Places that Inspire: Cape Cod


Artists at work during the Cape Cod workshop.

There is nothing quiet like working from real life. Having a tactile relationship with your subject matter and experiencing it with all of your senses creates an intimacy that leads to heightened sensitivity. This is especially true for the landscape painter. The quality of natural light is ever changing and the diversity of locale stimulating, leading to unlimited painting possibilities.

Historically, the advent of portable painting supplies facilitated the en plein air movement. Before that, painters sketched and worked in studio, relying on memory and reference material. Portrait and still life paintings were the works of prominence. Most landscapes were formulated and merely provided backdrop. As artists began to drag their equipment out on location, landscape painting took on a whole new aesthetic and popularity. Certain locations became popular, often because of the endorsement of an influential master painter of the time. Artist colonies sprang up around these locations and many are still popular today. A few examples in the United States are: Carmel and Laguna Beach, in California; Santa Fe and Taos in New Mexico; Bucks County, Pennsylvania; Old Lyme, Connecticut; Woodstock, New York; Rockport, Massachusetts.


Artists at work during the Cape Cod workshop.

Recently, I was fortunate to instruct in one of the historically famous east coast locations artists often speak of: Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was easy to discover why this special area has been a draw to painters beginning since the turn of the last century: It is the quality of the light. I know that this sounds cliché and is often referenced as the special quality in a number of locations, but it truly applies to the Cape. Maybe it is its geographic location, surrounded by the Atlantic on one side and Cape Cod Bay on the other, or its moisture laden air, lush vegetation, and charming colonial architecture. Whatever it is, it is worth visiting to paint. A heart-felt thank you to the Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod for the invitation. It is an experience I will not soon forget.

Since there are many locations that qualify as “special” and not all of them well-known, feel free to post a comment here that shares a bit of information about a painting location that is special to you.


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7 thoughts on “Places that Inspire: Cape Cod

  1. Paula Wilson

    Hi – also the Flint Hills in Kansas are really beautiful and scenic. A great spot is a view on Skyline Road close to Alma, KS and I have seen one of the vistas there represented in several regional paintings – I don’t know if anyone would really recognize that unless you’ve seen the area though. The views of the sky and summer clouds against the hilly grasslands are the best.

  2. Katherine Tyrrell

    I was fortunate to do a workshop with the Pastel Painting Society of Cape Cod 4 summers ago and to my mind they should be very high on the list of societies every pastel tutor wants to work with. I was very impressed with the facilities and support that the Society provided for the tutor w(who was Sally Strand)

    I used to dash out after the workshop finished and go and paint stretches of coastline in the late afternoon / early evening light. You can see my work on Cape Cod in – all done not very far from the Society’s HQ! My particular favourite was Nauset Beach and Lighthouse.

    A friend of mine swears that light in Cornwall also makes it a superb place to paint. Like Cape Cod it too is a peninsula surrounded on both sides by ocean abd I do remember reading once that it is this particular mix of land and sea which changes the atmospheric effects of light due to the moisture in the atmosphere.

  3. Lee McVey

    It’s been years since I’ve painted on Cape Cod. The light is special there. Glad to hear you all had a great week.

    Back east, I also liked painting along the coast of Maine or on Campobello Island.

    Here in the southwest, I find there is a difference in light quality between Albuquerque and Taos. Albuquerque has some great spots with all its protected Open Space lands, but I also love painting around Ghost Ranch, near Abiquiu. I’ve organized a painters’ retreat for September in Ghost Ranch when the light and the weather will be gorgeous. I’m looking forward to that!

    Another place I liked painting and would love to paint again is in Maynard Dixon Country around Mt. Carmel Utah.

  4. Sherry Rhyno


    The quality of the light on the Cape is indeed remarkable, and we certainly experienced a variety of weather during your workshop experiences here. While you were on the Cape instructing you wrote your Beauty in the Mundane piece, and it’s hit home with me how the artist can find sensitivity and richness in what might be considered ordinary. It’s helped the "what to paint" issue. Thank you.

    Cape Cod holds bogs and marshes and dunes and woodlands — some quite remote — from sea to shining sea. Right in Dennis, at the heart of the mid-Cape, there is Kelley’s Bay in Bass River, Mayflower Beach on the Bay side, Scargo Lake off Route 6A, the view of Windmill Beach in Yarmouth from West Dennis Beach — all places we didn’t have time to paint during your visit. So — please return!

    A special thank you for your fine, thorough, clear teaching and your being juror and judge of awards of our For Pastels Only on Cape Cod 2010 national juried show. The Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod so thanks you!

  5. Paula Wilson

    Hi – I agree about how amazing Cape Cod is and how wonderful the Pastel Painters’ Society of Cape Cod is! I have been doing consulting work for Children’s Hospital of Boston since April, mostly remotely, but travelling about once a month there for work Mon-Thurs, and then have the extreme pleasure of getting a rental car and then driving down to a spot so I can partipate in the Saturday paint-outs with the PPSCC group. I was able to join in for May and June, but my trip this month didn’t quite coincide, and the schedule is for a garden on Sat 7/24, but I am going to find a garden spot here in KC and do my own paint out at the same time so I’ll be participating remotely! My next trip to Boston will match up with the next event on 8/21. I’ve been posting a lot of my reference photos on Facebook, along with a google map detailing the spot of the event. This has been so fun for me, and the PPSCC group is completely terrific!

  6. Mary Ann Pals

    I’m from Chesterton IN (northern Indiana) at the southern tip of Lake Michigan with the Indiana Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore right up the road. It is an artist’s haven here. Just a few miles apart, there are literally a half dozen art organizations and active art centers nearby. The ever-shifting sand dunes and brilliant summer sunsets over Lake Michigan give artists out here an overwhelming array of plein air subject matter. Some artists even brave the cold and enjoy capturing the snow covered dunes with the icy lake in the background. After spending a day plein air-ing it at "the dunes", artists go home with sand in their shoes and a smile on their face.