Landscape oil painting with large clouds
"Big Sky" (oil, 18 x 24 in.) by Robert Niedzwiecki won Third Place Overall in the October 2020 Plein Air Salon

Congratulations to Robert Niedzwiecki (, whose work has been recognized in the PleinAir Salon, a monthly art competition. Here, Niedzwiecki tells us how his dramatic landscape painting, “Big Sky” came to be.

Robert Niedzwiecki on the Landscape Painting “Big Sky”

It had been a stormy few days when the weather finally cleared enough for me to leave my studio and get on my bike for a little exercise and quiet. As I came around the last bend on my way home I was stunned by this magnificent, silent event taking place in front of me in the sky. Fortunately, I didn’t drive off the road but instead pulled over and stared at the massive clouds pulling the storm away over the flat, golden fields.

Only moments before it had looked so ordinary; I stood there watching this magnificent show play out before me and I knew I needed to paint it. I made some notes about color and light direction, drew a couple of gesture drawings of the cloud’s movement and took a couple of shots with my phone for a point of departure. I had my concept: the pulling, bending gesture of the clouds in that big open space. I got back to my studio and laid in the first directional lines but let the canvas wait until the next day before I began the work; I wanted to let my subconscious work on the piece for me.

The next morning I worked alla prima following my concept to direct my choices of design, placement, value selection, color and mark making. The gesture was already there and I needed to make sure it survived the painting process. I stopped when I couldn’t add anything more without taking the feeling away. “Big Sky” reminds me of my time living in the open expansiveness of the west, and a good friend from Montana, even while living in the wooded Northeast.

When I retired after 20 years of teaching art at the high school level, I knew I really wanted to learn how to paint even though I had been painting since I was 12. I set a goal of painting for 10,000 hours; every day I painted, I moved forward without concern for failure. I recently met my goal, and while I have entered art competitions before, I entered this one as a way to find out where I was in my quest to improve.

I think there are all kinds of reasons to enter art competitions: it pushes you to your best work and to consider exactly what you value while creating art. Furthermore, looking at your work from the viewpoint of a judge or audience really makes you consider what makes a good painting. I was given advice in the form of a quote from Wayne Gretzky, “you miss 100% of the shots you never take,” and so maybe your art is recognized in a competition, and maybe it is not, but regardless you are working to improve. My former students have told me that my catchphrase in the classroom was “keep going” so for all of you reading this: keep going, keep painting, and find joy along the way.

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More Landscape Paintings by Robert Niedzwiecki

Landscape painting of a rural scene
Robert Niedzwiecki, “Lake Effect,” oil, 30 x 40 in.
Landscape painting of a rural scene
Robert Niedzwiecki, “The Yellow Window,” oil, 24 x 36 in.
Landscape painting of lake with trees
Robert Niedzwiecki, “Warm Days Will Never End,” oil, 12 x 24 in.
Landscape painting of lake with trees
Robert Niedzwiecki, “The Pond’s Edge,” oil, 12 x 24 in.
Painting of a sunset
Robert Niedzwiecki, “Nights’ End in the Harbor,” oil, 12 x 24 in.
Landscape painting of a rural scene
Robert Niedzwiecki, “Mustard Fields,” oil, 18 x 24 in.
Landscape painting with distant mountains
Robert Niedzwiecki, “Intermission,” oil, 12 x 24 in.

Why should artists 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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