Anatomy of an Award-Winning Painting


“Gold Rustle” (pastel, 9 x 12 in.) by Janet Kohler

Gold Rustle by Janet Kohler won Best Plein Air Pastel in the November PleinAir Salon art competition. What she has to say about her award-winning painting might inspire your next painting and put you on the path to greater recognition for your own work.

Inspiration: The extremely bright-yellow leaves, rustling in the wind and the complementary violets in the fall grasses grabbed my attention on this warm, sunny day. I enjoy experimenting and using complementary colors in my work. 

Challenges: The intense primary blue sky and all the primary yellows posed a challenge to arrange effectively. I allowed value changes to move the viewer’s eye strategically around the painting. I always create a thumbnail sketch before each painting to see those value changes and define the composition. Also, holding onto my easel and painting at the same time during those sudden gusts of wind in the fall can sometimes play havoc on a plein air painting session! 

Process: I painted this piece on U-Art 600 sanded paper, toned with mineral spirits and a drippy, red underpainting.

Goal: To be able to create and exhibit your artwork is a lifetime endeavor, creating and teaching art is the therapy. When a viewer feels that emotion from your painting, one has accomplished the goal. What is painting without emotion, energy, and life? Many of my collectors say that my work has moved them in some way and “struck a cord” — that’s when I know I have accomplished my goal.

How it felt to win: Oh, so excited! My work can now stand beside all the many other great artists and talent PleinAir Magazine and its competitions display!  All these years, tons of paintings, many exhibitions under my belt and now I have this to add to my list of awards! I am so blessed to be able to create and express movement and feeling through my artworks and send this out into the world to enjoy.

Best advice for entering art competitions: You never know when your artwork will grab the attention of a juror, judges, or a collector. Just keep putting it out there and let the magic happen. Kinda like a good painting that “paints itself!”


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