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

among jets and giants

Cal Aerospace Museum F86F Sabre

Last week we went to the Aerospace Museum of California in Sacramento, which I’d wanted to visit for ages but as always, never get around to it. I grew up near the RAF Museum in Hendon, living about a mile or so away, yet it wasn’t until 2019 on a brief visit back to London (there was an Urban Sketchers London sketchcrawl there) that I finally visited. The California Aerospace Museum has a pretty amazing collection of planes and helicopters, and to quote the Bard, I love all that shit. When I was a kid I was obsessed with war planes, fighter jets, army helicopters. I loved the Spitfire of course, who didn’t, but was a big fan of the Tornado, and of the classic F16. In my primary school, probably because of our proximity to the historic RAF Hendon Aerodrome (now the site of the RAF Museum, and Grahame Park Estate) divided the kids into four houses, common in British schools (magical or otherwise; round our way your wand would be broken and your broomstick half-inched), and those four houses were named after great fighter planes: Phantoms (blue), Harriers (red), Jaguars (green) and Tornadoes (yellow). I think they were the colours anyway. Come to think of it maybe Jaguars were blue. Were Phantoms black? They might have been green. I don’t care. I was in Tornadoes, we were yellow. We got house points for good deeds, doing well at stuff (most of my house points were for drawing) (I might have lost some for drawing on the table though), and sports day. I did have pictures of planes on my bedroom wall; my big sister went out with a guy called Neil for a while and he worked at British Aerospace, so he brought me some brilliant prints of fighter jets. I used to draw my own ones, overloaded with all kinds of missile and machine gun, helicopters too. One of my favourite shows was Airwolf. Anyway the nine-year-old me was in heaven seeing all these old American fighter planes. It’s mostly open air, all the planes and choppers are displayed around the outside of the main hangar building, which mostly holds exhibits and engines and things about space, as well as an enormous aircraft called ‘Makani’, a many-propellored ‘energy kite’. Even thought it was morning it was very hot and hard to spend too much time outside. I particularly liked seeing the banana shaped helicopter and the Sikorsky ‘Jolly Green Giant’, and was enthralled with the fighter jets (no F16s, sadly). I got to draw a couple of them – the F86 Sabre (above), which had the logo ‘CALIF-ANG’ on the side (I made my wife take a photo with it, since she goes by Ang (short for Angela) and is from Calif (short for California). I love the US Air Force logo, that big star, it’s so classic. I also drew the McDonnell-Douglas F-4C “Phantom II”. I had to draw a Phantom, in honour of that old school house (my friend Wayne was in Phantoms). I always thought they were a British plane but of course that fighter originated in the US, and was exported to the RAF. This one flew extensively in Vietnam and is supersonic. We were able to go inside some of the larger planes, and in one huge Korea and Vietnam era plane there was a man who had participated in combat missions in Vietnam in that very plane, not as the pilot but as one of the crew on the plan, and who had parachuted from it many times. His stories were fascinating, and when asked if he enjoyed his time serving in the Air Force he said yeah, because he was up in the sky – it was much less fun for those on the ground. I’d like to go back and draw more some time, spend a few more hours there, but maybe at a cooler, less oppressively sunny time of year. 

Cal Aerospace Museum F9C Phantom II