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Make Great Art in Unexpected Places

Art classes offered in memorable locales give travelers of any talent level a richer sense of place.

easel and a view of Point Reyes, image
Photo caption
Take an art class and create a souvenir of California’s Point Reyes.

From renaissance landscape painters to site-specific sculptors like Andy Goldsworthy, artists have long mined the natural world for creative fuel. But scenic inspiration isn't limited to the masters. Travelers of any talent level can gain a richer sense of place with these art classes offered in memorable locales.

  • Express yourself with spray paint in the Street Art 101 class at 1AM, a San Francisco gallery devoted to graffiti- and street-style art. In three hours, you’ll learn how to work with wheat paste, cut your own stencil, and properly wield a rattle can. No walls are harmed during this class; instead, students take aim at T-shirts, canvases, and tote bags.
  • For decades, Oregon beachcombers have collected the green and blue glass floats once used by Japanese fishing crews. At the Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio in Lincoln City, you can blow your own orb (or fluted bowl or paperweight). Students age 8 and up can become familiar with the crucible and furnace, puff air into a blowpipe, and roll the molten glass into shape.
  • Northern California's Point Reyes National Seashore offers many painterly subjects: It's home to tule elk, northern elephant seals, the endangered Myrtle's silverspot butterfly, and more than 1,500 other plant and animal species. Classes at the Point Reyes Field Institute include landscape photography and sketching steeds at the park's Morgan Horse Ranch.
  • After carving the slopes of Mount Timpanogos, spend a couple hours shaping your own masterpiece at the Sundance Art Studio in Sundance, Utah. Daily workshops offer a chance to capture the mountain by camera or in watercolor, acrylic, charcoal, oil, or pencil. Or heat things up in the silversmithing class, where you can fashion a ring, bracelet, or pendant.
  • With its proximity to Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park, the Art Association of Jackson Hole is in a prime location for outdoor classes. Capture the purple mountain majesties in a workshop on plein air painting (painting outdoors in daylight); take a nature photography class and train your camera lens on wildflowers; or join a photo safari in search of the park's moose, pronghorn, elk, and bison.
  • Follow in Ansel Adams's footsteps with a photography class through the Yosemite Conservancy Outdoor Adventures program, which offers full-moon walks to Yosemite Falls to chase the elusive moonbow, a nighttime rainbow caused by light refracting off waterfall mist. If you'd rather put brush or pen to paper, join one of the plein air workshops for all ages and skill levels held by the Yosemite Art Center. Says the Conservancy's Adonia Ripple, "Sitting in a meadow to paint or draw is the ultimate antidote to a rushed Yosemite visit."
  • Named after the surrounding spruce trees, Oregon's Sitka Center for Art and Ecology overlooks the protected Salmon River estuary. The center's cedar-clad studios and cottages, near the Pacific coast, are home to working scientists as well as professional artists who lead classes on a wide range of subjects, from botanical drawing and nature monoprinting to making mosaics out of colorful bits of beach plastic.
  • Surrounded by the birch and spruce of Alaska's boreal forest, the Folk School in Fairbanks teaches the centuries-old practice of weaving birch bark baskets. "The birch make lovely material," says Development Director Lori Hanemann. Students can also dig in at a woodworking class to carve bread bowls out of green-wood logs.
  • Montana's Glacier National Park encompasses more than 1 million acres, but the Glacier Institute's field workshops in close-up photography and nature sketching focus on intimate details: mosses, lichens, and flowers such as yellow lilies and purple fleabane. The institute also runs a Youth Adventure Series, in which budding artists learn to slow down and draw what they observe.

Photography by Bergreen Photography

This article was first published in Winter 2016. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.