Although she’s primarily a studio painter, it’s no surprise that Lauren Tilden won the top spot in the June-July contest of the PleinAir Salon, as landscapes are crucial to her figure paintings.
A quick look over the paintings featured here show how adeptly Tilden uses landscapes to imbue her figure paintings with mood and meaning. The landscapes are convincing and evocative, a product of the work she puts in, painting outdoors.

“Stronghold,” by Lauren Tilden, 2016, oil on panel, 24 x 36 in. Courtesy of Principle Gallery, Charleston, South Carolina. Studio piece. Winner of the June-July contest of the PleinAir Salon

“I’ve always preferred figurative painting,” she says. “Landscape is second, but I like going back and forth because I feel like it makes my art stronger. Plus, I like being out in nature, and combining figure and landscape is my favorite way to work. I get to get outside and do landscape sketches, but also work with the figure and do some sort of narrative painting.”

“Clouds at Sunset,” by Lauren Tilden, 2016, oil on panel, 6 x 6 in. Collection the artist

The Salon-winning piece, “Stronghold,” depicts the story of a little girl who is safe in the arms of her foster parent for the moment, amid vaguely threatening weather. “I had an idea what I wanted, and the models posed for me on a cold and windy day,” says Tilden. “They were really good about it. The landscape is a farm near my house; I knew I wanted to do a painting of the figure in that particular setting. I think the landscape is a melancholy one. There’s a beauty to it, but it has a tragic feeling. The shape of the tree, with woman and child in front of it, gives connotations and meaning. The viewer doesn’t know what the future holds for the child. The title describes how she is holding the child, but also the biblical narrative of the stronghold.”

“Judgment,” by Lauren Tilden, 2012, oil on panel, 24 x 36 in. Private collection. Studio piece

“Birds in Snow — Study,” by Lauren Tilden, 2015, oil on panel, 6 x 6 in. Private collection

The New Jersey artist strongly believes that art should communicate. Often, this starts with the concept coming to Tilden via a title for a possible piece. “The title is my initial vision for the painting, the inspiration,” she says. “I’ve had paintings where they are finished and I had no idea what the title should be. But when I get a title early on in the painting process, that just makes everything so much easier.

“Dust Bowl,” by Lauren Tilden, 2015, oil on panel, 24 x 24 in. Courtesy of F.A.N. Gallery, Philadelphia. Studio piece

“I love stories. I have always loved hearing stories, reading stories, and looking at paintings that suggest a narrative. I love Andrew Wyeth; I always felt like his pieces are telling a story. I think communication is very important. I have always seen art as foundational to any society, something that connects me to other people, community, the world — that is the role that art plays, and that is my role as an artist. One important thing: I would like people to see their worth. As a portrait painter, I think that is a huge part of doing figurative work. No matter who they are or how they look, there is something of worth in that figure. By studying them, learning about them, you show how much you value them.

“Dinah,” by Lauren Tilden, 2016, oil on panel, 18 x 24 in. Collection the artist. Studio piece

“Add to that the landscape. The landscape has so many different stories that you could convey. There is mystery, grandeur, so many amazing things in a landscape. And as a Christian artist, I see the landscape as a reflection of God’s power. I will use light as a tool in my paintings. A lot of times the light represents God in the sense that despite whatever tragedies that might be looming in the lives of the figures, there’s a bit of light breaking through. In ‘Stronghold,’ the light is breaking around the horizon line.”

“Approaching Storm,” by Lauren Tilden, 2016, watercolor and gouache in sketchbook

“Tree,” by Lauren Tilden, 2016, ink on watercolor paper in sketchbook

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 Artist (Over 18), and Best Artist Under 30.

Late March,” by Lauren Tilden, 2007, oil on panel, 8 x 12 in. Private collection. Studio piece

The winner of each bi-monthly contest is featured in this e-newsletter and profiled on In mid-April, the $21,000 in prizes will be awarded to the annual winners at the 2017 Plein Air Convention & Expo, in San Diego, California.


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