Heiner Hertling works Aug. 31 near the lake at Kensington Metropark. He organized the group almost 20 years ago.

Heiner Hertling works Aug. 31 near the lake at Kensington Metropark. He organized the group almost 20 years ago.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Art is sparked by the setting

By: Linda Shepard | C&G Newspapers | Published September 11, 2019

 Ed Kennedy, of Dexter, painted this scene.

Ed Kennedy, of Dexter, painted this scene.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

  In addition to painting outside all year, the Great Lakes Plein Air Painters Association offers a chance to socialize for Tim O’Keefe, of Commerce Township, and Lisa Richter, of Bingham Farms.

In addition to painting outside all year, the Great Lakes Plein Air Painters Association offers a chance to socialize for Tim O’Keefe, of Commerce Township, and Lisa Richter, of Bingham Farms.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

METRO DETROIT — Nature and architecture are rich sources of inspiration for plein air painters and urban sketchers.

The Great Lakes Plein Air Painters Association meets every Saturday at Kensington Metropark in Oakland County.

“It is great to be outside and paint with other people,” said artist Lisa Richter, of Bingham Farms. “You can never work well from a photograph — you can’t see shadows. Working outdoors informs how you work in a studio. You understand color better, and it is a peaceful experience.”

The group is led by Heiner Hertling, of Milford Township, whose television show, “Your Brush with Nature,” is currently available for view on Amazon Prime Video. Hertler was inspired to organize the group in 2000, after leading a plein air workshop with friends in Colorado.

“We had so much fun, we said, ‘Let’s keep this up, keep meeting and painting together,’” Hertling said. “Then it grew. There is no club, no membership or dues. Anybody can join in. Just show up or don’t show up.”

Richter also paints with Plein Air Troupe, which meets on Wednesdays at various locations in metro Detroit. “Anyone who likes to paint outdoors usually belongs to several groups,” she said.

Katie Bates, of Royal Oak, is the founding member of Urban Sketchers Detroit, a group she formed last January.

“Urban sketching is — just draw what you see on location,” Bates said. “Go outside and draw a farmhouse, a street, a market, a church, people and buildings.”

Urban Sketchers Detroit meets monthly at indoor and outdoor sites in Detroit. Locations have included the Guardian Building, Belle Isle and the under-renovation Michigan Central Station via a collaboration with the Ford Motor Co.

Bates said urban sketching is less formal than easel work. “It is about a feeling about the place,” she said. “If you want photo-realistic art, take a photo.”

Each group welcomes people of all skill levels.

“You will find all mediums represented in these groups,” Richter said. Plein air artists use oil and acrylic paints, watercolors, and pencils. “All levels are welcome. You can come out with just a camp chair and sketchbook,” she said.

“A lot of (urban sketchers) work in watercolors, pencil, colored pencil or pen,” Bates said. “You can use crayons. You are not limited. Use simple, portable supplies that help you capture the impressions of a place.”

Plein Air Troupe meets weekly from spring through fall. Urban Sketchers Detroit and the Great Lakes Plein Air Painters Association meet year-round.  

“We went to the Guardian Building on a Sunday in the winter. It was empty,” Bates said. “We met indoors and focused on the building’s architectural details. Some people bring children — they have interesting sketches. It is a fun way to get outside your comfort zone.”

Year-round outdoor painting has benefits and challenges, Hertling said.  

“It is fun to have everything in full bloom, but summer gets old — there is too much green,” he said. “Fall is fun, when the colors come in, and then there is the first snowfall. Snow covers all the ugly stuff. Then there is spring.”

Richter said outdoor watercolor artists mix their paint with vodka to keep it from freezing during the winter months.

All of the groups are open and free. Many of the participants meet for lunch after painting to talk about their work. “This is not a lesson. It is just painting,” Hertling said. “It is fun.”

For more information about plein air painting, visit glpapa.com and pleinairtroupe.com. Find more information about Urban Sketchers Detroit at instagram.com/uskdetroit.