Plein Air Salon portrait drawings
"Ava" by Kerri McAuliffe won the "Best Drawing" category for the December/January 2020 PleinAir Salon

Congratulations to Kerri McAuliffe, whose work has been recognized in the PleinAir Salon, monthly art competition with cash prizes and many categories in which to enter your art.

Inspiration and Process for a Winning Portrait Drawing


My Inspiration Behind Creating “Ava”

Dramatic light contrasted with deep shadows and Ava’s somber expression, was just the beginning of my inspiration for this drawing (shown at top).

Ava is a beautiful, sensitive, precocious child, and a twin to her sister, Olivia. I cared for them for almost three years, submerged in their imaginary and magical worlds, where an abundance of drama sets the stage for a plethora of expressions.

Ava’s deep, childlike pondering and precarious emotion, coupled with the playful breeze in her sunlit hair, is simply a statement of why art is made.

My Inspiration for Entering “Ava” in the Plein Air Salon

I was inspired to enter “Ava” into the Plein Air Salon because not only is it a great way to get exposure for your work, but I find that competitions personally challenge and motivate me to create some of my best work.

Originally, I made the drawing of Ava to enter it into a juried competition. The acceptance provided the opportunity for the piece to be in a show at The Steamboat Art Museum in Colorado. So, making a habit of entering competitions, I feel, is well worth the effort.

Entering the Plein Air Salon is a great opportunity for artists to enter their best work. There are multiple categories and monthly judges. What makes this competition unique is that you can enter the same artwork continually every two months and a new judge will see it. Different judges all like different things, so my advice is, be encouraged, enter, and get some recognition for all your hard work. You deserve it!

Contemporary realism portrait drawings
“The First Born” by Kerri McAuliffe

My Portrait Drawing Process

I love expressing the portrait using charcoal. I usually incorporate both the vine and compressed charcoal in my drawings. It provides a great variety of line quality, bold darks, soft gradations, and is extremely easy to manipulate and correct.

My process is simple. I start with a light block-in with the vine charcoal to establish correct proportions and then build up the drawing slowly with darker darks as the drawing progresses.

From the beginning, I also try to establish a good idea of what background shapes, or vignette, I will arrange to compliment the portrait.

Contemporary realism portrait drawings
“Daveed” by Kerri McAuliffe
Contemporary realism portrait drawings
“Skyler” by Kerri McAuliffe
Contemporary realism portrait drawings
“Richie the Poet” by Kerri McAuliffe
Contemporary realism portrait drawings
“Presence of the Papago” by Kerri McAuliffe

Visit Kerri McAuliffe online at


Other categories for this art competition include Best Building, Best Drawing and Sketches, and many more! Visit to view the complete list.

Why should a contemporary realist enter the Plein Air Salon?

Because this art contest is created by Plein Air magazine, which features not only plein air paintings, but also studio paintings, all types of paintings are eligible and do not need to have been completed in plein air, but should originate from a plein air study or plein air experience. As we know, many studio paintings start with plein air sketches. Our interest is in rewarding great paintings.


The Plein Air Salon awards $27,000 in CASH each year! Learn more at, and enter your best work for your chance to win this art competition. Enter now – the next deadline is coming soon!

Enter Now

If you’ve never entered, it only takes a couple of minutes to create your own account. Once you do that, just upload the images of your best work and select the categories you wish to enter – very manageable to do!

All of our awards are CASH, with the grand prize winner getting called up on stage at the next Plein Air Convention & Expo to claim their check for $15,000. That grand prize winner will also have their winning painting featured on the cover of Plein Air magazine (can it get any better?).

There are smaller cash awards, too, and you can find out all about them here. Remember, even if a previous judge did not select your painting, our current judge just might find it to be a winner!

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