chicago, chicago

Chicago Hydrants 1 & 2

Guess what we did in our Spring Break? That’s right, we went to the amazing city of Chicago, my first ever trip there (my wife had been a couple of decades or so ago). I’ve wanted to see Chicago for ages, I know quite a few urban sketchers up that way, though this being a fairly brief trip I didn’t have a lot of time to see if there were any sketching events. Still, I sketched wherever I could. Being mostly on the go and on the way elsewhere, many were ‘draw outline, finish later’, such as the one below. But I had to draw some hydrants of course, and on the first morning, still full to the brim from my first experience of Chicago Deep Dish Pizza the night before, I got up for a walk in the cold along the river (in the shadow of that massive tower with “TRUMP” on the side of it, that gets in the way of every photo) (despite that name, architecturally quite an interesting design though), and found some hydrants to sketch. Chicago, “that toddlin’ town” as Tony Bennett sang, is a pretty tall city. Our first bit of exploring took us on a walk down to the “Bean” as it’s called by locals, or “Cloud Gate” as it’s actually called, that big shiny sculpture that reflects and bends its surroundings, as drawn by every single urban sketcher that has been to Chicago ever. It was pretty cold, and it started to snow while I stood there. So I just drew the outline, and the people in front, and left all those windows for later on, because I’m not nuts. Although it took me several goes to draw all those windows, because I just kept getting bored. And yes, I counted them as I went along, I think I got them all. Don’t bother checking. I was really interested in the reflection though, all those people that looked like ants. If they were ants, they would be making a single-file line up the street to the Nutella Cafe, because as we discovered recently, determined ants do love Nutella and will do what they can to get in there (we have to keep our jar of Nutella in a bigger airtight jar now). We moved along and explored that side of town a bit more, discovered an interesting bookshop in the Fine Arts Building that specialized in music books (I bought a cool little book on Belle and Sebastian), and then walked past the start of the old Route 66 into the downtown Loop area, before having lunch at the Berghoff, which might be the oldest restaurant in Chicago. The snow was coming down in light flurries.

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I mentioned that we had eaten Deep Dish Pizza, proper Chicago style, the night before, and we would still be full from that for the next several days. The place we had it was as Chicago as it gets, Pizzeria Uno, about a block from our hotel. It’s called the “Birthplace of Deep Dish Pizza”, pizza-in-the-pan, invented by the owner Ike Sewell, and that really took off. The sign said that this was the first pizzeria in North America. I always believe what I read in restaurants, but this was a pretty cool old place. I didn’t know exactly what to expect from Deep Dsh, I thought it might be something like a very thick pizza dough, or maybe like stuffed crust pizza you get at Pizza Hut. I couldn’t be wider of the mark. You know when Americans say “Pizza Pie”, well this is more like an actual pie. The crust is thick and goes right up the metal side of the pan it comes in, and it is filled with so much cheese, tomato and veggies that it was more like a savory trifle than what I think of as a pizza. I am glad we asked what size to get beforehand, they actually recommended my wife and I share a small, while my son got a personal size. We didn’t finish our small, it was so deep! The boneless chicken wings were pretty nice as an appetizer, and I had a couple of super tasty local beers called “Deep Dish Daddy”. A little further up the street is Pizzeria Due, the second location of this popular pizzeria, and around the corner from that is Su Casa, a Tex-Mex restaurant opened by Sewell a little later. We ate there on our last night in Chicago, when we had the tornado. That’s not the name of a dish or a drink, it was an actual tornado. We were sat in there eating enchiladas and drinking a margarita, when suddenly everyone’s phones in the restaurant went off at once, there was a large tornado hitting the region soon with destructive winds of about 90 miles per hour, so everyone needs to get safe. We went back to the hotel, not in any rush, but by the time we got upstairs and watched the news, boy was it stormy outside. There were a few tornadoes that passed by the area just to the south of Chicago, passing into Indiana, and one hot a suburb of Chicago taking the rook off of a concert hall and killing one person inside, injuring several more. It didn’t last too long, but it was pretty strange weather. On that day, the temperature was about 25-30 degrees warmer than the previous day, so something was up. Chicago weather, man, you’re at the Great Lakes, you’re in the Midwest.

Chicago Pizzeria Uno

But back to Day One. It was very cold, and when the snow stopped and the sun started coming out, it got colder still. Way colder in fact. We spent a bit of time walking about the amazing Chicago downtown, admiring all the grand Gotham City architecture, before having lunch at The Berghoff, which is “Chicago’s Oldest Restaurant” (I will honestly believe anything a sign in a restaurant tells me), and was opened in 1898 by German Herman Berghoff, selling beers for a nickel, with a free side sandwich. The Berghoff is known for its very German fare, which is what appealed to me, as we love the schnitzels and the spaetzle. Especially the spaetzle, my wife’s grandma from Bavaria used to make that, delicious. After Prohibition, The Berghoff was the first bar to get a liquor license (thanks for the info, restaurant website!), so it was fun to spend a bit more time in another historic bit of Chicago. I sketched from across the street after we ate, while my son and wife went back to the hotel to rest and warm up. In the afternoon, we took the architectural boat tour, a must for Chicago visitors. It was so cold, but at least we had clear blue skies to see all the ridiculously tall buildings. Chicago built them very, very tall. The biggest is Sears Tower – sorry, Willis Tower, but don’t worry about calling it the wrong thing, Chicago people call it what they want. It used to be the tallest building in the world. I folded my arms and looked up at it and said, “What you talkin’ about, Willis?”, because I am a dad in his forties and that is what we do. We nearly went up it but the wait was a bit long so we thought sod it. It’s very, very tall though. It was like standing next to Barad-Dur.

Chicago The Berghoff

I’ll post the other Chicago sketches another day. The last one here was the first one of the trip, sketched in my little red Stillman and Birn book, the obligatory in-travel sketch of the airplane. We flew from Sacramento to Chicago Midway. Nuff said.

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quick people

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And now for something completely different. I went to a small gathering of sketchers (there were two of them) who had posted on the Let’s Draw Davis page (it is still going! But I’ve not organized one for ages, due to busy weekends) that there would be a quick people-sketching session at the NAtsouals Gallery in Davis that sketchers could go to. Each person would take five minutes exactly to hold a pose while the other sketchers drew them. Well, I did write a book called Five Minute People Sketching, mostly because I find it hard to spend more than five minutes sketching a person, so this was good practice for me. Stuff like this allows me to play around a bit more than I usually would. I pulled out an old pocket-sized Stillman & Birn Alpha book that I’d not actually drawn in since 2017, and sketched in both my usual brown pen and those black Nero pencils that I got from the Symposium a few years ago, both the soft and hard versions. I used a bit of watercolour to add in some tones.

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