And the Pastel 100 Winners Are …

The Pastel 100 competition is an annual showcase of the 100 best works of pastel in five categories—landscape & interior, still life & floral, portrait & figure, animal & wildlife, and abstract & non-objective. Of the more than 3,000 entries, the category jurors and editorial team selected five top award-winners, who we introduce here. You can learn more about them in the March/April issue of The Pastel Journal, which also includes an introduction to the five place-winners in each of the five categories, as well as honorable mentions, for a total of 100 full-color pastel reproductions.

The Pastel Journal Best of Show:
Don Williams

Don Williams, Hopper Car in Fog (22x33)
Hopper Car in Fog (22×33)

Don Williams ( approaches the landscape as still life, depicting his subject at close range with a fairly limited sense of space. “I was thinking of the image of the train as an American icon,” says Williams. “Trains are such an important part of our culture—especially our past.”

To further his concept, the artist decided to flout convention and position his subject dead center. The front-and-center composition felt defiant to the artist, who—like most students of art—learned that a focal area should be offset to relieve symmetry. “But I loved the symmetry of it,” Williams says, proving once again that all rules are meant to be broken—every once in awhile.

Williams earned a Master of Fine Arts degree at the Newcomb Art School at Tulane University. He paints in both oil and pastel, and also works in drawing media, and has participated in numerous group exhibitions and one-man shows at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the San Jose Museum of Art and the Sheldon Art Museum in Lincoln, Neb. The artist lives in Sonoma, Calif.

The Pastel Journal Grand Prize Award:
Cuong Nguyen


Sometimes an idea comes first to California artist Cuong Nguyen ( and he seeks out a model whose look best expresses it; at other times he may first see a person and come up with a specific idea for the composition later. Nguyen was introduced to Madeline, the model for his Grand Prize-winning painting, Spring, by her mother. Following a three-hour sitting, during which the artist accessed such details as the structure of Madeline’s face, eye color and skin tone, he turned to a book on Caravaggio for ideas on how best to showcase the young woman’s youth and beauty. Bacchus (c. 1595), a painting of the young god draped in the classical manner, caught his eye. The following day the artist bought some roses at the supermarket and requested his model for another sitting.

He works in a variety of media, from oil and pastel to digital media. For much of the past decade, he has been active in Italian chalk art festivals around the world. Nguyen is also a professional illustrator and icon designer for Yahoo! Inc., where he creates digital artwork no larger than 50 square pixels. He has won several awards for his painting, including Best in Show at the International Association of Pastel Societies’ 15th Juried Exhibition and a Gold Medal at its 16th Juried Exhibition. The artist is a member of Oil Painters of America and the International Guild of Realism and is a Distinguished Pastelist in the Pastel Society of the West Coast.

The Ruth Richeson | Unison Pastels Award:
Abel Marquez

Micoette Box

In the case of Micoette Box, Abel Marquez’ Ruth Richeson/Unison Pastels Award-winning ?painting, an alternate route appeared in the form of a last-minute suggestion. “Once he was in front of the painting, my friend Mario Marioni said, ‘I imagine this work with a dark red color as a background,’ ” says Marquez. “That same night, I decided, without giving it much thought, to give the work a substantial change and transform the medium gray that framed the central figure in a dark red. The advice was timely and very appropriate.”

Beyond the late adjustment to the background, the process of painting Micoette Box was remarkably smooth. “It was one of those works that, from the very beginning, start to flow without inconveniences,” says the artist. “I knew that the only things needed were patience and time to reach a good end.”

Marquez ( is an Argentinian pastel artist based in Miami, Fla. His work has appeared in several solo exhibitions in Argentina and group exhibitions in the United States (including the Pastel Society of America’s annual show), and he’s an artist member of the California Art Club.

Gold Medal Award for Excellence:
Aaron Schuerr

River Glow

To put into perspective the comfort-defying conditions that plein-air painter Aaron Schuerr faced to paint River Glow, he began working on the painting in frigid, 15-degree weather. Yes, he was cold, but for Schuerr, contending with challenging weather is, without question, worth the required fortitude and his determined effort. Schuerr has described this work as being “the most me,” yet there’s something about this lyrical landscape to which we can all relate.

Upon entering the picture plane of River Glow, we’re pulled immediately along the river’s spirited jaunt. We seem to become a part of the implied cold; of the day’s magical, extinguishing light ?and of the crackling, glowing ice floes that punctuate the river. And, perhaps most importantly, we intuitively understand why all of this matters.

The artist ( studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Scotland, where he was first turned on to painting the landscape. A self-proclaimed refugee from the Midwest, he currently resides in Livingston, Mont., a winter-intensive zone near the Rockies that gives the artist ample opportunity to practice extreme plein air painting. Schuerr is a signature member of the Pastel Society of America and is represented by galleries in Montana., Wyoming and Arizona. He was a featured artist in the February 2010 issue of The Pastel Journal.

Silver Medal Award for Excellence:
Diana Sanford

Portals No. 4

Imagine a painting process that foregoes the aid of preliminary sketches or thumbnails, value maps or color planning. Then take away any sources of reference—whether from life, photographs or even memory. This is standard procedure for Diana Sanford, winner of the Silver Medal Award for Excellence for her abstract vision, Portals No. 4. By eliminating the necessity for visible subject matter, Sanford feels free to create with a heightened sensitivity to inner perception and intuition, but this unencumbered, spirited sense of freedom isn’t always an easy way to work. “It’s a very uncomfortable place to be,” says Sanford, “not knowing what will come next.”

Her interest at the moment leans toward the non-objective work. “Freedom from my own personal agenda is what I enjoy working toward,” she says. It’s a feeling, she goes on to say, of being able to set the stage for a production, without knowing what the play is going to be.

Sanford ( earned a B.A. in painting from the College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Western Washington University. Her early painting, mostly in oils, was abstract but influenced by the landscape. Later, her work became more representational, and she continues to create representational work in her “Plein Air” series, but most of her work is abstract or non-objective. She has received a fourth place award and an honorable mention in previous Pastel 100 competitions.

Read more about these artists
and all the others
in the 12th annual
Pastel100 Competition
in the April 2011 issue
The Pastel Journal.



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