Creativity Inspiration

Artistic Inspiration Excellence: Winning Works

Artistic Inspiration  Excellence: Winning Works

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Southwest Art’s Artistic Excellence competition showcases stunning works to inspire every artist.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Artistic Excellence Competition sponsored by Southwest Art. As we ramp up to celebrating the reveal of this year’s winners in December 2020, we are showcasing the 2019 winners to shine a spotlight on the incredible work featured year after year. In 2019 there were over 1,000 entries submitted and the judges selected 13 stunning works of artistic inspiration, including three top winners. The winning artists hail from across the United States as well as from Canada, Poland, and Greece, but their paintings speak the international language of art.

We hope these artists inspire you to submit your work to this year’s Artistic Excellence Competition–open now. Winners receive cash prizes and a feature spotlight in the December/January issue of Southwest Art, so let’s see what inspires you!

First Place| Drew Keilback

Often moved by nature’s beauty, Drew Keilback doesn’t need to travel far for inspiration. His winning entry was inspired by a walk one early spring day, just after a snowfall, along the Fraser River near his home in British Columbia. Using various tools to apply and model his oil paint—from brushes and knives to Q-tips and rags—Keilback created FoxTrot, a vivid scene where sunlight and shadow converge across fresh tracks in the snow left by a fleeting visitor. “Along the riverbank, a red fox gains an advantage on his next quarry,” says the artist. “Only his tracks hint at his presence.”

Besides the rugged beauty of his surroundings, Keilback looks to the painterly brushwork of western artists like Howard Terpning, Matt Smith, and Mian Situ for inspiration. “They have the ability to draw the viewer in, to make you want to participate,” he says. Keilback, who grew up on the Canadian Prairies, grew fond of contemporary Southwestern art while studying fine art at Glendale College in Phoenix, AZ. Upon returning to Can-ada, he worked as a television broadcast designer. The role sharpened his eye as a painter, says the artist, thanks to the compositing and 3-D software he used, which helped him appreciate the effects of ambient and reflected light.

Now painting full time, Keilback primarily works from photographs and pencil sketches, finessing his compositions in Photoshop before painting. “For me, each painting is like a puzzle waiting to be solved,” he says. “Even though I consider myself a representational artist, there is an inner desire to separate the process of painting from the creation of art—to be more intuitive rather than descriptive.” Find Keilback’s work at and

Second Place| Stan Miller

If you were ever to meet Stan Miller, and he were to ask your permission to photograph you, you could consider it quite a compliment. “When I see a face that’s fascinating, I ask if I can take some photographs,” says Miller. That’s precisely how the Spokane, WA, artist came to paint his winning entry Charles. “Charles was visiting a friend of mine,” he says of his portrait’s star, who agreed to pose for a wide variety of shots under his artistic direction. “I thought his face had this universal quality,” adds Miller. “One person might see a strong and courageous person, and another might see vulnerability. I wanted this painting to symbolize the many different ideas people would see in Charles. That’s my intention with every portrait I paint.”

Rendered in egg tempera, Charles is just one of many paintings that resulted from Miller’s photo shoot with this model. “I probably did 40 paintings of Charles before I did this painting,” he says. And, as he does for all his work, the artist also completed numerous preliminary drawings and background studies. “Doing a painting the way I do is like building a house,” he says. “You need a foundation and an architectural plan.”

Miller, who has been painting professionally in both watercolor and egg tempera since 1973, is widely known for his portraiture. However he also creates landscapes, and teaches workshops in both genres around the world. A longtime admirer of artist Andrew Wyeth, he describes himself as a realist. “What makes a realistic painting universally great is the subject matter itself,” he says. “I want to paint subjects that touch people’s hearts all over the world.” Find the artist’s work at

Third Place| Alexandra Averbach

“I love the spring,” declares New York City artist Alexandra Averbach. “I’m always outside looking for flowers in the springtime.” Her winning entry, Blush, is an homage to her favorite season and one of her favorite flowers. “Peonies are beautiful, with spots of red underneath their petals,” Averbach says of her oil painting’s rosy-pink stars, which she purchased at a local bodega. Back in her living-room studio, she photographed the blossoms in direct sunlight. “Luckily, I have windows that are south-facing,” says the artist, who snaps hundreds of reference shots of her floral arrangements. “The petals glow in the sun, and I love the look of that.”

For Averbach, choosing the right blooms to paint is the first step. Then comes selecting the proper vase to complement their petals, leaves, and stems. It took her a while to find the perfect floral match for the wide-mouthed glass jar in Blush. “I was aching to use that jar,” says Averbach. “With peonies, because they are so lush and full, they really fit.”

Mostly a self-taught artist, Averbach started out painting flowers on a small scale. Now many of her floral canvases measure up to 50 inches. “It adds this monumental quality to the flowers and makes them more visually striking,” she says. The self-described contemporary realist paints in “extremely thin” layers of paint that lend her works a luminous, watercolor-like transparency. Needless to say—given her meticulous painting style—the artist’s larger paintings take longer to complete. “With flowers, I don’t mind,” she says. “I get hypnotized when painting them.” Find Averbach’s work at Gallery Henoch, New York, NY; Skidmore Contemporary Art, Santa Monica, CA; Arden Gallery, Boston, MA; and William A. Karges Fine Art, Carmel, CA.

Honorable Mention Finalists

Check out the inspiring gallery below of the ten finalist works that won Honorable Mentions. And to learn more about these ten artists and the story behind each work, read their individual profiles on the Southwest Art website.

For a detailed review of all the 2019 winners and the artistic inspiration behind the selected works, get the Southwest Art December 2019/January 2020 print issue or digital download.

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