Judging The Artist’s Magazine’s Annual Competition

Here, our distinguished judges explain their judgments for our 2014 Annual Competition. Buy a copy of the December issue to see each of the winners in our five categories, and an article about each.

Alexandra Tyng: Landscape/Floral

Back to the Lakes (oil, 40x60)

Back to the Lakes (oil, 40×60)

Born in Rome, Italy, Alexandra Tyng has an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a graduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania. One of the founders of the Women Painting Women movement, Tyng has had solo shows at Fischbach Gallery in NYC, as well as in Philadelphia. She has won awards from the Portrait Society of America, Allied Artists of America, The Artist’s Magazine, and American Artist; her work has been featured in Fine Art Connoisseur, American Art Collector, International Artist, and others. Among the prominent collections in which her work appears are The National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC; the Springfield Art Museum in Springfield, Missouri; and the Mütter Museum, Philadelphia College of Physicians in Philadelphia.

What guidelines did you use to judge the Landscape/Floral category?

It’s a little overwhelming choosing between so many fine works. There are a few things I consistently look for. One is a strong sense of the artist’s idea. A landscape is always about something, whether it is a response to the beauty of forms in certain light, or a mood, a comparison or contrast, a discovery, an event, or an implied change. I respond to a painting when the artist is able to engage my interest in the idea and hold it.

To accomplish this, a strong focal point is important. The viewer’s eye is led into the painting and seeks a pathway to follow—whether circular or winding or straight— leading towards a resting place. The eye should enjoy traveling repeatedly in this motion and taking in new things each time. The treatment of each level of distance—foreground, middle ground, and background—should be considered carefully. I focused on how the artist used technical mastery to support, articulate, and enhance the idea: specifically understanding of light and shadow, color and edges, control of value, hue and chroma in creating illusion of space and distance, and the use of edges and brushwork to create variety and direct the eye to the focal point.

There is also something indefinable in a painting that I respond to differently than another judge would. I have to pay attention to my own inner voice, but at the same time I’m conscious that these are all terrific paintings and I hold the work of all the finalists in highest regard.

What were your overall feelings about this year’s entries?

In judging this year’s finalist works, I was delighted by the wide variety of styles, approaches, viewpoints, and subject matter. I was also impressed by the extremely high level of technical mastery—and the emotion conveyed through paint.

Tell us why you awarded the First Place prize to Down the Stairs, Across the Yard, Between the Houses (oil on canvas, 36×24) by Nicholas Reynolds?

The artist chose as his subject a simple backyard scene at a particular time of day when sunlight slanted in between two houses. The painting engages my interest by leading my eye back towards the focal point with the help of the strong perspective lines of the railings and path: down the steps, around the overturned chair, across the lit slice of lawn, down the path and up the far steps—and possibly through the narrow gap into the sunlit space beyond. Sunlight cuts across the path creating interesting angles and shapes. Different levels of distance are defined by alternating open areas and narrow passageways, sun and shadow, so that the viewer’s eye passes through a series of outdoor rooms. This painting makes me curious. I want to walk down steps and discover what is back between the houses.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for future contestants?

A combination of a good idea and the skill to realize the idea is the key to creating art that engages the viewer’s interest and holds it. It is important to be clear about what you want to say, and to know how you are going to approach the subject. Before you start painting, spend time looking at the landscape before you and ask yourself what attracts you about this particular scene, and what you will do to make sure the viewer’s eye will find the focal point and enjoy the journey to it over and over again.

Anni Crouter: Animal/Wildlife

Spooked (watercolor on oil paper, 16x21)

Spooked (watercolor on oil paper, 16×21)

Born in Chicago, Anni Crouter grew up on a farm in Michigan; her father was a veterinarian; she planned to follow in his footsteps before being derailed by math. She now lives in Flint, Michigan, where she works part time as a groomer in the building that houses her husband’s veterinary practice. Her pictures have garnered awards from Birds in Art, the Society of Animal Artists, and others. Primarily working in watercolor and acrylic, she is a member of the American Watercolor Society and the Northwest Watercolor Society. Her work has been featured in Watercolor Artist (where her picture of polar bear immersed in water graced the cover), International Artist, The Artist’s Magazine and the Journal of Veterinary Medicine.

What guidelines did you use to judge the Animal/Wildlife category?

I’m kind of traditional, I guess. I like strong composition, good understanding of color theory, and knowledge of the subject matter. I like realism so I naturally gravitate toward that style. Having said that, I do like abstracted pieces, as well, because I cannot paint in that style, and appreciate people who can.

What were your overall feelings about this year’s entries?

There were so many great pieces, many that encompassed all of the things I look for in a strong piece. It was a difficult but enjoyable process; it took quite a long time to sort it out, both by looking at the images and then recapping them in my head to see which ones were memorable.

Tell us why you awarded the first place prize to Jiggy’s Birds (oil on linen, 18×20) by Ann Kraft Walker

I liked this piece right from the beginning. Judging this category was a little like a horse race: some moved in front, then fell back, but Jiggy’s Birds won out for me in the end, because I kept coming back to it. I loved the composition; the lighting was perfect, and the subject matter was painted beautifully. I liked the combination of the real bird and the stone birds.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for future contestants?

Yes, always try to take excellent images of your work—if not just for personal reference for yourself (you never know when you may need that image) but for competitions such like this one. There were a couple of images among the finalists’ works that I wish had been photographed better. In my own work, I have made this mistake in the past! I took a less than ideal photo and then sold the piece, never to see it again, and that’s exactly when I needed a better image of it for publication! If it isn’t possible for you to take a good picture than have a professional do it for you.

Casey Baugh: Portrait/Figure

Yellow (oil on canvas, 22x22) by Casey Baugh

Yellow (oil on canvas, 22×22) by Casey Baugh

“I pretty much grew up with a pencil in my hand,” says Casey Baugh, who until the ninth grade was home-schooled in an environment that placed emphasis on drawing and the arts. “It seemed to me that drawing was just as effective a form of communication as writing and speaking,” continues the young artist, whose drawing skills were accomplished enough by age 11 to attract a consistent flow of paid portrait commissions. After studying with Richard Schmid for four years, Baugh had his first solo show at 25. Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he lives in New York City and shows at Acadia Gallery. His work has been featured in The Artist’s Magazine (on the cover), American Artist, and many other publications.

Casey Baugh declined to comment on his criteria for judging art. He awarded first prize to Nostalgia (oil on linen, 24×20) by Dean Buhler.

Jimmy Wright: Still Life/Interior

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Jimmy Wright earned a BFA from the studio school of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from Southern Illinois University. His work hangs in many public and private collections including that of Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. His work is currently on view at Lesley Heller Workspace, NYC; Brattleboro Museum, VT; Nassau County Museum of Art, NY; Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, Taipei, Taiwan and Hang MingShu Museum, Suzhou, P. R. China. DC Moore Gallery, New York and Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago, IL have presented several solo exhibitions; they continue to represent the artist.

What were your thoughts as you chose the winners in this Still Life/Interior category?

I felt the first place award, Clyde’s Ride (oil on canvas, 20×16) by Diane Davich Craig, was a polished surface that resonates with color. The exacting detail and the shallow space create a tension with the formal, almost abstract, structure of the composition.

Display of Light (watercolor on paper, 14×20) by Jong-sik Shin, which won second prize, prompted me to ask: Which visual element is the primary subject matter of this watercolor: the tree branch of pears in a ceramic bowl on course woven fabric or the sunlight that illuminates the still life? The aerial viewpoint, the masterly definition of space and the brilliant lighting make this a delight for the senses.

I thought third-prize winner Nancy King Mertz was fearless in Prep Talk (pastel on paper, 24×36) in that she was so direct in tackling a spatially complex interior that combines dramatic light, multiple still life and the figure with color as an enrichment of form, mood and place.

Honorable mention, Studio Chair (oil on linen, 18×24) by Sandra Power, shows a palette of subtle values and limited color, a clearly defined space, and the manipulation of a few objects as clever, but not obvious, sight lines that establish this view of an artist’s studio as both a still life and an interior.

In honorable mention, Morning Song No. 5 (watercolor on paper, 14×20) by Lok Kerk Hwang, the intense blue shadow on the wall, along with the dark shadows as veils, evidences a masterly handling of the watercolor to portray with luminous color and light the hardscrabble life of a working bicycle transporter.

In honorable mention, Still Life With Monkey (pastel on matboard, 32×52) by Don Williams, a tabletop set-up becomes a play on the traditional still life conceit of Chardin and William Merit Chase—a table top view with a casual arrangement lit with a strong studio light that throws high contrast shadows at the edges of the flotsam of a storage shelf.

Katherine Chang Liu: Abstract/Experimental

On A Clear Day (mixed media on panel, 30x30) by Katherine Chang Liu

On A Clear Day (mixed media on panel, 30×30) by Katherine Chang Liu

Beloved as a teacher, Katherine Chang Liu has been honored by the National Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Watercolor Society, Allied Artists of America, the National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylics, and the Butler Institute of American Art. The following galleries represent her work: Jenkins Johnson Gallery, New York and San Francisco; Sandra Walters International, Hong Kong; Kathleen Faletto Warner Fine Arts, Rome, Italy; Galerie Par-ci Par-la, Lyon, Lyon, France, and AMA Gallery, Turku, Finland. Her work has been featured in The Artist’s Magazine, Watercolor Artist, and Acrylic Artist.

What guidelines did you use to judge the Abstract/Experimental category?

I look for a sense of commitment and innovation from the artist. I look for work that is emotional and engaging.

What were your overall feelings about this year’s entries?

In the folder of the accepted work in the Abstract/Experimental category (the finalists), there were enough good and interesting works that it took me a while to sort out the award winners. I could have easily given out another five awards.

Tell us why you awarded the first place prize to 2’s Comp’ny, 3’s a Crowd (acrylic and paper on silk crepe, 135×210) by Pamel Jenningsthe painting you chose.

I gave the top award to a triptych, 2’s Comp’ny, 3’s a Crowd, which is compelling in its balance of dynamic design and poetic content. It stood out among the entries in its quiet beauty. I would like to mention that too often the triptych format is artificial and trite. But this painting used the format to its advantage.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for future contestants?

I am a working artist. I try to be authentic in my content; I try also not to show a sense of fatigue because of my own familiarity with this content. It is essential that the excitement of discovery remain in the working process. Painting is like writing: there is a central content; we need to have a personal way to express that content, but we don’t use the same phrases every time.

For future contestants, there is also the potential of broadening the definition of what is abstraction (case in point is the painting by Geoffrey McCormack this year, a photo-realism in the format of abstraction) and in view of the introduction of digital media into the painting process globally, there is a blurring of the line of all the earlier definition of art categories.

See all of the winners and their articles in our December issue, and enter one of our art competitions for your chance to be in the magazine!

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