“Artist Naturalist” Michael Sherman creates connections through art

Inspired by his heritage and the natural environment, vibrant watercolors and detailed drawings are characteristic features of mid-Michigan artist Michael “Mike” Sherman’s creations.


As a second-grade student taking an art class in the 1960s, Sherman was determined to be a great artist. He went on to study illustration at Northern Michigan University and then pursue a master’s degree in guidance and counseling.

But Sherman, who now works in human services as a counselor for the State of Michigan with the Michigan Rehabilitation Services, says that it wasn’t until he was involved in a car accident in the 1990s that he felt motivated to refocus on his art.


“I wasn't hurt but it shook me up,” says Sherman. “I went back to my artwork then and I found out that drawing, painting, and nature was exactly what I needed. It really set something in me that I've been working on ever since.”


Sherman who self-describes as an “Artist Naturalist” due to his diverse interest in nature, says that he likes to create work that reflects people’s history and much of his work combines his love of nature with structures such as an old building or barn.


“Plants, animals, insects, trees, almost anything in nature, or nature slowly taking back what people have created, I enjoy that,” says Sherman. “I also like to paint things that touch people's memories, kind of nostalgic in that way.”


Sherman, originally from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. He moved to Mt. Pleasant in 1998 following his divorce to be closer to his children after his wife returned to Central Michigan.


“At first I was really missing the western upper peninsula with the woods, Lake Superior, and all the other rugged terrain,” says Sherman. “But I've come to absolutely love this area, particularly western Isabella County. With the Amish farms, the glacial moraines, the hills, and just that variety, I absolutely love it and it's become my preferred landscape to paint.”


To create his artwork, Sherman says that often he does a light graphite sketch on the paper and then paints on top of it using transparent watercolor. By not using opaque paint such as white, this technique helps preserve the whiteness of the paper.


“Transparent watercolor lets light shine through the pigment and then the light bounces back to the viewer, giving the painting a luminous quality,” says Sherman. “I choose watercolor because I find that medium is closest to what goes on in nature itself. For instance, how the water and light interact with the pigments in the paper, it’s very similar to what you see with rain, clouds, sunshine, and with the density of the earth.”


Sherman says that he tends to use Arches paper to create his artwork, which is made in France and comes in a variety of textures.

“I tend to do a lot of work in the field, so the paper may get dirty and splattered on, and it can hold up to all of that,” says Sherman. “I choose kind of a medium texture because it reflects light better. Essentially, the bumps in the paper will catch some pigment and other surfaces won't and so you get a kind of sparkling reflective look into the painting, or a rough textured look, that you can't get that with smooth paper.”


Sherman spends much of his free time creating art, but says that he plans to pursue his art full time following his retirement.


“I’ve got my studio set up and I work whenever there’s light,” says Sherman. “I can work pretty fast, I've been doing this for a lot of years, but as I will be retiring in a couple of years this will be able to take over completely.”


To see more of Sherman’s work or to purchase artwork through his online store, visit his website at artistnaturalist.com.


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Read more articles by Liz Fredendall.

Liz Fredendall is a photojournalist and communications professional with experience working with nonprofits. In addition to her work with Epicenter, Liz manages communications for the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, runs her own photography business, and writes for several publications. During her free time, Liz enjoys reading and exploring with her husband Erick and their Corgi, Nori. Contact editor@epicentermtpleasant.com or follow her on social media @lizfredendallphoto.