I’ve lived in Chicago, and called it home for 15 years. I dig the city. Aside from the extreme flatness, I’ve found it to be very engaging. From the tremendously expansive skies, the magnificence of the lake it builds up to, it’s architectural significance, the food, the people, and even the weather. I stay pretty engage here. It has considerable extremes, big disparity in income and opportunities. The weather, not it’s biggest selling point, can be oppressively hot and stifling then shatteringly frigid. It’s a city that I’ve described as grand but not pretty. Large tracts of it could be said to be blunt. And wealth is evident. No surprise, city amenities and services follow the bucks. It was a big blue collar town but it has been developing more and more to the needs and nods of a white collar work force. The areas of this city that don’t have deep pockets can be quite brutal. In the 15 years I’ve lived here, and the 6 years prior to that during which I would come and visit my friend Tony Fitzpatrick, the city has seen very evident changes, not just in the profile and elevation of the city’s skyline, but in the taming of several rugged neighborhoods. A process some refer to as gentrification.
I will say that the previous administration made real effort to glamorize the urban experience in parts. And while in the minds of many, mine included, the previous mayor may have had a fondness for arboreal development, large floral planters along some of the boulevards, rooftop gardens and showy park improvements, he went out a cad for a truly miserable and suspect privatization of the city’s parking meters. His record on public schools was nothing to mention on a resume either. The dreadful misadventures of meters and schools aside, the city has some neighborhoods with real gracious amenities. And some sections of the city enjoy being extremely engaging and beautiful urban habitats. Might even call some areas pretty at long last. The campus of Loyola in Rogers Park has seen a remarkable turnaround from one of the country’s bleakest campuses to a thoughtful and more bucolic public space that takes full advantage of it’s choice lakeside plot.
Continuing to make extensive use of white on toned paper, be it the Pitt Big Brush Pen or White China Marker, sometimes combining both. I like laying one or both down as a base over which I can add color to spike it’s luminosity and achieve a cleaner hue. I do wish I could get a starker black on the toned paper. It seems to me that it softens or dulls the pitch thru absorption and contrast perhaps. Fountain pens don’t produce as crisp an edge in these books either.
I was walking about downtown St. Paul with artist Ken Avidor and we happened upon a police crime scene 1 block from the hotel I was staying at. We both drew the event and you can see the witness still sitting in the transit kiosk.
After we finished, we went back to Ken’s place to post the drawings on an Urban Sketchers’ site. I left there near midnight and returned to the hotel I was staying at where I showed the night front desk clerk the sketch. Turns out, a fellow connected with the event had snuck into the lobby and was hiding in the lobby balcony. The night clerk could here him wheezing and panting and then told him he had to leave, to which the fellow responded he wasn’t going back out because, “they were going to kill me”.
Woke early and drew, from my hotel room window, the transit kiosk where the victim, who made it to the hospital ER alive, collapsed.
Top drawing done with fountain pen, and Pitt Artist Pens in Molskine watercolor notebook.
Middle drawing, fp, PAP, and Pitt Artist Pen white in a Strathmore toned sketchbook.
Bottom drawing, fp filled with Noodlers Ottoman Blue and PAPs in Moleskine.
I grew up in pretty suburbs and the bucolic residential neighborhoods of places like Phoenix. Arizona, Lakewood, Washington, Ridgewood, N.J., Monterey, California,Camp Springs, Md., Austin, Texas. And I do like trees and gardens and sweet bungalows and St. Augustine grass. But man, something about the grit , scale, and muscularity of large urban environments has always held magnetic appeal for me. There’s the dynamic, move over and make room way that cities evolve. Some subs just have a plow-it-under and drop-it- down- from-the-sky development, that plans from the outset to organize and control everything. The excitement of seeing a grand scheme have to yield to new needs while hanging on to previous requirements and cherished attributes, creates a scenario that realizes in concrete, steel, asphalt, glass, and landscapes the dynamic influx on new arrivals and migratory populations that are our life blood as a society.
The scene above was drawn up on the loading platform at Ashland, Cortland, and Clybourne, while I waited for a Metra commuter train to Rockford College, and the variety of architectural texture that is offered from the 360 degree view up on that platform is one big reason I live in a rust belt behemoth of a city.
These were drawn in a Stillman & Birn watercolor spiral sketch pad with fountain pen filled with Platinum Carbon Ink, Pitt Artist Pens, and F-C water soluble graphite pencils.
Okay, I spent a butt load of time in coffee shops. I rarely drink the stuff. Have in the past. That and horse troughs full of hot chocolate. More so the later. But I’m largely a tea tipper now, and the green and herbal stuff at that. It got to where I was downing dairy farms of milk and wheel barrels of sugar. Now I sip my tea, draw, and watch others come in for the fix and to work on their spread. I’m already a touch hype so the heart just had too much fuel at a time where the only body part getting any exercise was my wrist.
Just making use of the Pitt Artist Pens and fountain pens w/ Platinum Carbon. Just a couple pages to go in this ledger book which has been an absolute gas to draw in.
I’ve been making observational drawings, urban sketches as some would describe them, for two plus decades. In the past, the practice served to cull ideas for paintings, or to record things of note as a way of keeping my own picture files. To grab an image because with my poor memory I knew I couldn’t depend on the ability to just recall something, even if I felt it was arresting at the time. I drew to study people, their anatomy and movement. To work on problems, i.e. the way hair behaves and catches light. Or the ability to quickly observe and record fleeting scenes and postures. I dread going to life drawing sessions and opening up with scads of the rapid poses. The 20, 40,and 60 second stuff; yet I give myself over quite happily to doing just that in public as I commute about the city or loiter in a cafe. Sometimes it’s for the reasons given above, but as often as not, it’s just because I love doing that. Looking, and drawing, and thinking.
I am going to have my work featured on The Scream On Line if I can ever make myself write a bio/statement. I’ve been dawdling and procrastinating about doing it for, I dunno, maybe a few months by now. It’s been 4 years since I’ve painted and tho I have worked on prints that are of a narrative nature, the bulk of what I’ve done with my time has been drawing out and about in public. Now a bit of that has been during my treks back and forth to work and on extended trips across the country during which I give demonstrations and lectures about drawing. So, many pages serve as journaling, and I have captured spontaneous events such as on-the-street police interrogations and was present on a fresh crime scene where a water main was geysering alongside a building after some perp had made off with the pipe cap. Drew that. I’ve drawn people at work, as I did in Tampa, of the gentleman who gave me a straight razor shave and the fellow who made my pizza. Many of my friends, collectors, and fellow artist know me as a guy who’ll mount a soapbox even when there’s no crowd to harangue. Suffering in silence doesn’t seem to be part of my DNA and venting, (with dependable frequency) almost seems as much an outcome of my parasympathetic system as peristalsis. Quite therapeutic to me at times and quite insufferable to those around me most times. All the “clown” paintings, drawings, and prints fell under this genre. That of venting. Thinking out loud if I can be fair to myself. Observations of my times and reflections on those observations as they may relate to other times. These came out as narrative like imagery and were quite different from the bulk of what I draw now. Gone are the 19th and 15th century references. Gone are the carnies and their bloody scrums with townies and brutal internecine wars. Gone for now are all the notes of financial mishugganuh and the portraits and caricatures of the public and political rogues who’ve played high profiled roles in the undoing of so many lives and fortunes.
But are they? Gone that is. All that grist I’d been milling for twenty some years. Six years ago the art market tanked after years where sales had buoyed my career among others. A couple years later, the banks started tottering and the housing market split it’s gut wide open. Huge layoffs saw scores people the very libraries and cafes I’d been loitering in, pouring down hot cocoa and pouring over the news and financial sections of the Wall Street Journal and The NYT. The unemployed found their way to the cafes and libraries where they worked on resumes, looked for jobs, encouraged and consoled each other, had interviews, talked to financial advisors about resolving mounting debt issues, read, slept, and drank coffee. Others took to airing out favorite beefs with no less restraint than the grouch writing this post. Bailing out the pirates who shocked the economy was a Siren song heard in just about any public haunt I could stumble into. The tug of war over immigration and hot button issues left and right could be heard gusting about any city I visited. Energy prices, mineral extraction, perpetual war, perpetual political campaigns….Jeez, I even got into it over Tea Party positions and striking Teachers Unions, standing track side, waiting for a train in a damn near empty town in northern New Mexico. I’ve managed to dodge many mud fights over the Arab uprisings, Gay marriage, class warfare, sequestration, presidential retreats on campaign assurances, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mack, North Korea,…..I’ll stop. Contentious times. Sitting in these cafes, restaurants, libraries, riding so much public transportation I do get wind of a lot of peoples issues. But I haven’t distilled all this journaling and drawing into resolved paintings or resolute images that encapsulate any zeitgeist. I’m just drawing them. My fellow citizens. Their woes and rewards in tack, they go about their days and I draw them. And I look to see if the drawings say anything in themselves about these citizens, most strangers, about how they’re bearing up under the times. I think that is an important and tricky thing to capture. Their bearing.
My father had been a very active and physically imposing man before marrying at age 30 and settling into a routine of child rearing, and long days behind a desk. Not one to complain much, he did admit to me when he was in his late 50′s and way over weight, that he hated his sedentary lifestyle. I am now in my late 50′s and have found myself years from any type of physically vigorous activity. I spend scads of hours each week sitting in cafes, on trains and buses, in parks and libraries and any number of public spaces drawing throngs of folks who are working on their spreads. Gyms have cropped up over the years and I now am about to break down and join one because I just don’t seem to incorporate a vigorous lifestyle with my practice of sitting about noodling in notebooks. Chicago has garnered a reputation as a city sporting one of this country’s most overweight populations. My friends in San Francisco walk all over that city, and often, and having joined them, I can attest to the demands of those hills. And though I do hike about this town a bit, the pancake terrain never seems to really put me through the gears.
I spend loads of hours each week drawing and many hours on a computer have continually inched up to the point where I’m seriously looking to raise my tables and work stations so I at least stand while drawing and working at the computer. I keep looking to see what it is I’m documenting with all the urban sketching that I do. Certainly I capture many, many people who are simultaneously connected while disconnected through the obsession of keeping tabs with their computers. I also see lots of consuming while hanging about. Guilty myself there. Since moving to Chicago, I have logged thousands of hours in cafes where I not only draw but where I made use of the available newspapers to get my news because I have such an aversion to just sitting on my ass at home and watching t.v. And during those months of Sundays spent in cafes I have washed down a congo line of wheel barrels filled with donuts, cinnamon buns, almond croissants, chocolate covered graham crackers, carrot cake, chocolate chess pies, chocolate cream pies, apple pies, coffee cake, chocolate cookies, shortbread cookies, peanut butter cookies, blueberry muffins, banana nut muffins, ( there hasn’t been a baked food item made that my tonsils haven’t wanted to meet) with a a tsunami of hot chocolate, mocha lattes, iced cappuccinos, way too many of them dolled up with bouffants of whipped cream. As much as I’ve been witness to flock behavior, I’ve borne witness and documented my lard ass life style. Now the internet has brought much to me in the way of information and imagery, as well as helping me keep touch with a network of friends scattered all over this hemisphere. One such person, who could been a virtual denizen of the matrix for all I know asI haven’t actually met him yet, is the fine artist Clive Powsey, whose life is anything but sedentary. Often when he paints and draws, he is standing to do so have sometimes hauled an easel out to capture part of the majestic Northwest where he lives. Many times each year he treks into the Canadian wilds to scale mountains. I’m finally looking to get the lead out and follow the healthier examples being set by some of my friends.
How do I get more time away from the damned computer though. At least while out drawing in public, I felt like I was one who had lifted his chin and was taking stock of what was around him. When I get home I bear more than a little likeness to the junkie in how I glide willingly or otherwise to the nouveau boob tube. Given the amount of porn on the internet it’s even more of an appropriate moniker. Having skipped the t.v. for a great many years, never watched “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley”, “Magnum P.I.”,”Jersey Shore”, “The Wheel of Fortune”, “WKRP in Cincinnati”, “Fraser”, “30 something”, “Mork and Mindy”, “Housewives…”, “The Weakest Link”, “Cheers”, “2 and 1 1/2 Men”, “Dynasty”, “Dallas”, “Six Feet Under”, “Family Ties”, “Lost”, “The Bachelor”, I do know that I’m somewhat culturally retarded. I did see an episode of the Sopranos and Seinfeld, and a few others just to get a sense of what I was missing but I just never took the bait. Not that some of them aren’t terrifically entertaining and some offer biting social commentary. It’s largely due to knowing I’m very visual with latent addictive tendencies and a teenage history of couch potatoism.
As a kid who lived in Turkey from the age of 12-14, I experienced a period of creative activity where I drew, built models, read stacks of books, and comics that later informed some of my drawing skills, and was out and about exploring the city with friends, finding no shortage of ways to direct pent up energy. All because I wasn’t glued to the tube. And while I love going to movies, no commercials, larger scale and a more intense experience, it’s over after the feature and away you go. Plus it gets one out into the city to take in the event.. And I love the city. I like drawing as I’m out and about. It does many things for me to sketch while observing. It prolongs the act of looking and it slows me down to focus, much more so than the honey bee like flitting about from one thing to the next. Plus I’m getting more adept at drawing as I take in my surroundings. I got to be very impatient with watching sports on t.v. Especially if I had nothing invested in the game, i.e. were my alma mata Longhorns of UT at war with a rival such as the Oklahoma Sooners? Even more so if it was professional sports. Here I was watching someone get good at what they did, plus make a ton of money, while I worked on the dent in my couch.
OK, so I have gotten better at a craft I very dearly love, and while I ain’t rich from it, it has put some food on the table. I guess you could say it has paid for some of the pastries and cocoa I’ve scarfed, but I lament that somehow, I’ve still managed to earn the fitness of a couch potato. Hence the halter monitor drawing of the previous post. You might ask, if I was to put myself in among my fellow citizens to document the way a significant portion of them spend their energies, was it necessary for me to blend in so much?