Mitchell Juries Plein Air Painters’ U.S. Open: Winners’ Preview


“Best in Show” winner Barbara Noonan with juror Mitch Albala.

This summer I was privileged to be asked to jury the 2010 Plein Air Painters’ U.S. Open on beautiful Whidbey Island, sponsored by Pacific Northwest Art School. The five day event from August 24 – 28 drew over 80 plein air artists from 10 states and two countries (Canada and Russia). The Open culminated on Saturday with an exhibit of over 100 works, with awards given to nine talented artists. The many participants represent the diverse subjects, styles and media found in contemporary plein air.

Plein air painting is a tough proving ground. Working outdoors under the rigors of heat, cold, wind and fleeting light — and having to do it in a very limited timeframe — is one of the greatest challenges a painter can attempt. So these hardy and dedicated painters deserve special kudos.

Please scroll down to view all the winners.

Barbara Noonan, “Optimistic”, pastel, 13 x 17 inches

Best of Show
Barbara Noonan’s Optimistic is optimistic indeed. It depicts the landscape subject in an atypical way — in how the subject occupies the entire picture window and then breaks beyond it; in the play between transparent and opaque areas; its flirtation with abstract shapes; and its surprising simulation of light with a transparent yellow-green.
Visit Barbara’s website

Kyle Paliotto, “Nocturne Light”, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 inches

Award of Excellence
Kyle Paliotto’s Nocturne Light very successfully solves a difficult landscape problem — suggesting light in a field of dark colors required by a night scene. He keeps out of trouble by maintaining an utter simplicity of shapes throughout, and uses the few moments of highlights very judiciously.
Visit Kyle’s website

David Ridgway, “Across Penn Cove”, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches

Award of Merit
David Ridgway’s Across Penn Cove is much more a celebration of bold shapes, patterns and colors than it is a depiction of “place.” Penn Cove and beyond is nothing more than a vehicle for the painter’s personal aesthetic.
Visit David’s website

Sam Schumacher, “A Hop and A Jump”

Juror’s Award
I was unaware of the title of this piece when I selected it; yet, its title suggests that Sam Schumacher was well aware of the energy of movement captured by this humble landscape. Indeed our eye does hop and jump between the bottom of the painting and the top, through an effective (but not over-obvious) use of perspective and texture.

William Gullette, “Heading Out to Sea”, oil on canvas

Rookie of the Year
If William Gullette is now to graduate from the ranks of “rookie,” he is off to a fabulous start. Attempting to capture the glare of light on water, and in such a diffused light, takes guts. What’s more, he nicely embraces a core tenet of plein air painting by aggressively pursuing simplified shapes.

Honorable Mention (in random order)

Janice Kirstein, “Cote de Coupeville”, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 inches

We see a colorist at work in Janice Kirstein’s Cote de Coupeville. Notice how the lighter-than-usual values of the shadows let more color in and makes them more luminous.
Visit Janice’s website

Nathan Drushinin, “Grasser’s Lagoon”, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 inches

I could not escape the inner calm generated from Nathan Drushinin’s Grasser’s Lagoon. Its limited palette creates a unified light. Its view-from-a-height perspective and the placement of the circular inlet make for a strong composition.

Mike Wise, “Cultus Road Hay Field”, oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Mike Wise’s Cultus Road Hay Field is a compositional tour de force. It is a few shapes of color and value organized into a simplified pattern of light and dark. This speaks to us at a level beyond the “surface story” of hay bales.

William Hook, “Ready and Waiting to Go”, watercolor, approx. 14 x 11 inches

To be sure, William Hook’s Ready and Waiting to Go is a technical achievement. Yet, the reason I selected it was for an aesthetic choice — the red accent amidst a field of neutral grays.


About Author

Mitchell Albala is a Seattle-based painter known for his semi-abstract and atmospheric landscapes. His book, "Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice," is a national bestseller with nearly 40,000 copies in print. Mitchell is also a popular workshop instructor at Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, Pacific Northwest Art School, and Daniel Smith Artist’s Materials. He led painting adventures in Italy in 2015 with Arte Umbria and in 2017 with Winslow Art Center. He has lectured on Impressionism and landscape painting at the Seattle Art Museum and written for International Artist and Artists & Illustrators magazines. His popular painting blog, which serves as a companion to his book, was awarded #12 on’s Top 75 Painting Blogs.


  1. Thank you MItchell! Excellent coverage of the Whidbey Plein Air event. I love being able to see the paintings and then be directed to their websites. Your comments are thoughtful and instructive. Knowing a few of the artists that received awards, I was especially happy for them. I have attended at least 4 of these in recent years and really missed painting with everyone this year. Hopefully, I’ll be able to go next year again!

  2. Mitch thank you for doing such a great job as our juror for the 5th annual plein air paint out! Yes I might be a little biased since I did receive an award. That aside I felt you had a great supporting presence at the show and were approachable and knowledgeable of art and what goes into making a successful painting. These are qualities that are taken for granted but rarely possessed. Thank you for the passing word of encouragement and I hope to cross paths with you in the future.

  3. Thank you Mitchell for your work as juror. I am also a bit biased but I really found your commentary on works during the afternoon session to be instructive. You managed to place your comments into a larger context which went well beyond the individual pieces you were discussing. Although I am not an oil painter, I am finding your book very enlightening. Thank you.

  4. The Whidbey Plein Air was brilliant. Great weather, and at the closing event it was so pleasant to meet other folks. I really learned a lot from looking at everyone’s work and seeking folks whose work I admired and having a quick chat. I liked your choices very much. Looking forward to signing up for your Skagit Valley Plein Air Course.