Plein Air Painting around Woodstock

Here in Woodstock, in the Catskill Mountain region, the season has started for plein air painting and the local artists are already making plans and making trips.

After the storm, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches, Wilson State Park

How to Go:

In addition to just setting out alone, French easel and umbrella in tow, there are plenty of programs available if you want company or guidance. Two important ones to consider are:

Woodstock School of Art offers a slew of different plein air workshops and weekends for artists who want to learn new techniques or just paint under the aegis of a professional. The workshops are well worth the money, and the website is definitely worth visiting! Go to

Palenville Paint Out, June 27-28. Palenville is a small village north of Woodstock, approaching the High Catskill territory. It offers a weekend of plein air painting plus “hidden galleries” selling art. This is an annual event that many local artists are drawn to. The town supplies a small canvas (5×7 or 8×10) and the art is sold online (for $100, 50% going to the town).

Of course there are plenty of private places—the farms and backyards of local people whom you might know or get to know. But there are also plenty of publicly available locations, which offer a range of visitor facilities (from excellent to none at all) and have the added benefit of giving the painter independence of movement. (Painting in your friend’s sister’s back yard always has strings attached, and outstaying your welcome is also a risk).

Where to Go:

Here is a brief list of the best publicly available areas for plein air painting in the Woodstock area, that I’m aware of. There may be (probably are) more. Although I’ve visited all of these locations, I haven’t painted at all of them, not yet…

Catskill Summer - 7x5 - oil on board (Ashokan Reservoir, Jul 2014)

The Ashokan Reservoir is perhaps the crowning glory of all the Catskill plein air locations, with stunning mountains, a huge pristine lake and glorious weather effects. There is a three mile footpath along the reservoir open to the public, and where painters can set up easels. But be aware that cyclists, walkers and hikers are common. You are not in the wilderness here. Just in the center of some glorious scenery. Parking for the footpath is off Rt 28A at Oliveira.

Hidden Woods - 14x11 - ink & pastel on paper (Catskills, near Onteora Lake Dec 2015)


Bluestone Wild Forest is a hidden gem. Although locally well known, few artists seem aware of it. It is tucked away behind the string of gourmet eateries and shops on Route 28 about three miles out of Kingston. There is a car park with portapotties and maps about half a mile into the park, plus parking is available off Rt 28 outside. The “interior” car park is close to Onteora Lake, which is a natural, glacial lake (unlike the man-made Ashokan reservoir).When you walk the hiking trails in the woods you see outcroppings from old quarries mined in the 19th century, and they add to the sense of being in lost forest and wilderness here.

Cooper Lake is one of the most popular venues for local plein air painters. Mary Anna Goetz set her DVD on plein air painting (A Fieldguide to Landscape Painting) on the shores of this lake. (the DVD is well worth watching). You can get onto the lake’s footpath from Cooper Lake Road, which starts in Bearsville off the Wittenberg Road.

Zena Sawkill Blues - 11 x 14 - oil on canvas (June 2014)


The Sawkill River meanders around the entire Woodstock/Bearsville area (defining the very shape of downtown Woodstock). Like Bluestone, it provides good views of a more sheltered woodland kind, as well as rapids and running water. The streamside footpath from Zena Road is a popular destination, and gives the wanderer that sense of wilderness the Catskills are famous for. But the river is so ubiquitous in the area, there are plenty of other places—including the center of Woodstock itself– to catch its water falls, rapids, and meanderings.

thorn Preserve in September - 10x8 - oil on canvas (Catskill Thorn Preserve, Sept 2014)

The Thorn Preserve off John Joy Road is a large collection of fields and open land offering good open views, distant hills and interesting trees. It is less well known than the Zena Cornfield (off Zena Road), and is less visited, so if you’re looking for solitude Thorn would probably be the better choice.

The Zena Cornfield is a famous local site that was the first of now many local spots that are under preservation by the Woodstock Land Conservancy. Like the Thorn Preserve, it is a large open field with some stunning mountain views. Note that there are no facilities at either of these locations.

Wilson State Park is hands down my favorite local public venue. It has everything—mountains, a big lake, streams, fields, marshes, and excellent public facilities. They include a sheltered picnic area. If it rains, you can continue painting under cover! Also, because this park requires a small fee to enter, it tends to be quiet, with visitors there for same reason as you—love of nature and landscape, or fishing in the lake. During the week it is usually pretty empty, so it makes for a great uninterrupted all-day painting venue.