HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! And, I have the perfect painting for you to start celebrating 2023. This winning pastel by Barbara Berry is called New Year’s Nap. Can we all relate??! 

Wanting to know all the details about this piece, I reached out to Barbara Berry for her thoughts. I asked her questions like what was her inspiration, what were the challenges she had with the painting, and what colour palette choices had she made. Also, I asked Barbara how she felt when she heard she’d won the award and alongside that, asked what advice she’d give someone entering the PleinAir Salon Competition. 

At my encouragement, Barbara sent a few more of her paintings and you’ll see those scattered through her text below.

Here’s the award-winning painting:


Barbara Berry, "New Year's Nap," pastel, 11 x 14 in. October 2022 Best Animals and Birds Award
Barbara Berry, “New Year’s Nap,” pastel, 11 x 14 in. October 2022 Best Animals and Birds Award


I hadn’t been painting regularly in December 2020. It’s always a challenge to find the time and space to paint in the midst of the holiday gift search. So I thought if I signed up for January’s Strada Easel Challenge (31 paintings in 31 days painted from life) I’d get back into the swing of regular painting. 

I had no idea what I was going to paint on the first day of the Challenge – 1st January 2021. I’ve learned not to plan ahead when I paint from life – the light is constantly changing and my creative heart is moved by how the sunlight spills across and around certain things. The process of painting seems to flow when my heart is stirred deeply and unexpectedly.

All of these conditions were met that day when the sun poured in like a spotlight across my sweet shepherd’s fur as she napped on my ottoman next to the big chair where the owl pillow keeps watch. 

I quickly propped an 11×14 inch pre-mounted UART on my plein air easel, selected a handful of the colours, making sure they also covered the range of values I saw, and began blocking in the form of my dog first, fully aware that at any second she could move. 

I was very fortunate. She stayed in that position for about 15 minutes, long enough to block in the major shapes, including the ottoman. When she moved, I spent time painting the background before I coaxed her back into position. This coaxing wasn’t easy and I did have to change some of what I’d already painted to match her new position which, luckily, I liked even more.


Barbara Berry, "Pearl in Satin," pastel on UART 400, 24x18in.
Barbara Berry, “Pearl in Satin,” pastel on UART 400, 24x18in. This is a portrait of my daughter, who agreed to pose recently for a class I’ve been giving at a local art center. She’s wearing an old concert dress of mine, and in her comfortable, self-assured style she gazes straight at me.


One of the things I look for when I paint is a combination of warm and cool colours in the scene. My dog was sleeping between two windows, one south-facing and the other facing west. Warm light poured in from the south and cool light streamed in from the other window –  I could see both cool and warm colours on the ottoman and the dog’s fur. 

When I found out that this painting was among the finalists chosen by the fabulous artist Rose Frantzen I was really honoured and extremely happy. I already felt validated. I have to admit that I’d entered another painting, an oil painting of my father with his dog and falcon, which was also a finalist, and I was really hoping – for my dad – it would be selected for an award.

I logged onto Facebook and watched the award presentation, and, seeing the phenomenal works that were winning awards, I found myself surrendering to the fact that it was very unlikely one of my paintings would be chosen.

After the honorary mentions were announced, she announced the “best animals and birds award” and she read my name!! I felt no less than astonished. My sweet shepherd Clea seems to have touched a few hearts this year, and I am so delighted.


Barbara Berry, "Watch and Wait," pastel on Lux Archival, 16x12 in.
Barbara Berry, “Watch and Wait,” pastel on Lux Archival, 16×12 in. I attend an open-session portrait group now and then in Philadelphia and this gentleman was posing. I decided to sit near the platform he was posing on in order to paint him at an angle that enhanced the sense that he was searching skyward. I used a handful of pastels in the values I needed but hadn’t paid much attention to hue, and I love the challenge this provided.


My advice for anyone entering the Plein Air Salon competition would be to take a look at the winning paintings, including honourable mentions, and use your best judgment in estimating whether your work might deserve recognition. 

Entering art competitions can be costly both financially and psychologically. It isn’t easy to determine whether the pros outweigh the cons. When you enter a painting, you need to realize that the juror is reviewing the artwork partly from a technical standpoint but also is captivated by works that touch something in his or her heart due to unique experience and knowledge. 

The only piece of advice I can really stand by is to paint what moves your heart. You will almost certainly paint your best when your subject stirs your soul. Painting for recognition and validation is in my opinion, not the highest use of your time from a spiritual standpoint. 

I think I paint because I seek a sense of personal expression, and I suspect you do also.”


Barbara Berry, "September Sycamore," pastel on Lux Archival, 11 x 14 in.
Barbara Berry, “September Sycamore,” pastel on Lux Archival, 11 x 14 in. A few months ago, I was eagerly anticipating the changing of the leaves. I decided to try again with pastels outside at the same spot where I once tipped my full tray of pastels over during a plein air competition. I stood on the bank of the stream and I carefully painted the sunlit leaves of the leaning sycamore.


A big thank you to Barbara Berry for sharing her thoughts, feelings, and ideas with us!!



Make sure to VOTE!


You have the opportunity to help some artists win the PleinAir Salon’s People’s Choice award. Yes, you do! 

Voting is open until 10th January so grab a cup of something delicious and carve out some time to peruse all the December entries and then go vote!!


PleinAir Salon Art Competition
PleinAir Salon Art Competition


AND, you can start thinking about your entry for January’s competition. Enter early and get the early bird rate!!

And that’s it for this time!


PS. Here’s the oil painting Babara Berry did of her Dad. I couldn’t not include it!


Barbara Berry, "Devotion," oil on cradled Ampersand hardbord, 36x36 in.
Barbara Berry, “Devotion,” oil on cradled Ampersand hardbord, 36×36 in. This is the portrait of my father I mentioned above. I deeply respect my father’s devotion to protecting indigenous plants and animals and particularly endangered birds of prey, and I decided to paint a portrait of him with his favorite gyrfalcon and bird dog. This painting was chosen to be in the 2022 NOAPS Spring International Online Exhibition!


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