The Best Places To Paint En Plein Air in Cornwall

Posted by Sarah Jane Humphrey on

Painting and drawing En Plein Air is surely one of the finest ways to be creative. To sit and soak in the view while listening to the surrounding wildlife and stirrings of flora, and observing the changing light. The essence of this type of artwork is captured with a mix of technical precision and creative spontaneity.

En Plein Air is the French expression for “in the open air” and was a term popularised by the French Impressionist painters.

Influenced by the artist, John Constable, a group of landscape painters ventured outside of the confines of Paris to paint outdoors. With a collective interest in depicting nature as they saw it and reflecting a dialogue with the environment, this group of artists became known as the Barbizon School. Despite the unpredictable elements, these artists took their easels outside, subsequently pioneering the technique of Plein Air painting. 

Many artists choose this method of painting directly from natural light, not only for its technique but also for the pleasure of live painting. Painting in the moment means that you have to work quickly (unless you take your work to finish back at your studio) so that you can capture the essence of the scene on your page or canvas before the light and other factors change. This helps to keep things simple, not too overworked and adds an interesting constraint to your practice. 

With summer on the horizon and spring in full swing, the weather is on our side and the views are beautiful. There’s no better time to gather your sketchbook and transportable paints and find a magical location in Cornwall. 

It’s not difficult to find a romantic spot in the South West that will capture your imagination and inspire you to set up an easel, but in case you’re a little pushed for time to explore, here’s a helping hand. Below is a list of great places in Cornwall to paint in the open air according to all of us at Botanical Atelier.

Helford River

Few artists can resist the beauty of the Helford River. With its lush landscape, sparkling waters, ancient trees and waterside houses, there is plenty of material—and artistic approaches.

If you walk along the river, in either direction, you will find plenty of picturesque pathways and viewpoints, ideal for painting in. Port Navas and Helford Village are particularly beautiful and have numerous shaded and secluded spots in which to perch for the afternoon. 

The Lizard and Kynance Cove

Kynance Cove on the Lizard in Cornwall is one of Cornwall's most spectacular beaches. The striking beauty of the Lizard Peninsular is hard to beat, and Kynance Cove certainly offers awe-inspiring views in spades.

If you’re feeling energetic there is a wonderful 5km walk that takes you from Kynance Cove to The Lizard, with an unlimited amount of Plein Air spots to enjoy along the way. Make sure to have a little break and stop off at the country’s most southerly cafe for an indulgent cream tea, the views and scones are one-of-a-kind.

Pedn Vounder

As quite possibly the most famous (and most difficult to access) beaches in Cornwall, Pedn Vounder is truly one of Cornwall's loveliest beaches, set among the stunning cliffs of Treryn Dinas with crystal clear turquoise water and beautiful white sand. If you’re up for a touch of adventure and aren’t fussed about exploring off the beaten track to find your idyllic painting spot, we would recommend a visit to this location. At low tide, hidden coves reveal themselves and the jagged headlands tower overhead, coastal flowers grow in abundance and the light glistens on a sandbar. 

St Ives 

The landscapes of St Ives on the West Coast of Cornwall are very near and dear to the hearts of artists. This town has a long history and connection with art. In fact, artists have frequented this part of Cornwall for decades including famous artists like Peter Lanyon and John Wells who even had homes in this little town. The light here is ethereal and unique to this part of the country. 

After a day of painting along the coast, a visit to town to enjoy a fish supper at The Fish Shed, St Ives is the perfect way to end the evening. Enjoy small plates of seasonal seafood and creative cocktails with a twist.


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