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Behind the Scenes: Jurying The Artists Magazines 29th Annual Art Competition

Behind the Scenes: Jurying The Artists Magazines 29th Annual Art Competition

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Learn what the jurors of this international art contest looked for when choosing the winning paintings for Magazine‘s 29th Annual Art Competition. The jurors this year were:

David Jon Kassan: Portrait/Figure
M. Katherine Hurley: Landscape/Interior
Donna Watson: Abstract/Experimental
Sadie J. Valeri: Still Life/Floral
Koo Schadler: Animal/Wildlife

Behind the Scenes: Jurying Magazine’s 29th Annual Art Competition

David Jon Kassan: Juror for Portrait/Figure

David Jon Kassan’s portrait, Brush Back, appeared on the cover of the April 2011 issue of Magazine. Kassan studied at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and received his bachelor of fine arts degree from Syracuse University in New York; he furthered his training with classes at the National Academy School of Fine Arts and the Art Students League. Exhibiting in solo and group shows internationally, Kassan has received honors and awards from the Salmagundi Club, Portrait Society of America, National Academy School of Fine Arts and the Art Students League, among other organizations. To learn more and to find his schedule of workshops, visit his website at

When asked what criteria he used for evaluating work, Kassan replied, “The guidelines are threefold: I look for a good balance of honesty, emotion, originality, all wrapped up in a well painted picture. A painting that truly reflects an artist’s unique point of view through execution as well as choice of composition and subject is a joy to see. We are all sums of own life experience, and it is hard to harvest those experiences and put them into a visual form. Just by trying to do this, regardless of any current trends in the art world, is the only way to reach an individual voice that’s honest and clear. To do this takes guts especially with today’s demand to make a certain type of painting that is pretty or that is likely to sell. So I guess my main guideline for judging this category can be boiled down to this: which painting/which artist has the most guts—both in thoughtfulness and execution.”

In looking back at the finalists’ works, Kassan considered them “extremely strong.” Like all the other judges, Kassan called the process hard. “It was definitely splitting hairs to choose all of the winners,” he says. “Most of the artists that made it to the finals are all pretty much winners, in that they were all are great paintings, work that the artists should be proud to have made. The pieces that I tended to gravitate toward were the quieter, more introspective pieces, as that quality is something that I’m always striving for my work.”

Why did Candice Bohannon’s Grace (oil, 68×35) merit First Place? “This painting has guts,” Kassan says. “It is a deeply personal image that was executed very skillfully. There is an inward thoughtfulness on the girl’s face, a spontaneous, happy thought that we can’t avoid reacting to by smiling to ourselves. Meanwhile the look on her companion (the little dog) is more grave, as is the environment that surrounds the figures. It’s a very compelling, thoughtful painting.”

Sought after as a teacher, Kassan is perennially on the go, yet still finds time to do his own work. His advice to future contestants in this or any other contest? “Just submit your strongest, most personal work that you have. An artist’s most personal work tends to be the paintings that most reflect who the artist is; personal works come from a place inside; they reflect the world around that artist in the most individual and honest way. These paintings/drawings also tend to be the strongest technically because they are paintings that we artists want the most to make.”

M. Katherine Hurley: Juror for Landscape/Interior

A frequent contributor to Pastel Journal as well as Magazine, M. Katherine Hurley has filmed several instructional videos for ArtistsNetworkTV. Graduating with a degree in fine art, Hurley continued her studies in France and Italy and also took workshops with renowned artist Wolf Kahn. To see more of her work, visit her website at

In talking about her criteria for judging works of art, in this case, landscapes and interiors, Hurley says, “First, I pay attention to my initial reaction to a piece. I look for a strong composition, color harmony, value structure and quality of execution, in other words, the craftsmanship. I was also conscious, in making my selection, to represent a variety of media (oil, pastel, watercolor, acrylic, etc.).

In commenting on this year’s competition, Hurley says, “The quality, as well as the variety, was excellent. It was very difficult to choose 10 and especially the top three. I awarded Brett Allen Johnson’s Reeds (oil, 25×38) First Place because it has all the qualities I look for in a piece. It also has mystery, an intriguing aerial perspective, elements of abstraction and a tonal color palette that were all very appealing.”

As for words of wisdom for future contestants? Hurley is succinct: “Never give up. Believe in what you do and work on getting better at it.”

Donna Watson: Juror for Abstract/Experimental

Donna Watson is a signature member of both the American Watercolor Society and the National Watercolor Society. She has won numerous prizes in national juried exhibitions as well as best of show awards. Her work as an artist and writer has appeared in American Artist magazine, Magazine, Watercolor and Watercolor Artist magazines. Her collages can be found in Masters: Collage: Major Works by Leading Artists (Lark Books, 2010). In addition, she teaches workshops in the art of collage and watercolor. Visit her website to read her blog and see what she’s up to at

What was important to Watson as she evaluated the finalists’ works? “The principles of design, particularly those governing movement, harmony, rhythm and unity,” she says. She also was attuned to the conceptual elements of an abstract piece. Finally, she was attracted to what she calls “mystery.” Of First Place winner, Glenn Kessler’s Modern World 9 (oil, 24×36), she says, “This painting is intriguing. The image/objects are out of focus, which compels me to keep looking. My imagination is engaged to try to figure out what is going on.”

Sadie J. Valeri: Juror for Still Life/Floral

Sadie J. Valeri’s Bottle Collection won First Prize in Still Life in the 2010 Art Renewal Center’s International Salon. Her work has appeared in Magazine as the subject of a feature (date) and as a two-part Drawing Board column. She graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Illustration in 1993. In addition to her own blog, Sadie also founded and launched, a website showcasing the work of living women figurative painters.

Sadie has taught graduate students at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and she now offers private workshops and classes at her San Francisco Mission District studio. She lives in San Francisco’s Cole Valley neighborhood.

The guidelines Valeri used when judging the works in the Still Life and Florals category were straightforward but unusual, as they stress individuality and emotion: “I ask myself these questions,” she says. “Do I get the feeling that the artist has a love for the subject? Do I feel that the artist has a love for paint? Do I feel there is a sense of the artist investigating the subject? Does the subject question, comment, or stretch the traditional idea of still life or floral? Is there an ease and confidence in the technique, and also evidence the artist is challenging herself/himself?”

In commenting on the works she viewed, she says, “ he quality was extremely high and it was difficult to narrow down the selections. I was impressed by every single finalist, and it was only with regret that I eliminated any painting. I had to make tough choices, but it was a real pleasure to look at such an inspiring group of work.”

In the Light of Life is clearly an exploration of color within a white subject, and it would be a masterly exploration on that merit alone,” says Valeri of Jeffrey T. Larson’s First Place work. “But the compelling design of the composition, the introduction of complex natural subjects (plants and birds), contrasting with the near-grid pattern of the manmade objects—and the adept handling of perspective problems—makes this a stunning image. The blue eggs, the yellow bird, and the reddish pottery seem to reference the primary colors of the spectrum, from which all other colors are mixed. This painting is about color, and along the way says so much more as well.”

Finally, Valeri offers advice to future contestants: “Focus on your inspiration, revel in the process without worrying about the final result, set yourself up for success—but also embrace new challenges, and aim for every piece of artwork to be better than anything you have ever done. If the artist focuses on these things, her or his work will attract attention. Don’t focus on contests; focus on making great paintings, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Koo Schadler: Juror for Animal/Wildlife

Koo Schadler graduated from Tufts University with a BA in Art History. Having traveled throughout Europe she settled in Florence, Italy where she pursued art history and painting studies. On returning to the states, she moved to California where Chester Arnold at the College of Marin introduced her to egg tempera. Schadler is a Master painter of The Copley Society of Boston, a contributing editor for Magazine, and a board member of the Society of Tempera Painters. To see more of her work and to find her workshop schedule, visit

As for the criteria she used to judge paintings, she has this to say: “I looked for strong visual design in the overall image—work that was compelling, exciting, and a pleasure to look at.” Schadler affirms the truth that the criteria for judging any work is consonant with the criteria for judging this category: “Inherent to animals are many of the elements of the visual language of art,” she says, “for instance, patterns, textures, value contrasts, geometry, etc. I looked for work in which the artist was attentive to those elements.” Schadler goes on, “I am also drawn to animals for their natures-often a contradictory mix of innocence and cunning! I looked for paintings in which the artist captured the nature of the animal—its feeling, its life, its personality, so to speak.” In concert with the other judges, Schadler took notice of craftsmanship: “I valued,” she says, “work that showed competence in the artist’s chosen medium.”

Schadler, who has won awards in Magazine’s annual contests for many years now, had this to say about the experience of being on the other side of the table: “I’ve followed Magazine’s competition for many years. I am regularly inspired and cheered by the quality of the work that appears in the annual issue of winners. This year, as a judge, I had the privilege of seeing the work by every finalist in the Animal/Wildlife category. The art was diverse, consistently expressive and well crafted.”

What distinguished Michael Dumas’s Mill Cloth—House Sparrows (oil, 6.75×7.25) from so many excellent works? “In Mill Cloth—House Sparrows, the painter balanced a convincing depiction of subject matter with a powerful abstract design,” says Schadler. “The visual elements are beautifully orchestrated – a dramatic range of values, a powerful massing together of lights and darks, exciting relationships between warm and cool colors, strong positive and negative shapes. Within all of this organized beauty the painter succeeded in depicting the quality of the heavy mill cloth, the atmospheric feeling of background and shadow, and the sweet, shy nature of the birds (as well as their beautiful geometry and patterning). Finally, the artist’s technical skill within the medium of oil painting is evident. In short, all of my criteria were met!”

When asked if she had any words of wisdom for future contestants,” Schadler replied: “The painter Cennino Cennini (1370-1440) wrote in The Craftsman’s Handbook that before starting a work of art, “Begin by adorning yourself with these vestments: love, reverence, obedience and constancy. Love, a feeling of enthusiasm for your medium, working method, subject matter, is essential to making art. It is love that gets you in the studio, on both good days and bad. Reverence and obedience help you stay focused and attentive in your work. The final attribute Cennini recommends is constancy, sometimes translated (from the Italian) as perseverance. ‘Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them’ is another inspiring quotation, by the French writer Joseph Joubert (1754-1824). It affirms the importance of being steadfast; the necessity of persevering in spite of the inevitable obstacle in order to succeed as an artist. My advice to future contestants is: listen to Cennini! Approach every drawing and painting with his words of wisdom. Additionally, be brave. Don’t think about what might please a judge or win a prize. Do work that challenges, inspires and excites you.”


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Watch the video: Portrait Painting Tutorial. A Strategy for Success (August 2022).