In summer of 2015, Julia and I went to Chicago to visit her family and enjoy that great city. We both did a lot of sketching on that trip, but I only just scanned mine recently and here they are.
Julia’s Sister and Brother in Law were attending an out of town wedding and we volunteered to hang with their two boys while mum & dad were away. This was a great excuse for Julia to spend quality time with her nephews and visit some of her old Chicago haunts. Together with Julia’s mum and nephews, we stayed at a hotel on Michigan Avenue for a few days of exploring Chicago’s fabulous downtown. A highlight of our trip was a visit to The Art Institute (across the street from where Julia got her own art education at The American Academy of Art). The only doodle I managed at The Art Institute was of the cafe courtyard (above) while eating lunch. The next day, while the others were running about hither and thither, I sketched another courtyard, an oasis of quiet just steps away from bustling busy Michigan Avenue (below).
Then it was back to the South Side to welcome Julia’s sister and brother in law home from Mexico. Julia and I met some of her college cronies for drinks, and I was able to hook up with my fave Chicagoan, Jon McClenahan, an early animation mentor of mine who became a lifelong friend. Jon recently left the animation biz to run a farm in Missouri, but as luck would have it he was back on Chicago’s South Side while Julia I were there, and it was great to see him again. Julia’s sister and brother in law then surprised us with a few nights in a super swanky hotel by the Chicago River back downtown, which gave us the chance to visit the wonderful Field Museum.
My first time in Chicago was early 1989 when I lived downtown at Jon McClenahan’s Startoons Studio (before it later moved to the South Side). After Jon and his studiomate (illustrator John Hayes) had knocked off each day and gone home, I’d simply sleep in the studio on a couch and it was then that I fell in love with exploring Chicago, wandering about on evenings and weekends. Till then, the only US cities I’d experienced were Los Angeles and San Francisco, but Chicago was the first time I’d visited a city that matched the fabled American City I’d had in my mind’s eye since childhood. Elevated railways clattered through streets while clouds of steam emanated from beneath from the sidewalks, distinctive water towers atop the buildings.. you’d look up and almost expect to see Batman leaping about the gothic skyscraper spires as you chewed on your bratwurst. I’d seen such views in comic books and movies and TV shows since I was little, and here they were in person at last.
One recent improvement to the downtown since my first days in Chicago is The Riverwalk. I’m not sure why it took Chicago so long to realise what a wonderful urban leisure space was hidden in plain sight, but glad that the realisation finally came. Perhaps some Chicago city planner saw the beautiful walks along The Seine, or Portland’s own lovely riverwalk, and thought ‘we can do that too.’ By adding pontoons and landscaping the riverbank, the Chicago River is transformed into a winding park of relaxing coffee shops and eating spots away from, and yet close to, the bustling energy of the ‘City That Works‘, just a staircase away.
Julia and I spent a few days just lazily walking the Riverwalk and stopping to sketch views from the riverbank and drink coffee and/or grab a mimosa as we saw fit. The weather was perfect and many people were enjoying the river; canoeing, taking architecture tours (as we ourselves had done) or lounging on the decks of their powerboats. The Riverwalk has been opening section by section over the past few years, with more sections still planned, and the most recently opened section was where our hotel was conveniently located.
It was pleasant to have enough free-and-lazy time to get more than our typical amount of sketches done. Simply sitting and chatting while drawing lazily for an hour or two, before getting up and walking to a new location where we’d go through the cycle again. The sketchbook I used for these drawings was about half as small as the sketchbook I was using previously, which necessitated that I work even more loosely and in a way this was good for me. The drawings were pretty squiggly, and in some cases would be almost indecipherable to anyone but me, but a few simple watercolour washes helped clarify the scenes.
Chicago is a wonderfully picturesque place and is one of my favourite American cities. I look forward to visiting it again sometime soon.