my name is Sue, how do you do

Chicago Sue T-Rex sm

A great sketcher once said (and it was Lapin, by the way) that every sketchbook needs two things – a dinosaur, and an old car. Sketchbook #45 has those things now, after we visited the Field Museum in Chicago, an incredible collection which is chock full of dinosaurs. (I already drew an old car at the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento) I missed out on going to the Urban Sketching Symposium in Chicago in 2017 (I had just been promoted, and felt it would be a good idea to stick around and learn stuff in that first month on the job), so I missed Lapin’s workshop “Groarrr!” which took place at the Field Museum, drawing Sue, the enormous Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton that is the highlight of the collection, as well as being pretty much the most complete T-Rex skeleton in the world. Plus it’s called Sue, so I had Johnny Cash in my head the whole time. “My name is Sue! How do you do! Now you gonn’ die!” I also briefly had the theme tune to The Sooty Show in my head, thinking of the silent cheekiness of Sooty, the mischievous squeak of Sweep, and the bossy voice of Soo, the only one who could use real words, if you don’t count Matthew who was a real human and now a hand puppet, or at least so we are led to believe (did you ever see his legs?). People who didn’t grow up in Britain will have no idea what I’m talking about, but I did imagine Sue the T-Rex talking in that voice, saying “izzy wizzy let’s get busy”. Never mind all of these pop culture ramblings, it has been a busy week. If you want to learn some actual stuff about Sue the T-Rex, you can visit the Field Museum website: We don’t know if Sue was a boy dinosaur or a girl dinosaur (insert an Ian Malcolm quote from Jurassic Park here) but they were named after Sue Hendrickson, who discovered the dinosaur in 1990 in South Dakota. The light in there kept going dark, for mood and storytelling, which made sketching a little tricky.

Chicago Triceratops sm

The first dinosaur I drew though was the nemesis of the T-Rex, the heroic Triceratops. I always imagine Triceratops as a Captain America type figure, fighting the big meat-eaters for hours, looking up and saying “I can do this all day”. In the books Triceratops would always be locked in battle with the Tyrannosaur, its large parrot beak, rock solid neck shield, and the horns of both a rhino and a yak, like who designed this creature, a four year old? Triceratops is nevertheless a design classic, really hard to beat. Parasaurolophus and Styracosaurus have pretty amazing heads, but Triceratops is beautiful. I sat on a bench with my son and drew the whole thing, a good spot to rest the legs after looking at so many dinosaurs already.

Chicago Field Museum 033123 sm

I did this sketch above while they were resting again a bit later, watching a school orchestra play some music from the movies (not Jurassic Park) in the main hall of the museum. Hanging above in the foreground is a model of the enormous flying prehistoric beast Quetzalcoatlus, which I’m not going to say is an ugly dinosaur, but is no Triceratops. It’s no Pteranodon either. It was gigantic though, you would not want this thing pecking away at your plane’s cockpit (spoiler alert for one of the Jurassic World movies, which was not very good). I should point out, Jurassic Park is one of my favourite films of all time, and I adored the book as well. It is for me nothing short of a perfect film. I quite liked the follow ups, the Lost World and Jurassic Park 3, though now I think about it Jurassic Park 3 was not actually very good. Jurassic World…well, I’ll say it was enjoyable, I guess. A nice idea, but not a re-watcher, and the characters were completely irritating. The follow up, Jurassic World Volcano Wars I think it was called, was utterly diabolical, and there was nothing whatsoever of interest, but I did watch it on a small airplane screen so no huge loss. The last one, Jurassic World Dumpster Divers or something, we actually went to a movie theatre and paid actual dollars to see, and the universe is never giving me back that five and a half hours or however long it was. It was advertised as having the original three back in it, and back in it they indeed were, and Jurassic Park it was not. Jurassic World Dominion made Jurassic Park 3 look like The Godfather Part 2. I’m not going to say it was the worst film I have ever seen (because I have watched The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Hour Long Sequels) but you know when you like apples and you eat all the different apples, but you eat one apple that tastes so disgusting and makes you want to vomit, that while it doesn’t put you off eating apples completely, it does make you much less likely to want to eat an apple afterwards, to the point where you just give up eating apples and eat cereal instead. Well that was the last Jurassic World film and movies in general for me. But you know, you should watch it, don’t take my word for it.

Chicago Michigan and Wacker sm

I could have spent all day in the Field Museum, learning and sketching, but we moved along, and headed for the Nutella Cafe. We decided to skip the Art Institute, due to Museum Fatigue, though my wife did go there on our final morning in Chicago and the pictures she took of all the very famous artworks made me wish I had actually gone. Next time! Instead, on our last morning I stayed at the hotel with my son, before heading out to do one last sketch, down at Michigan and Wacker. It’s a bit of an unfinished sketch, but I decided this time not to bother going in later and drawing all those windows, because you know, you get the idea. Tribune Tower (on the right) is an architectural masterpiece, containing stones from famous buildings from all over the world, which is actually a bit weird but ok.

Right, Top Five things I would like to do next time I’m in Chicago:

  1. Listen to The Blues. I never got to go to any of Chicago’s famous Blues clubs, like Kingston Mines, or one of the other ones. I will admit, I’m not exactly a massive Blues afficionado. I like it, but not as much as I want to like it. But Blues in Chicago? That I want to see. I want to be somewhere in Chicago watching some old Blues player carve riffs out of a big Gretsch, taking in the whole atmosphere, so that all I want to do is get home and play Blues riffs until my fingers hurt.
  2. Art Institute. As mentioned, I decided to sketch in the street instead of actually see some great art. That might have been a mistake, or maybe I was just saying to myself, no I’ll do that next time. They have Van Goghs, Picassos, they have that American Gothic painting, and Nighthawks by Hopper! My mate Roshan had that as a poster.
  3. Watch some Improv. I never got to to go any of Chicago’s famous Improv clubs, like The Second City, or one of the other ones. I will admit, I’m not exactly a massive Improv afficionado. I like it, but not as much as I want to like it. But Improv in Chicago? That I want to see. I want to be somewhere in Chicago watching some old Improv actor carve witty lines out of a big Suggestion, taking in the whole atmosphere, so that all I want to do is get home and improvise until my fingers hurt.
  4. Have a different Deep Dish Pizza. I really liked the one at Pizzeria Uno, as described in a previous post, but I would like to try some other places, maybe get some local suggestions.
  5. Wrigley Field. I never got to to go any of Chicago’s famous baseball parks, like Wrigley Field, or one of the other ones. I will admit, I’m not exactly a massive baseball afficionado. (Okay, I’m not doing that again.) I do like a ballpark, but even I know Wrigley Field is pretty special and historic, and there’s nothing more American than going to an ancient baseball stadium,, taking in the whole atmosphere, so that all I want to do is get home and swing a baseball bat until my fingers hurt (I literally never want to do that after watching baseball).

There is one other thing I’d do next time, that’s get in touch with some of the Chicago Urban Sketchers I know, such as Don Colley, who is pretty amazing. I thought about contacting some to see if they wanted to go and sketch an old bar some night, but this was a family trip and I knew I’d be cream-crackered too. I am tempted by the Chicago Sketch Seminar this July, although it’s very soon after another trip I’m taking, and I’m sure I’d be too tired. But it does look really fun.

Chicago MDW people 1 sm Chicago MDW people 2 sm Chicago MDW people 3 sm

Ok, so we then went to the airport, where we waited for hours and hours for our plane to deign to take off. We spent so long at that damned airport, and I hate airports at the best of times. So I sketched people again, in my little red sketchbook. That was pretty boring. We played a lot of Super Mario Kart 8 on the Switch, I had bought a new Switch Lite before the trip as the battery in the old one was utterly dead. We were exhausted, and it was going to be a long flight if we ever got on a plane. I don’t know why Southwest was delayed so much, but it wasn’t Tornadoes, they all happened the night before. Anyway, get on a plane we eventually did, so I had to do one last in-flight sketch. Until next time Chicago! I always fantasized about doing that thing where you take the Amtrak train for several days across the country, watching America on ground level as it gradually changes, waking up in far-flung cities or small-town America, but after spending four hours in Midway airport and getting bored out of my head, I think spending three days in a train seat might be enough to make me just get a plane back. But Chicago was damn cool, and I’ll be back.

MDW - SMF 040123 sm

Chicago high and low

Chicago Skyline from Hancock

I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t finished. And you’re right, this was all I could sketch at the time. I might have finished it later, but I didn’t. It’s the sort of view I might do a drawing of, on a bigger piece of paper, to test my drawing patience, but this one was drawn pretty quickly from the 94th floor of the John Hancock Building (sorry, it’s not called that any more), which might not be the tallest of Chicago’s big skyscrapers, but it was still pretty damn high up. The view made my knees go all trembly. That slightly wobbly line, that be the horizon, that be the eye level. So you can see that the two taller buildings in this view are the Sears Tower (sorry, the Willis Tower) and the Trump tower (yep, still called that). Our hotel room on the 16th floor was low down and quaintly street level by comparison. It was down there somewhere, we could see it. On the same observation deck there was this ‘ride’ where the windows would move outward from the building so that you appear to be hanging suspended over the city. Needless to say, I didn’t do that. The view didn’t look quite real. Buildings that had towered so far above us at street level as to be hard to grasp, were now some way below us. It was a bit like when I’d play Spider-Man on the PS4, except nothing like it. That is a great game by the way, as is the Miles Morales follow-up. When I’d sketched just about enough, we got the elevator down.

Chicago Kinzie St Bridge

We did spend some time up at Lincoln Park, going to the Zoo, eating the most incredible corn dogs, wandering about a bit looking for a record store my guide book had told me was amazing (only to discover it had closed a while ago; well of course it had, a record store, in 2023? Why it’s next to the penny farthing store, just past the monocle repair shop). So we got the ‘L’ (the Elevated train) back downtown, feeling very much like we were in the Chicago from the films. One of our favourite films set in Chicago is High Fidelity, the one with John Cusack from about 2000. For me and my wife, that film may well be responsible for our whole relationship (to paraphrase the film). Well sort of; we both talked about it a lot when we first met, so I lent her the Nick Hornby book (set in north London of course) which was one of my favourites, and then we started going out. So it kinda is, actually. We were therefore excited to see sights we had seen in the film, such as the Kinzie Street Bridge, sketched above. It was about a 15 minute walk or so from our hotel, and I remember it in the film when Cusack’s character Rob was giving some monologue to the camera, although I think there were fewer big glassy buildings behind it then. When my wife and son went back to the hotel, I stayed to draw the bridge. I was listening to a fascinating Chicago history podcast, several episodes about how things in Chicago have often changed their names, and despite said things only being named something for a relatively short time, locals would refuse to call it by its new name for many decades longer than it had the original name. A bit like people who keep saying ‘Baby Yoda’ instead of ‘Grogu’. I did learn a lot about Chicago’s history and places though, and wished I had a lot more time to explore, but I would probably get tired, and like that record store, the places I’d be looking for might already be gone. Story of my life. Still I was very happy to have some mild weather for a moment to spend time drawing a bridge.

Chicago Theatre sign sm

These next few are from the afternoon of the next day. I have some others from the morning of the next day, but those involve dinosaurs and I’ll post those next time. We found the big Chicago Theater with its bright red sign, and I stuck around to sketch it. Eventually it started raining, so I stood under some shelter and sketched Chicago people in my little book, using a brush pen. As I sketdched, one lad came up to me and asked if I had a disability. I laughed, strange question, no I just like to draw in the street. It turns out he was asking about the way I hold my pen. Ah. No, always done that, but thanks for asking, I guess. I mostly drew people coming out of the Metra station (yes that’s ‘Metra’, not ‘Metro’, that’s basically the Subway).

Chicago people 1 sm Chicago people 4 sm Chicago People 3 sm Chicago people 2 sm

I also drew this fire hydrant, a few blocks away beneath the L. Standing under the ironwork of the L, with the train rumbling above me and the traffic rushing by beneath, I really felt like I was in Chicago like you’d imagine it. Not far from here there are those busy roads that are just underground, beneath the other roads, that make me think of the Fugitive, which we had watched not long before our trip.

Chicago Hydrant 3 sm

Before heading home, and to get out of the rain for a bit, I found a very cool pub with a bit of a Belgian beer theme. Monk’s Pub was the perfect stopping off point, and good to sketch. I had one pint, and drew fast. I listened to a couple of older lads next to me talking with some passion about baseball. Monk’s was warm and welcoming, but I had to get back to the hotel to rest before dinner, so I waited for the rain to ease off and walked back.

Chicago Monks Pub sm

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.

Chicago Bean 032923

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.

032823 SMF-MDW