An Artist Knows

“Gussie” (watercolor on paper, 12 1/2 x 18 in.) won Best Animals & Birds in the May PleinAir Salon art competition.

“This painting was a commission, a gift from a husband for his wife,” says Deborah Chabrian of Gussie. “I was given the freedom to do what I thought was best. I met the cat, and her thick, luxurious white fur was hard to resist. To me the essence of a painting is to capture a real but fleeting moment in time that encapsulates so much more than just a moment. The window light bathed her in a soft luminous glow in the shady room, a refuge from the summer heat evident in the verdant scene outside the open window.

“I started with a detailed drawing. As I draw I get to know my subject and how I want to paint it. I then lift much of the drawing away with a kneaded eraser. This allows the painting process to be what I call “planned spontaneity.” I’m open to the inherent happy accidents of watercolor, but the road map of where I plan to go is etched in my mind. I used a liquid mask, in this case on the fur of the cat, to preserve the bright white that only the paper can give me. This way I can paint freely through the shapes and not dance around them.

“Chickens & Cantaloupe” (watercolor, 12 x 16 in.) won Best Animal & Bird in the February-March 2020 PleinAir Salon art competition.

“My biggest challenge in painting this piece was that the cat was very elusive. I didn’t live with her obviously, but I wanted to capture her in a natural state as if I did. To do this I needed to give her the time and space required for her to give me a natural pose. She was known to frequent a particular upstairs bedroom at a particular time of the day. I waited in the room, like the proverbial fly on the wall for her to come in and settle down. As luck would have it, she did just that … eventually!

“This painting had previously won an Honorable Mention in the PleinAir Salon, but I followed the advice of other artists and re-entered it. I felt the painting was strong enough to win a category award, and this time it did!

“Silkie Chicks” (watercolor, 14 x 16 in.) won Best Watercolor and Gouache in the November 2021 PleinAir Salon art competition.

“My advice is to enter your best paintings, and enter them in as many categories as you can, as often as you can afford to do so. Know that judges are human and cannot help but have their favorite mediums and subjects of paintings. Never be discouraged if you do not win right away, if you believe your painting is an award winner, enter it until it wins!”

Do you have an award-winner on your easel? There’s $50K up for grabs every year in the PleinAir Salon competition. (It’s not just for plein air painters!)


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