Me painting on the campus of Washington & Lee University — not one of my top 10 plein air locations but a great place to paint historic southern architecture

I was asked by the travel editor of a national publication to identify the top 10 painting locations favored by plein air artists. I immediately asked my friends on Facebook what their choices would include, and I received hundreds of recommendations.

I also heard from artists who objected to the very idea that the selection of popular painting locations was relevant to the creation of art. Artist Stuart Shils wrote, “Not only is there no answer to [the] question, but the question itself totally misses the point that those places are wherever an artist happen to be standing.”

John D. Cogan painting on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, one of my top 10 plein air sites

I weighed all that advice and decided 1) the article would bring national attention to plein air painting and to the 10 artists whose paintings would be reproduced; and 2) announcing my list of 10 locations would prompt subscribers to disagree with my choices and recommend other great painting locations in the United States. In the end, the discussion might encourage artists to explore unfamiliar locations recommended by other painters, and it might allow readers to celebrate the locations that continue to inspire them.

I had fun finding outstanding paintings so the publication’s readers would understand why the locations have inspired generations of plein air painters. For example, looking at Brian Blood’s paintings of Point Lobos made it clear to me why generations of artists have been inspired by the location. Reviewing Philip Sandusky’s many paintings of New Orleans and Curt Walters’ dozens of paintings of the Grand Canyon was also quite illuminating.

Here is my list of the best plein air painting sites in the United States.

  1. Bradley Wharf, Rockport, Massachusetts
  2. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona
  3. Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskill Mountains of New York
  4. Pinnacle Rock, Zion National Park
  5. Mohegan and Manana Islands, Maine
  6. French Quarter and Jackson Square, New Orleans, Louisiana
  7. “House of Singing Winds,” home of T.C. Steele, T.C. Steele Historical Site, Nashville, Indiana
  8. Point Lobos State Reserve, California
  9. Wind River Range, Rocky Mountains, Wyoming
  10. Lighthouse, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas

To view the full article by Larry Bleiberg, visit USA Today.


  1. Your list included terrific areas for plein air painting, but I would include any place in New Mexico! Especially Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, Albuquerque’s Open Space areas, the red rocks of the Jemez mountains, Las Golindrinas near Santa Fe, the Taos area and so many more places, too numerous to mention.

  2. Southern Utah’s parks and national monuments, mountains, and rural areas are also a painters paradise, and I would agree New Mexico of course!

  3. I agree with Lee McVey.
    In 2015, I had six weeks time, land and people, the landscape in New Mexico
    and to learn the Grand Canyon in Arizona know.
    I have gained many new friends.
    Unfortunately, six weeks is not enough to get to know the country and its people.
    That’s why I wanted to stay there.

  4. Coastal Maine – and Acadia National Park. Such variety of land-masses on one island. Ocean shore, lakes, a fiord, looking mountains/hills, beaches, quaint houses and Bar Harbor… and lots of nice places to eat, stay and camp.


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