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.

28 thoughts on “CHICAGO 2015”

  1. Thanks again, dear Boy. Your latest text and beaut illus. have put Chicago on my bucket-list as well – yet again; you have long been urging me to put the place on my itinerary. My only connection with the town hitherto has been through the 2 or 3 pieces of mine that The University of Chicago’s journal CLASSICAL PHILOLOGY accepted in times past. Hope you and Julia had a bonza happy Christmas. Wendy and I did, with the Virginians et al., and were tickled to receive your hamper pressie (which we’re greedily working away at just between our two selves!). Thanks heaps for that, too. Love from us both, Dad

    • Dad, Glad to hear that you got the hamper. I realised after I sent them that everyone I sent them to probably wasn’t going to be at home over the Christmas break, So hopefully there were still a few edible things left in there by the time you got back home. Speaking of edible, thanks very much for the Rocky Road! That went over a treat, both nostalgically for me, and as something new for Julia.

    • yeah, I hear you. It can be an exhausting job and there isn’t any creative energy left at the end of the day. I have the opposite problem, as my skills/speed aren’t where they used to be, and I’m not working at all. So in my case it’s not only a love for drawing, I’m trying to get better so I can work again!

    • Thanks Marcello. Even though these drawings don’t feel familiar to me (it is weird drawing with my left hand) I am happy with my progress in the last year or so. My main problem now is my speed. As you know, as professional cartoonists our speed is almost more important than our ideas/skill

  2. James,

    If your left hand improvements are anything to go by it is only natural that you’ll pick up speed.
    I know I can’t begin to imagine just how difficult that would be but up until now your achievements have shown such great leaps of improvement.

    Keep it up man, btw, love your pachyderms.


  3. Tell ya what: you come out to the farm and mind the chooks for me, and I’ll go back to Chicago and check out that River Walk.

    Your sketches are still better than mine, y’bastard.

    Honored to be your friend, McLoinish

  4. its always a pleasure to see your work James. its like looking at a visual diary, its fun to share in your experiences. I am heading to Beijing to do development on some Chinese movies in a few months, you should come over for a visit once i am settled, bring your pencil.


    • Thanks Steve. I have posts going back to 2001 and you’re right, it is a kind of handy diary. You should definitely do some sketching in when in China. In fact, I was looking through a bunch of old sketches I did there in 1987. I may post a nostalgic reminiscence here in the blog sometime soon.

  5. Nice. Wonderful, as usual, Jamie. Sounds like a nice stroll. Windy though, right? That’s a Chicago cliche´ I’ve always found to be true.

    Not too much about FOOD, though. Ugg, that awful “deep dish pie”. You should write a culinary city tour someday. I remember your description of Chicago food as either white (mayo) or red (bloody meat).

    And don’t those crazy micks dye their river green?

    • Yes they do, they dye the river green, and that deep dish pizza you mentioned is dyed green too, and all the pubs serve green beer on St Pat’s day, and the sidewalks are dyed with green puke the morning after. Perhaps that association is why Chicagoans avoid eating their greens at any other time of year.

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