PleinAir Salon art competition -
Judy Schubert, “Sean,” oil, 20 x 16 in.

In an earlier PleinAir Salon, Judy Schubert’s portrait painting “Sean” won Best Oil. Here, she shares her processes and inspirations for creating a portrait. (Enter your best work in the next PleinAir Salon for your chance to win cash and/or publication — details here!)


Discovering the relationship of elements in an overall pattern fascinates me, and I look at any given painting subject as a puzzle to be solved.

I enjoy working on the New York Times crossword every day. Often, I’ll view a sea of clues — the subjects of which I know nothing about. With each puzzle, I jump in with any easy answers and use those letters to inform me for the more difficult clues. Working my way through and ultimately solving or finishing the puzzle produces great satisfaction.

Bringing this concept to a painting, I start by identifying the overall design, the big shapes, the darkest darks and lightest lights, then continue by navigating what lies within. That is my process as I consider what I want to achieve and how I will achieve it. When I have interwoven all the elements of design, shapes, and values into an aesthetic whole, a painting, I have met my challenge.

Related Article > Adrienne Stein on Painting Composition

Painting Commissioned Portraits

Commissioned paintings have become a most stimulating activity. For me, it’s not just about making art, but about making it meaningful. Creating a person, a mood, a narrative brings me joy. I am passionate about ultimately delivering a client’s vision by way of incorporating my own creativity to achieve it.

My puzzle or problem solving begins when discovering what the client has in mind. Often it can be using a client’s photograph from a certain event as a reference. The solution is turning it into a great painting. What does it need? What works and what doesn’t?

Multi-figure portrait painting
Judy Schubert, “The Mitchell Family,” oil, 24 x 30 in.

A recent project became a fun endeavor when I saw a pattern in the reference that reminded me of the Matisse painting “Dance (I)” in its design. The embrace of the “The Mitchell Family” (above) formed an emotional and visual flow, so I featured that concept and arrangement.

Representational painting
Judy Schubert, “Everybody’s Happy,” oil, 30 x 30 in.

For the painting “Everybody’s Happy,” the rollicky bollicky bustle of the moment was the star, and the setting was obvious to the narrative. To form the best composition, minor adjustments and placements were made.

Painting from Life

I paint from life as often as possible. That experience brings information and intuition into my commissioned work. I had begun “Sean” (shown at top) using a live model in a setting with a dark background and a single light source. Limited time with him allowed for only a basic rendering on the canvas. I took photos on the spot, as I knew I wanted to continue to develop and solve this puzzle.

The painting came together after several days alone in my studio, where I was able to take my time and build, correct, and modify the shapes, pay close attention to the shadow lines, the landscape of his face, his hair, and his beard.

Sean was an intriguing subject, and I strived to create the mood and dramatic effect that had been before me. I pushed the extremes in value and chroma. Proud of the outcome, I entered it into a PleinAir Salon round, where it won Best Oil.

Contemporary portraits
Judy Schubert, “Megan 2,” oil, 18 x 14 in.

For another painting, “Megan 2,” the concept was different, in that I wanted to set off the softness and the simple elegance of a beautiful girl (my granddaughter) with a warm, arresting glow.

What a joy to be the artist who faces the challenge of the puzzle and then produces the finished piece!

Connect with Judy Schubert at

The next PleinAir Salon monthly art competition is now open and accepting entries. You Could Win $15,000 If Your Painting Is Chosen The Best Painting of the Year! 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. Visit today!

Enter the PleinAir Salon art competition