Art Muse Contest February 2016 Winners and Finalists

A Note from our judge, Greg LaRock


Why Enter an Art Contest?

Well for one thing, you might win a couple bucks! But the real reason to enter contests regularly is that it makes you a better artist. When we’re forced to choose a painting to enter or paint one specifically for a contest, our best choices must be made. We know we’ll be up against stiff competition, so it forces you to be extra certain it’s a good piece. If it’s going to cost money too, choosing something on a whim won’t be a good idea.

Plus, friends and colleagues will see these, so being extra conscious of entering well-thought out works and why you think they’re winners become paramount.

If you’re fortunate to be recognized as an award winner, you’ll be able to build a resume as an award-winning artist. Also seeing what the judge had to say about the painting may shed light on things you may or may not have noticed about your piece, and you’ll remember it as you grow. It may open our eyes to new ideas and concepts about painting, composition, value, brushwork, etc.

The judges comments about the other winning entries will also give insight as to how another artistic eye sees and what they value in a particular painting. All of this information, no matter how trivial it may seem is great insight on how to become a better artist and ways to grow your work to new levels. So don’t sit on the sidelines, enter the game and get rewarded!

Some notes on judging that may help your artistic decisions: Every show I’ve judged has had many more deserving pieces than awards to give. It’s always tough and I don’t take my decisions lightly. Plus, I personally know most of the artists that enter, so it’s disappointing not to be able to recognize everyone for their amazing talents and abilities. The vast majority of the work entered is expertly crafted, and skillfully done. That being said, what I look for is something that jumps out for whatever reason. Sometimes there’s a slightly different take on a composition, mood, textural element or an idea that seems unique to me. So, take the extra step to ask yourself why you’re painting this or that. What can you bring to the table that stands apart? How can you take an ordinary scene and transcend it into a work of art? These are heavy questions that have no easy answer, but that thoughtfulness will help us all improve our craft and grow as artists. My sincere wishes to all on your successful advancement in the arts! Greg LaRock

Here are this month’s winners and finalists. Greg has been gracious to include a brief note about each painting. Congratulations again.

Budding Artist Winner


Anna Toberman, Purple Tutu

Masterful drawing ability with no flaws in the figure. You’ve created a wonderful simplification and transparency in her purple skirt which is difficult to do without going overboard. I also liked the subtle change in the slightly warmer wall color to slightly cooler sofa color. They read well as unified masses to complement the figure. Great painting!

Budding Artist Finalists


Candice Rene, Early Morning Light

Moody with a nice color harmony. I love the warm notes in the dominantly cool mountain areas. Good handling of hard and soft edges in your brushwork. Nice reflection too!


Carol Hein, Dockside

Great compositional grouping an massing of the boats without getting into too much detail. Love the simplification done in the background mountains and the clouds coming over them. Also the dominant cool temperature with just a few warm notes was well thought out. Great Job!


Anna Toberman, Colorful Scarf

 Nice portrait. Well drawn and an excellent handling of focal areas in the face and scarf. I especially enjoyed the massing in the hair and the lost edges from the hair to the background. Well done.

Emerging Artist Winner


Annie Salness, Bike

I really love the uniqueness of this painting. The way the bike is cropped and the way the arrow lines in the street direct you to the bike but the handle bars and front chassis keep your eye from going off the page. This is great thinking outside the box using the bike as a linear element and designing around it. Plus the energetic brush strokes an color palette harmony gave this painting a feeling like no other. Wonderful job!

Emerging and Gallery Representation Finalist


Toby Davis, Kenny & Zukes

This painting has such strong, dynamic visual architecture that’s presented in an exciting way. Great drawing and understanding of perspective but what makes this painting sing for me was the handling of the outside vs. inside. The outside, which is not important is kept minimal and almost monochromatic. Then as your eye moves inside, all the colors of the cafe come alive. It’s busy but not at the same time. I like the graphic feeling that reminds me of the golden age of illustrators. Cool painting!

Emerging Artist Finalists


Cheryl Magellen, Spa

This is a nice example of a portrait using minimalism but still having power and expression. I like that it really stresses how much can be said with so little but also clear that the artist understands the form of the head well. The use of the rust background against the blue of her headdress really pops and contrasts beautifully with the lost edge of her cheek into the background on the opposite side. Simple and well thought out. Beauty!


Denise Hawkins, A Regal Presence

Normally I don’t care for singular objects in the center of the canvas, but this little bird has a charm about it that I kept coming back to. I think the way the artist kept the bird painterly and didn’t get carried away in too many details. I especially like the way the branch and the background merge into each other and does not distract from the bird’s head and beautiful contrast of the black around the beak against the bright red plumage. Thoughtful edge handling too. Well done!


Ling Strube, Autumn Happiness

Here’s a very well executed still life that’s complex but not overstated. All of the fruit is painted convincingly with wonderful edgework and shadows. The vases don’t upstage the fruit and the background cloth and leaves take a back seat to the focal pieces as well. I liked the wandering circular path your eye takes as it observes each piece of fruit and even the apple stems guide you along and direct you which way to go. Beautiful reflection in the large vase too. Nice!


Annie Salness, Curiosity

This is another figurative painting that is compositionally interesting. I especially enjoy the way the three “adults” are cut off and are basically just used as shapes to frame the little girl. Also the body language and expression of the girl have a believability to it. We’ve all seen kids posture in this way! It keeps the painting dynamic and interesting to look at. Nice painterly feel but still a strong understanding of the figure. Good job!

Master Class Winner


Anne Blair Brown, Welcome Home

I love this painting! It has a quiet mood to it that I can’t get away from. My favorite parts are all of the background elements. There are wonderful subtle color and temperature changes that create that simple support that holds the whole painting together. The focal area of flower vase and table highlights are clear and well thought out. And the entire scene has a beautiful painterly quality. Everything is interesting but holds its place and the scene is expertly cropped. Brushstrokes have meaning and the color harmony is exquisite. Relaxing to look at. Beautiful job!

Master Class Finalists


John Lasater, Coming of Age

This portrait of the young girl has a sense of “roundness” to the form. I can really feel the fullness of the features. The head turns well to the right side and the luscious cool green/blue notes in the flesh tones compliments well with the warm notes. The angle and treatment of the brush strokes is unique. There’s a beautiful swirling movement throughout the form, extends into the background and finishes off its statement in the wisps of hair. Plus you can’t get away from the eye as a focal grab. There are a lot of subtleties going on in this work that I enjoy. Great painting!


Suzie Baker, Mud Man

Here’s a beautiful little painting that oozes confidence and understanding of form and brushwork together. I could have easily gave Suzie’s other figure entry a finalist award but I chose this one because it has more power. Each brushstroke creates a statement and they are placed perfectly without being overworked. The feeling of sunlight, the squinty glare of his expression, the attack of the brush mark. There’s pure feeling in this piece. It probably only took her 30 minutes to complete, but it’s backed by a lifetime of figure study to understand how to do it properly. This is how you do it folks, it’s a gem!


Lori Putnam, Getting an Early Start

Here’s a perfect example of how to take an extremely busy subject and simplify it down to a work of art. Great masses and just enough suggestion to give that feeling of dappled light on an old building with figures adding a nice touch to enhance the focus. Plus what I love about this piece is the complimentary color palette of the warm yellow sunlight next to the cool purples and greens in the shadows. The color harmony in this work is exquisite. This says just enough communicate the idea and then lets the imagination of the viewer fill in the rest. A true painting that engages on many levels. Expertly done!


Mary Maxam, Montana Spring Creek

This scene has a wonderful movement throughout the composition. You are guided into the scene well without losing the focal point of the fisherman. He as the subject is clear and has a nice believeable “feel” to his stance and gesture. But the beauty is in the greens: Simple, varied and not overstated. That’s tough to pull off, and one of the things that I admire about this piece. The brushwork has a lot of bravado that’s not overworked and helps guide your eye too. Well thought out and put together!


Karen Blackwood, Storms End

I get the chills every time I looked at this scene. You can feel the cold ocean and icy air! I love the mood that’s created and the feeling of power in the waves. The massed rocks on the right and how they merge into the structures is beautifully handled and expertly painted. There’s also a lot of subtle varieties in the white wash of the waves that is done masterfully. That’s a big area of white that still retains interest. A difficult task to pull off. Great sky too. Love it!

Merit Award Winner

While Kelley and I don’t have any say in who wins an award each month (that’s entirely up to our judges), we do however, get to choose an artist who did not win an award but we feel entered work that merits recognition. This month’s Merit Award goes to…


J.M. Brodrick, Morning Glory

The strengthen of JM’s drawing skills pulls you into the painting and yet she didn’t feel the need to draw in every single detail.  We both appreciate the refined drawing of the horse and textural quality of the background. This piece combines representational and abstract aspects of painting in an effortless manner in addition to capturing beautiful light. Kim and Kelley