10 great places for Plein Air painting
Larry Bleiberg, Special for USA TODAY
Published 8:00 a.m. ET Aug. 25, 2017
Painters love these places
At a time when cameras are almost always at hand, some travelers are putting down their cellphones and picking up a paintbrush. “It’s a more lasting way to capture what you experience,” says M. Stephen Doherty, author of The Art of Plein Air Painting, (Monacelli Press, $25.), which refers to a French expression and artistic approach of painting “in the open air.” And even those without an artistic bent can share in the experience by watching a painter at work. “If an artist is out in the open, you can assume he or she is fine with you looking, and probably likes the idea.” Doherty shares some favorite places to set up an easel with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
What has been called the world’s most frequently painted building perches on the end of a New England pier. The fishing shack’s popularity led an artist to name it “Motif No. 1,” and the town of Rockport even holds a festival devoted to the building every spring. “It’s kind of a rite of passage. If you paint in the Northeast, you have to do a painting of Motif #1,” Doherty says.capeannvacations.com
South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz.
The Grand Canyon has a long history with art. Railroads, eager to encourage Southwest tourism, used to send painters to the park to capture its drama. “It’s very challenging,” Doherty says. “In the flat light of the middle of the day, it’s a lot of greys and browns. You want to paint in the morning or evening when there’s a raking light.” nps.gov/grca
Kaaterskill Falls, N.Y.
Hudson River School artists like Thomas Cole first brought this dramatic 230-foot, two-drop waterfall to public attention in the early 19th century. The area soon began to attract vacationing New Yorkers, and artists still come today. “This connects with the history of plein air painting,” Doherty says.greatnortherncatskills.com
Point Lobos State Reserve, Calif.
Few artists can resist the beauty of the Pacific, Doherty says. “Coastline really defines California, and this is one spot that nearly everyone has painted.” With rocky outcroppings, pounding surf and towering trees, there’s plenty of material—and artistic approaches. Galleries in nearby Santa Cruz feature sketches, watercolors and impressionist landscapes, all inspired by the park. pointlobos.org
Monhegan Island, Maine
Famous artists like Edward Hopper and Jamie Wyeth have long been drawn to this Atlantic outpost, where Wyeth has a home, and to nearby Manana Island. “They are islands that artists have been going to for over 100 years,” Doherty says. “There have been exhibitions of paintings of Monhegan because so many artists have painted there—and still do.”visitmaine.com
Palo Duro State Park, Texas
There’s no shortage of artistic inspiration in the Lone Star State, but Doherty suggests checking out this park near Amarillo, known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas.” Artists who don’t mind hiking a few miles are drawn to a rock pinnacle called the Lighthouse. “It’s an unexpected Texas landscape. People think of cattle ranches and wide-open spaces,” Doherty says.palodurocanyon.com
French Quarter and Jackson Square, New Orleans
Artists aren’t just drawn to natural beauty. New Orleans’ architecture and street life is a magnet for painters, and on any day you’re likely to find professionals, students, amateurs, and caricaturists all setting up easels in parks. “There’s a long tradition. People ran art schools in the French Quarter,” Doherty says. NewOrleansOnline.com
Zion National Park, Utah
It wasn’t until the early 20th century that painters discovered the towering cliffs and remote canyons of Utah. “All of the well-known California artists eventually made it here,” Doherty says. Now the park sponsors an annual Plein Air Art Invitational, and has an artist-in-residence program.nps.gov/zion
T.C. Steele State Historic Site, Nashville, Ind.
Like many artists, noted painter T.C. Steele, studied in Europe in the late 19th century. After returning to the States, he relocated to scenic Brown County, Ind., establishing 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. tcsteele.org
Wind River Range, Wyo.
American painter Albert Bierstadt traveled with a surveying party in the 1850s and famously sketched images of Lander’s Peak, which led to a painting now owned by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Artists have sought out this Rocky Mountain range ever since. “It’s a vast area and it’s wide open. You can see the weather patterns 30 miles south of you, looking down a canyon.” Doherty says. travelwyoming.com
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