Explore the Great Outdoors
Painting and drawing en plein air go back centuries. This art form was truly brought to life by the French Impressionists, largely given their desire to paint light and its changing qualities (and the invention of transportable supplies). After all, en plein air is the French expression for “in the open air.”
Whether you prefer painting, drawing or urban sketching, with cityscapes, seascapes or landscapes as your go-to subject, now is the perfect time to step away from the confines of your studio and go make art outdoors. The weather is still pleasantly warm as the summer days wind down and autumn approaches.
Need a new place to inspire your next creation en plein air? Below is a list of 10 great places in the U.S. to paint in the open air, according to former American Artist editor, M. Stephen Doherty, which he shared with USA TODAY.
Jackson Square and the French Quarter | New Orleans
Not only is Jackson square a timeless attraction for millions of tourists visiting New Orleans each year, it is also a beloved spot for plein air artists, as well as for artists who want to display their work. In fact, ExperienceNewOrleans.com reports Jackson Square has been an open-air colony for artists for more than a half century.
“Jackson Square without artists would be like red beans without rice,” states Experience New Orleans’ website. “Every day, local artists show up and line the sidewalks and fences with their original artwork. The colorful canvasses are just as much a part of Jackson Square as the buildings surrounding it.”
Wind River Range | Wyoming
Artists who enjoy painting en plein air have been drawn to this Rocky Mountain range since painter Albert Bierstadt sketched Lander’s Peak during a surveying party in the 1850s. This led to a painting now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
“It’s a vast area, and it’s wide open,” notes Doherty in the article. “You can see the weather patterns 30 miles south of you, looking down a canyon.”
Palo Duro Canyon State Park | Texas
Located near Amarillo, Palo Duro Canyon State Park is known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas.” And, if you don’t mind a few-mile hike, artists looking to make art en plein air often frequent a rock formation dubbed the “Lighthouse.”
Kaaterskill Falls | New York
This splendid two-drop, 230-foot waterfall first sparked public interest in the early 19th century by Hudson River School artists, such as Thomas Cole, reports USA TODAY. Soon after, the site became a popular attraction for vacationing New Yorkers and is still visited by artists today.
“This [waterfall] connects with the history of plein air painting,” explains Doherty.
Zion National Park | Utah
The park is home to an annual Plein Air Art Invitational and an artist-in residence program, but painters didn’t discover its scenic cliffs and canyons until the early 20th century.
However, Doherty states in the article, “All of the well-known California artists eventually made it to [Zion National Park].”
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve | California
The striking beauty of the East Coast is hard to beat. And, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve certainly offers awe-inspiring views in spades.
“Coastline really defines California, and this is one spot that nearly everyone has painted,” says Doherty. And, according to the article, galleries in nearby Santa Cruz feature watercolors, sketches and Impressionist landscapes, all inspired by the reserve.
T.C. Steele State Historic Site | Indiana
Renowned painter, Theodore Clement Steele (T.C. Steele) relocated to Brown County, Indiana after studying in Europe in the late 19th Century. Here, he founded the Art Colony of the Midwest.
“More than a century later, artists still come on pilgrimages to the 211-acre site to paint landscapes and Steele’s hilltop home, called the House of the Singing Winds,” reports Larry Bleiberg in the article.
Monhegan Island | Maine
Although not like the tropical islands many of us like to — or wish to — vacation, the islands of Maine are very near and dear to the hearts of artists. In fact, artists have frequented the state’s Monhegan and Manana islands for decades, including famous artists like Edward Hopper and Jamie Wyeth, who even has a home on Monhegan Island.
“They are islands that artists have been going to for over 100 years,” says Doherty in the article. “There have been exhibitions of paintings of Monhegan because so many artists have painted there — and still do.”
Grand Canyon National Park | Arizona
In hopes of encouraging tourism to the Southwest, reports USA TODAY, Railroads would send painters to the Grand Canyon to capture all its glory. However, back then and now, painting the splendor of the park is no easy task, states Doherty.
“It’s very challenging,” he continues. “In the flat light of the middle of the day, it’s a lot of grays and browns. You want to paint in the morning or evening when there’s a raking light.”
Rockport’s ‘Motif No. 1’ | Massachusetts
A fishing shack the end of a New England pier has been called the most frequently painted building in the world. The building’s “fame” has led to its nickname of “Motif No. 1,” and Rockport even hosts a festival every spring season dedicated to the shack.
In the article Doherty explains, “It’s kind of a rite of passage. If you paint in the Northeast, you have to do a painting of Motif No. 1.”
You can learn more about Doherty and about painting in the open air by visiting his website, SteveDohertyArt.com.
Do you have any favorite spots to add to this list? Tell us in the comments below!