Plein Air Painting - Where To Paint


Best places for painting landscapes en plein air!



In our last post, we discussed the definition and history of plein air painting; determining that the simplest definition is "painting nature from within nature." Today, we'll take a little trip to discover said nature, and pick out a few perfect locations for plein air paintings!



People have always had a dynamic relationship with nature. Nature is beautiful; it is also dangerous and, at times, downright scary. But whether we are revering nature or fearing it, there is always a sense of awe attached. Nature is wondrous. It is bigger than us, it can demolish us, but we are stricken with a sense of amazement when we truly experience it, even through a secondary medium like a photograph.

This is probably why nature painting, specifically landscape painting (and, in terms of our discussion, plein air painting) has been such a popular art form across time and cultures. The two main traditions are found in Western painting and Chinese art and both forms can be traced back over a thousand years. The term "landscape" was originally introduced to the English language in the 17th century and was used exclusively for classifying works of art. It was a hundred years before it was used to describe the real thing.

Landscape paintings generally include three elements: a natural wonder such as a mountain, waterfall, or canyon; a view of the sky; and an element of weather. People are sometimes included, and when they are, we get the sense that they serve a purpose: to be dwarfed by their surroundings.

As an artist, you can be selective about what you include. Who holds the paintbrush holds the power here. Some artists have painted landscapes from photographs they have taken, but there are complicated techniques involved, and it is best to experience the site first-hand so that you can transfer the emotions of the experience to others who will later view the painting.

If you've been itching to take a trip to explore your landscape painting skills, you're in luck! We've come up with five great places for plein air landscapes. Different painters have different preferences, so here they are in no particular order:

Southwest US

  • The American Southwest Georgia O'Keeffe was particularly fond of northern New Mexico for her landscapes. You can also check out the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Horseshoe Bend, and Sedona. Sedona, AZ is particularly popular in the fall; they host an arts festival every October.

New England

  • New England is also a popular place during the autumn season. The leaf-changing sparks its own category of tourism. It's also a lovely place to paint, and Maine specifically is a favorite spot for landscapes. Its location in the hemisphere grants it a uniquely slanted light; the Island of Monhegan and Acadia National Park are both the subjects of many beautiful paintings.


  • Yosemite National Park, which boasts from its website: "Not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra." Yosemite is a one-stop-shop for some of nature's finest specimens, including the famous El Capitan mouantin.


  • Yellowstone National Park Best known for its collection of geysers, but also the home of the Morning Glory Pool — which looks something like if an asteroid hit the Earth and left a rainbow-colored crater in its wake. Few places on the planet offer such unique plein air painting subjects as Yellowstone!


  • If you're in the mood for someplace really exotic, try Bali, Indonesia. A tropical wonder that includes beaches, islands, mountains, volcanoes, and waterfalls; not to mention some of the most stunning architecture.

Monet in his garden

There you go! An extremely limited and by no means exhaustive tour of some popular places for plein air painting. However, if you're not planning on traveling much this plein air season, never fear! Some of the best plein air paintings have been painted from — essentially — the artist's own back yard. Just ask Monet, the father of modern plein air painting, whose most beloved subject was his own garden!  And of course, don't forget about seascapes and cityscapes, both of which are also perfect fodder for plein air painting! Stay tuned for our next post, where we'll tackle the best supplies for plein air painting: and how to bring them with you when you do travel!

What about you? Where have you gone to paint en plein air? Or if this will be your first outdoor painting season, where will you go? What's your dream painting location? Let us know in the comments below!


Comments (10) -


I found this article while looking for plein aire articles because I'll be painting in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons this summer -- but I experienced my "dream painting" experience this past summer when I painted two evenings after hours in Monet's gardens at Giverny, and sketched there one full day. I emailed the Foundation Monet months in advance, and used their reply email to show the people at the ticket window since my French is apparently incomprehensible. At first they said "closing closing!" then when they saw the email said "OH! Artiste! Artiste!" and I paid a small fee (like 9.5 Euro) and they waved me in. I felt like Monet himself was welcoming me, somehow it honestly made me feel like artists - great and not so great - have a connection across time and space. That sounds silly, but it is true. The gardeners and guards left and I was there almost alone except for a friendly group of photographers from Minnesota who explained how to find the nearly hidden door to get out. I can't say I got any great paintings, but I learned so much and will treasure the experience forever.

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