loved how peaceful the moment was. The sun hadn’t yet come up but the sky was beginning to take on beautiful colors and everything was quiet and soft and lovely. I knew I wanted to explore the colors of a twilight scene.
Please explain the painting process used in the creation of your winning painting. It started off as a demonstration for my local First Thursday Artwalk. I began with a three-value oil underpainting using Transparent Red Oxide, but decided that wasn’t right for the scene so I switched to Napthol Scarlet. If anything ended up showing through I’d rather it be a high-key pink than an earthy red. Of course by the end of it, there was no underpainting showing through anyway! After that, it was a fairly straightforward process of working from dark to light. I did spend about 3 weeks tinkering with the shapes in the clouds, and they really ended up very different than my original thumbnail, but for the better. This is pretty typical in my studio work lately, even the small ones aren’t quick to finish. I like having time to scumble and drybrush and rework to really get things right.
What artistic license, if any, did you take with the subject? The scene was a sunrise, but I wanted to push the colors just a bit hotter to get the feeling of the sun as it just peaks up, but I think that made it feel more like a sunset. Of course, being out in the countryside there was a whole mess of cottonwoods, willows, fences, and shacks scattered around that I mostly cut out and only kept what I thought the composition needed. In the end I edited out a lot of information to keep things very simple and quiet.
Do you expect your 6th Annual PleinAir Salon Competition success to have a positive impact on your career? Honestly I have no idea what to expect from this! I certainly hope it will bring more opportunities to show my work in new places, but even if nothing else comes out of this at all, I’m honored to have been recognized by PleinAir magazine.
An architect and renowned architectural illustrator, Richard Sneary has over the last 3 years also begun painting en plein air in watercolor. His background as an architect / illustrator of architecture often compels him to include something of the built environment, whether it’s a town square, back yards, an alley, old derelict structures, marinas, trains, bridges, an industrial structure, or fence posts on a farm. Like many artists, Richard is drawn to subjects by light and color, but also by the sense of place, its character, and the story he sees in it. “It is the juxtaposition of light, color, contrast, form, abstraction, and detail that make the stories work.” Richard Sneary website
What was it about the subject that inspired you to paint it? The combination of a beat-up 1948 Ford, the eclectic character of hand painted signage and junk, the street trailing away, and the contrast of light and shadow. I’m always drawn to complex subjects, usually too much, but I like the challenge of trying to simplify it. However, the clincher was the hand painted caption on the drivers door, “TEXAS WESTERN -1966 NCAA- BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS”…the first all black starting five to win a national championship. They beat my Kansas Jayhawks in the Regional Finals before going on to beat and all-white Kentucky team, who didn’t want to play them because they were black. Yes, I’m a basketball fanatic!
Please explain the painting process used in the creation of your winning painting. I painted this over two days, about two hours each day, from around 10:30am to near 12:30pm, until the sun started to catch the diagonal west facing facade. I use Sanders Waterford 140# Cold Press paper most of the time. I taped drafting tape, NOT masking tape, to a piece of 3/16” gator board. I worked light to dark on this, starting with thin washes to block in the sky and background values, increasing the warmth as I got closer to the bottom of the paper and into the foreground elements. I followed up with thicker washes, increasing the values and contrasts as I progressed to the finish. The darkest darks were put down last, with the exception of a few off white opaques and scratched out lines for highlights. My palette consists of about 16 to 20 colors. The early washes are always transparent colors ,unless it’s only one pass where no other color is going over them later. I use cadmiums and other more opaque colors towards the end of the painting…applying them at the beginning causes any washes painted over them to become muddy, usually destroying the painting’s luminosity.
What artistic license, if any, did you take with the subject? Mostly in simplifying some of the detail and increasing the values and contrasts more then the high sun was creating.
Do you expect your 6th Annual PleinAir Salon Competition success to have a positive impact on your career? I look at it as advertising, every little bit helps. They say ’all advertising is good advertising’. If I get a few awards out of it during the coarse of the year…and I won five or six during the 6th Salon, including money…and they get posted online and in PleinAir magazine, it’s much cheaper then the monthly ads I have in PleinAir and Fine Art Connoisseur…AND, it keeps my name in the news.
Thank you Kathleen, Nancy, Jacob, Tim, Melanie, and Richard for giving us some insight into your thoughts and working methods. Congratulations to each of you for creating these award winning paintings.
I am very pleased to announce the release of my first instructional DVD, Limited Palette Landscapes, professionally produced by Liliedahl Art Videos. The video contains over 15 hours of instruction and follows my painting process from selection of the canvas to the final brush stoke. For a detailed description of the video contents, including a short video…and order instructions…please click HERE. Thank you in advance for adding this DVD to your video library. Upon viewing, if you would kindly share your comments with me, I would greatly appreciate it. THANK YOU.