Deborah Tilby offers proof that there are many ways to win awards. Last month, she won First Place in the August-September contest of the PleinAir Salon with an oil painting based on an old watercolor of hers. And this is her third win in the PleinAir Salon.
Tilby won Second Place in the April-May 2016 contest of the PleinAir Salon with the painting “Blue Boat Reflected.” She won Best Landscape in the April-May 2014 contest with “Calm Before the Storm.” And now, in the August-September contest, she has won First Place with “Twelve Small Boats” — and her source material was unusual.

“Twelve Small Boats,” by Deborah Tilby, oil, 26 x 36 in. Private collection.
First Place in the August-September 2016 contest of the PleinAir Salon

“I worked from a faded, old photograph of a watercolor I did years ago while I lived in England,” says Tilby. “It was one of my favorite places, a funny little Elizabethan village built on a cliff called Clovelly. There are no cars allowed — you have to travel by donkey or on foot. I did a number of watercolors looking down on the village, but this one, with the S-curve of all those boats, caught my eye. I wondered what it would look like in oil.”

“Calm Before the Storm,” by Deborah Tilby, oil on board, 16 x 16 in.
Best Landscape in the April-May 2014 contest of the PleinAir Salon

It turns out it looked like an award winner. “I changed the composition a bit,” Tilby explains. “I struggled to get the color of the pathway going down — the photo wasn’t that good. I could see quite clearly the shape of the boats and the shadows, and the hotel, but I had to remember or try to reinvent the color of the path.”

“Farm From the Hill,” by Deborah Tilby, oil on board, 6 x 6 in.

Tilby grew up in Alberta, Canada, but her time in England and her current home in Vancouver, British Columbia, are responsible for her many maritime paintings. The artist says her depictions of boats, coastlines, and harbors are more attributable to her love of texture than a love for the sea. “I don’t like being on the water; I don’t like sailing,” she says. “I’m attracted to those old boats because of the weathered look. I just like the textures and colors you get from older buildings and older boats. I like the ones with peeling paint, that look a bit battered-up. I used to love to paint weathered stone and brick. I suppose my first love would be old buildings and street scenes, and that’s why I particularly enjoyed living in England. I traveled a lot in France and Italy for the same reason.”

“Blue Boat Reflected,” by Deborah Tilby, oil on board, 24 x 24 in.
Second Place in the April-May 2016 PleinAir Salon contest

The First Place winner was painted in Tilby’s studio, but the artist makes a point of painting en plein air at least once a week — several times a week in the summer. She keeps her sessions short, no longer than 90 minutes, and she works relatively small, from 6”-x-6” to 10”-x-12”. Tilby has a group that she paints with every Monday; they take turns choosing the location for painting. “I do sell plein air pieces on Daily Paintworks and take part in an annual street fair,” she says, “but I don’t go out on location with the idea of a finished painting. I just want the challenge of trying to capture the light and feel of that particular moment.”

“Hidden in the Woods,” by Deborah Tilby, oil on board, 16 x 20 in.

Tilby says she was primarily a watercolorist for years, and she still paints in watercolor, but she and other watercolorists in the Vancouver area have noticed that local galleries are not interested in carrying that medium. “They don’t want to hang anything under glass,” says Tilby. “So most of us switched to acrylic or oil. That’s really the only reason I picked up oils. But once I did start working in oils, I really fell in love with it.”

“Two by Two,” by Deborah Tilby, oil on board, 18 x 24 in.

The PleinAir Salon consists of six bi-monthly contests, with the First, Second, and Third Place winners of each contest, and the category winners, automatically entered into the annual competition. First prize in the annual competition is $15,000 cash and the publication of the winning image on the cover of PleinAir magazine, along with a feature story. Second Place earns an artist $3,000 and an article in the digital edition of PleinAir magazine. Third Place yields $1,500 in cash. Three additional finalists win $500. Aside from First, Second, and Third Place overall, categories include Best Oil, Best Pastel, Best Watercolor, Best Acrylic, Best Plein Air, Best Building, Best Figure in the Landscape, Best Floral, Best Landscape, Best Outdoor Still Life, Best Nocturne, Best Water, Best Vehicle, Best Sketchbook, Best Artist Over 65, Best Student, and Best Artist Under 30.

“Waves Coming In,” by Deborah Tilby, oil on board, 12 x 24 in.

Did you know the PleinAir Salon just got a little richer in prizes? There have long been big annual prizes, but now artists earn cash for the top prizes in the bimonthly contests. The First Place winners in the six yearly contests each earn $1,000, with $500 going to Second Place and $250 going to the Third Place winners. The winner of each bi-monthly contest is also featured in this e-newsletter and profiled on In mid-April, the $21,000 in annual prizes will be awarded to the annual winners at the 2017 Plein Air Convention & Expo in San Diego, California.

“Marina 2,” by Deborah Tilby, oil on board, 6 x 8 in.

The next deadline is November 30, and C.W. Mundy is the judge. Enter now.


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