Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The 9th Annual Pastel 100

Collection With Acorns
(pastel, 16x20)
Ron Monsma, Winner of the Jack Richeson/Unison Pastels Best of Show Award
Artists working in pastels outside the USA may not be familiar with The Pastel 100. This is an annual competition which is run by F&W Publications, the publishers of North Light Books and the Pastel Journal. The 9th Annual Pastel 100 results were published in the April edition of the Pastel Journal.

When I sat down to write this post I became somewhat perplexed as I was struggling to find a statement of aims for the competition either last year or this. For some reason, this year the magazine seems more geared up to talking about the process of selection for last year and the current competition than it does about the aims of the competition and its scope. Maybe those running the competition think 'everybody knows'? What follows is the clearest statement I could find - but to be fair it's a statement which I think a number of national pastel societies around the world might take issue with it! For example, I do remember seeing some rather fine pastels at the Pastel Society exhibition last week!
Our showcase of the year's finest pastel paintings reveals the incredible versatility of the medium.
The Pastel Journal - strapline for the Pastel 100 competition
Notwithstanding this quibble, the competition certainly identifies some excellent work by artists working in soft pastels (of those that submitted work to the competition) - although I think I'm right in saying that virtually all are American or live in the USA.

I've written about this competition twice before on this blog (see below). I'd also like to note that due to improvements in the delivery time of the Pastel Journal to the UK I'm getting to write about it this year about a month earlier than I was two years ago!
I'm going to make some general comments on the work shown in the April edition of The Pastel Journal and then highlight the prizewinners.

I was somewhat surprised by the overall heavy emphasis on realism. It makes this display very much at variance with, for example, The Pastel Society annual exhibition in the UK.

I took a look at the Pastel Society of America site and it occurred to me that maybe realism is what the USA seems to prefer for pastel art. On the other hand, maybe having a competition category for abstract / non-objective work rather underlined this? There were certainly a number of works in that category which I would otherwise always expect to see in a landscape or nature category. The only real difference was they were a bit sketchier or impressionistic or had designs which focused on colour – but otherwise a number were straightforward and representational in character. It did lead me to wonder whether this was a strategy on the part of the artists concerned given that the landscape category always receives the most entries....and the emphasis is on realism.... who knows? Comments which seek to explain are most welcome!

However, the apparent focus and emphasis on realism means that pieces have to be excellent to really stand out – such as the entry which won the top prize.

One other aside – I’ve been particularly struck by and am rather curious about the number of highly placed works which have a panoramic format! I'm much less surprised by the size of many of the pieces (all images in the Journal are annotated with sizes).

I do think that it’s a pity that the 100 images are only available in the Journal. While I can readily understand that The Pastel Journal want people to buy the magazine (and indeed I definitely recommend that if you're interested in pastels that you do so – see details at the end) it would be really great if existing subscribers (like me) could also access an online version of the magazine and all the exhibits in the Pastel 100. It’s my feeling that as more and more content comes online then more and more differentiation needs to be introduced to make a subscription worthwhile. Maybe this could be a development for next year?

Miki Willa has also commented on this year's Pastel 100 and the whole concept of juried competitions. It's a very interesting read and well worth taking a look - see Miki Willa Juried Art Contests. I have to confess I was a bit surprised to find that Miki's was the only reference to the contest that I could find on the net.

The prizes are a bit complicated. There's a set of five specific named prizes and then a set of prizes for the first to fifth places in each of the genres/categories and then a lot of honourable mentions for the remainder of the 100. Basically, if you get into the top 100 you at least get an honourable mention. I wish there was a page on the internet that I could direct you to for the names but I can't find one so I'm going to be a bit selective.

The Jack Richeson/Unison Pastels Best of Show Award ($5,000) - Ron Monsma
You can see the Best in Show image at the top of this post – courtesy of Ron Monsma. This is a very complex still life of a large number of objects with different surface textures and shapes – all of which are rendered in a very convincing manner. I think the colour balance within the work is remarkable. In fact, if there is anything I could fault it for it was that it made me sit and look very hard at it and to try and work out why the composition worked!

The detailed interview in The Pastel Journal provides a very interesting insight into his current working method and approach to working out placement of objects and composition. I completely empathise with the fact that he draws with an eraser!

Ron Monsma is the Head of Drawing and Painting at Indiana University, South Bend. He's also a member of the Northern Indiana Pastel Society. He also had other two works which received an honourable mention in this year’s Pastel 100. His website is well worth a visit. Note he is expanding his workshop schedule this summer!

The Ruth Richeson/Unison Pastels Award (a 354-piece set of Unison pastels) – Barbara Groff
Barbara Groff’s work is another still life and another work of very refined realism – described as "dramatic and texture-rich floral still life". I very much liked the colours in Barbara Groff’s Bittersweet with Blue which won The Ruth Richeson Award. The same image on this gallery website provides a different sense of the light conveyed in this work than the image in the magazine. She appears to be a complete mistress of a smooth transition in the background of her pastel paintings. I personally found the still life set ups in Studio II of her website to be more interesting. She is a signature member of the Pastel Society of America. She is also a member of the Connecticut Pastel Society, a full member of Allied Artists of America and has won numerous awards.

The Pastel Journal Grand Prize Award ($2,500) Brian Cobble
Brian Cobble’s work “Tchoupitoulas” is a realistic cityscape in an elongated panoramic format (15” x 34”). It portrays features of a semi-abandoned street in New Orleans. He worked from photographs which he took prior to Katrina and the interview provides a detailed account of his working method. He shows his work in Texas and New York and was named Master Pastellist in 2006 by the Pastel Society of America. Last year he won the Pastel Society of America's National Arts Club Award.

The Art Spirit Foundation/Dianne B Bernhard Gold Medal Award for Excellence ($1,500) – Bill James

Morning in the South
soft pastels 19" x 28"
Bill James

copyright Bill James / courtesy Bill James

Bill James characterises himself as an American Impressionist, works in three different mediums has been known primarily for his animated work with figures. He’s a man who likes both colour and drawing and prefers pastels for this reason – which is a sentiment which I obviously clearly identify with! I personally found that many of his paintings of trees in the pastels portfolio on his website to be very attractive and more appealing than “Morning in the South”. However this particular subject matter is clearly a favourite of Bill James as I counted three other versions on his website!
When painting, my objective is to tell a story and, at the same time, conjure up some emotion from the viewer of my art. This can be done in several ways.....With landscapes, I try to get more of an intellectual response from people who view my paintings. This can be achieved by creating a unique design pattern and color scheme. By using certain colors, an emotion can be expressed.
Bill James
He is a member of four national art associations including the Pastel Society of America (which has awarded him the title of Master-Pastelist), the American Watercolor Society, the National Watercolor Society, and the Knickerbocker Artists (an exclusive art association of only master artists). This has apparently only been achieved by one other artist in the last 50 years. His paintings are incorporated in several books produced by North Light Books and Rockport Publishers. He now lives in Ocala, Florida.

The Art Spirit Foundation/Dianne B Bernhard Silver Medal Award for Excellence ($1,000) – Diana De Santis
Diana De Santis is a portrait painter turned plein air landscape artist. She likes to work large and consequently often works on gatorboard. Her prizewinning work measures 40" x 30". You can see a selection of her portrait paintings here. She also had an Honourable Mention in the Portrait and Fugure Category. She's a member of the Catherine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club.
"A plein air painter constantly inspired by nature, Diana works in pastel and oils. She loves to share with you the brief trickle of early morning sunlight in the landscape or the passing thoughts of a sitter's face"
Other Prizes and 70 Honourable Mentions

The competition is divided into categories and each has a specific juror - this year it was as follows

Landscape and Interior - Juror: Susan Ogilvie
This was a strong category with a number of excellent works. Although representational in nature, it was probably the least attached to ‘realism’ and the most ‘painterly’ of all the conventional genres.
  • First Place: Ray Hassard – ‘Ketchup Trilogy’ is another panoramic cityscape of an interior seen from the street - initially painted as a triptych. The interview is a fascinating description of the process of working with both Photoshop and monitor. He had another work which merited an Honourable mention.
  • Second Place: Glenna Hartman – is a dedicated plein air painter who uses pastelbord and has won many awards. She’s a Signature Member of the California Art Club, Laguna Plein Air Painters Association and Plein Air Painters of America.
  • Third Place: Jennifer L Hoffman – She’s another artist working in a panoramic format. You can appreciate more about her clear sensitivity to both atmosphere and colour on her website.
  • I’ve included an image (below) by Kim LordierFading Light’ – who achieved fifth place. I’ve seen her work around and about on the internet for some time and have admired a number of pieces she has done. Take a look at her website to see what I mean.

Fading Light
pastels 24" x 36"
Kim Fancher Lordier

copyright Kim Fancher Lordier / courtesy of Kim Fancher Lordier

Portrait and Figure - Juror: Bill Hosner
It’s interesting to compare this to the other portrait exhibitions I see (BP Portrait at the NPG and the RSPP exhibitions). I was particularly struck by the lack of backgrounds in so many of the pieces. Again, maybe this is a difference in style or preferred way of working between the UK and the USA?

  • First Place: Jian Wu – this piece was done as a demonstration painting on paper by a classically trained Chinese painter who moved to the USA to study art.
  • Second Place: Sam Goodsell – he’s a previous winner of several awards in the Pastel 100 and elsewhere (including the Herman Marguiles Award for Excellence at the Pastel Society of America in 2007). He has an interesting approach to the supports he uses. ‘Traveler’ is on canvas.
  • Third Place: Cristen Miller – Her main genre is landscape painting and she teaches at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

Still Life and Floral - Juror: Rainie Crawford
This category had very few florals. The emphasis was, for the most part on the still life. Ron Monsma also had two more pieces which got honourable mentions.

  • First Place: Joe Figlerski – an unusual piece which teases with the concepts in both image and title A Hand in Destiny. His second piece also achieved an honourable mention – and was another ‘tease’.
  • Second Place: Roz Hollander – portrayed apples in barrels. She is a realist who loves colour and strives for a fresh and artsy image
  • Third Place: Claudia Seymour – the image of Winter Sweets on her website is much more colourful than the one in the journal. Claudia has the website with the fastest response of any that I looked at for this post – I’m sure it serves her well!

Animal and Wildlife - Juror: Janet N Heaton
This category prompted a thought I’ve often had when viewing rather a lot of animal and wildlife art – which is that the artist is more interested in the animal than the overall composition of the piece. This means that when composition is strong, the piece stands out. A number opted out of backgrounds and for a vignette approach.

  • First Place: Nancy McDonald – I particularly liked the abstracted feel and design of this piece - which is reflected in other pieces on her website
  • Second Place: Kathy Imel – a very strong design - which now features on the home page of her website
  • Third Place: Clive R Tyler – this artist also got two honourable mentions in other categories

Abstract / Non-Objective - Juror: Al Lachman
An odd category – as indicated above. It includes images which I’d normally expect to see judged as conceptual or impressionistic works in other categories.

  • First Place: Judith Cutler – I liked her ‘Duct Tape with a twist’ but didn’t understand why it wasn’t being judged in the Still Life Category.
  • Second Place: Jean Dalton – Her piece emphatically expresses the sense and energy of a storm without describing any of its components in a ‘realistic’ or ‘impressionistic’ way.
  • Third Place: Mary Pichette – Her two other entries both achieved honourable mentions – one in this category and one in still life

You can find out more about the Pastel 100 in:

10th Annual Pastel 100 Competition

If reading this has in any way inspired you to have a go at entering a piece for the next competition then you need to check out the details of the arrangements for the 10th Annual Pastel 100 Competition.

Eligibility details include the following:

  • The contest is open to all artists, aged 16 and over, living in North America and abroad.
  • Work must be at least 80% soft pastel; no oil pastel. Nupastels and other "harder" pastels are considered soft pastels.
  • All works must be original. Compositions based on published material or other artists' work are NOT considered original and are not eligible. Paintings executed in a workshop under another artist's supervision are NOT eligible.
  • Work previously published at the time of submission to this contest in any national publication or receiving an award at a national-level exhibition is NOT eligible.
  • All entries must be postmarked no later than September 1, 2008.
  • Entry is online or via mail using slides or digital images. Interestingly they appear to have dropped the requirement that source material must be available upon request - although published material used as a source is now quite clearly stated to render a work ineligible.

The jurors are

[Note: I lost broadband yesterday - hence no post - and have continued to have problems today with the connection being dropped so if missing again in the near future that's the most probable explanation]



  1. I, too, was struck by the difference between the Pastel Society show in London and the Pastel 100 when I looked at the photos you posted. In our local society, we only have two non-representational artists who regularly enter work in our shows. To my knowledge, neither of them has ever won a top award, but both are very good. I am not sure why that is because the art schools here emphasize non-representational art. Interesting.
    Thank you for the link to my blog.

  2. I concur (and I think I've commented previously) with your first few paragraphs. The UK offerings are remarkably freer and looser! I don't really feel one way or the other about that - but there it is.

    I had a patron last year who bought a little work, and who was of Norwegian descent. One of the things that he said to me while viewing my work was how much freer the US is for artist's style and content. That was obviously true in the era of Abstractionists, but I have noticed the trend towards realism. I don't think it's a universal thing - the galleries in the major cities, and the few museums who recognize contemporary work do prefer the loose and free concept still.

    I know Wolf Kahn took a rhetorical shot at the "perfectionism" in pastel circles recently. Does this year's 100 competition reflect that?

    For my own part, I was thrilled with the winning results. I had the exact same remarks about the abstract section, but then the qualifications of the juror are above reproach. His abstract works are top drawer, so I wonder if it was the submissions that caused this?

    Congrats to Kim L.Fancher, who blogs and is a winner.

  3. Well I'm glad it's not just me who thought I saw rather a big difference!

    Casey - the comment on the abstract section is no reflection on the juror (who I don't know) but rather, I guess, it reflects whichever category people chose to submit under.

    I hadn't heard the Wolf Kahn remarks - but would be interested to see them.

  4. Wolf Kahn on TPJ

    This is WK's crit. regarding the perfect painting. Look way down in the post @ a third of the way from the end.

  5. Always interesting to hear reactions to the Pastel 100 selections! We usually get a fair amount of both accolades and grumbles, which is certainly to be expected since no two people, nor jurors, would likely come to the same conclusions.

    To answer the question of mission, I would say it is threefold: 1) to present a collection of 100 exceptional works in pastel that inspire our readers, 2) to recognize and celebrate the fabulous artists working in the medium, and 3) to invigorate the larger pastel community by showcasing what can be achieved in pastel.

    We're glad to find people talking about it--that's probably another part of our mission, now that I think about: present content worth talking about!

  6. Thanks very much for commenting Anne (for those who are not otherwise aware Anne Hevener is editor of The Pastel Journal)

    I know everybody who has commented so far would definitely agree with you that no two people ever think quite alike about which work should be juried in or which work should win the prizes! Having juried work into exhibitions myself I do know how much more difficult it is when more than one person is involved!!!

    I guess though that this is really what makes it so interesting every year and why you'll always find somebody who wants to comment. The important bit I guess is always for people to realise is it's always 'best' according to what this particular juror thought was best!

    What was so interesting this year for me was the cross-cultural (UK and USA) issue. I had my copy of my newly arrived Pastel Journal in my bag as I took the tube to go and look at the annual exhibition of The Pastel Society. That's the first time I've ever been able to do that and I guess it may well be why I noticed it this year more than previously.

    I liked the mission statement!

  7. We have a piece in our "Art Matters" column for the June issue about the UK exhibition. What we've seen looks like a great show. Wish we could get there by tube!

  8. Good to hear - I shall look forward to reading the piece!

  9. I was surprised as well to see so much realism. Maybe it has something to do with getting pastels considered as a unique category/medium. In the past, pastel paintings were thrown into the graphite/charcoal category in many competitions. Many galleries don't like dealing with glass either. I sometimes think the aim of the Pastel Journal and the Artists Magazine competitions is to generate money, they have thousands of entries. :)

    It is always interesting to see the winners and I often wonder out of the thousands of entries that there are several artists that have two or three pieces with awards or honorable mention.

  10. Interesting comments Jo!

    I must confess I was rather surprised to see quite so many people who had two or three entries listed although I'm not saying they didn't have more than one good pastel work.

    I know I'd personally have preferred to see the best entry by 100 different artists working in soft pastels. Otherwise it seems to suggest that other pastels artists failed to make the mark as it were. Given the 'names' which are missing that just seems odd.


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