PleinAir Salon winner - Oil self-portrait painting contemporary realism art
Nikita Budkov, "Don't Break the Oath, Quarantine Self Portrait," 16 x 12 in., oil

Nikita Budkov ( is no stranger to winning the monthly PleinAir Salon. Most recently, his oil painting “Don’t Break the Oath, Quarantine Self Portrait” won in the Best Artist Under 30 Category (August 2020).

In regards to entering the PleinAir Salon, Nikita said, “I think it is one of the great ways to get a young artist’s name out there. My advice would be to not despair when one doesn’t win, because there comes another month with a different judge, who might choose your favorite artwork, which was rejected last time.”

Here, Nikita tells us more about his contemporary realism artworks.

“During the first months of the pandemic in the US, I felt the need to paint myself in these uncertain times,” Nikita said of the painting shown above. “I lay in nature, my eyes are following the passing sky, and my hand controls the weight of the sturdy kettlebell.”

Nikita, who is originally from Russia, is generally a portrait artist, but also paints plein air landscape studies, which he finishes in the studio. Three years ago he graduated from the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art. There, he said, “I learned the basics for portrait painting, and since then I keep exploring the subject matter further on my own.”

“I am deeply inspired by 19th century art (of many forms) and I think it was the most exquisite and masterful art humanity produced in history. I love to create traditional symbols, as well as to keep reminding the viewer that we live today, and I am not trying to repeat the old masters or pretend to live in the past (as much as I probably would love to).

Narrative oil painting
Nikita Budkov, “Ascension Excalibur,” oil on panel,26 x 36 in.
Contemporary realism portrait painting of a woman
Nikita Budkov, “East of the Sun,” oil on panel, 40 x 30 in. has won in an earlier monthly PleinAir Salon
Contemporary realism figurative painting of a man
Nikita Budkov, “Where Eagles Dare, Portrait of Goga,” oil, 30 x 24 in.
PleinAir Salon winner - Nikita Budkov -
Nikita’s “Mean Machine, Portrait of a Strongman Victor Blud” won the “Best Artist Under 30” category for the August/September 2019 salon
Contemporary realism still life painting
Nikita Budkov, “Some Kind of Monster, COVID 19,” oil, 18 x 24 in.
PleinAir Salon winner - Narrative painting of a man on a motorcycle
Nikita Budkov, “Tuesday’s Gone,” oil, 30 x 30 in. won in the Best Figure & Portrait category of the August 2020 PleinAir Salon
Multiple figures in a narrative oil painting
Nikita Budkov, “Future Club,” oil on panel, 34 x 44.5 in.

Why should a contemporary realist enter the PleinAir Salon?

Because this art contest is created by PleinAir 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.

Plein Air Salon art competition 10th Annual


The PleinAir 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 Convention & Expo to claim their check for $15,000. That grand prize winner will also have their winning painting featured on the cover of PleinAir 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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