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Chicago: The Daily Sketches

August 17, 2017

Naturally, the highlight of the USK Symposium is meeting up with old sketching friends who you only see once a year.

It’s become a tradition, after seven years of going to this event, for some of us to head out in the early morning, and do a sketch before class.

Sometimes it’s the only chance to do a drawing for yourself that day, what with the demos, classes, and interviews.

This was my all around favorite from Chicago. It’s right in my comfort zone. Crazy complicated subject, with my patented white background.

The Elevated Train seems like a terrific icon for the city. It’s so gloriously industrial. No design sacrifices, just raw functionality. The thing is so loud!

But at the same time it’s got a kind of elegance. A monumental structure, running right through the heart of downtown, like a relic from a bygone era, still part of everyday life.

This one was sketched with a pencil – I mean, come on – that’s too complicated to wing it right? But at the same time, there’s a lot of Direct Brush work in the impression of the superstructure. I like that mix of observation and invention.

The scale of the city is a bit of a shock. Montreal isn’t exactly a dot on the map – but I’m not used to these enormous buildings. The only way to suggest the scope is to get in some tiny details at street level. These little people are what make the scene.

This is Dearborn Station – painted direct-to-brush. It’s nicely spot lit in the morning, even though we’re still in the dark canyon of the street.

The red brick tower is a bit of a flashback to Manchester last year.

This ordinary street view has some nice raking light in the AM. It’s kitty corner opposite the Calder Flamingo. We came for the monument, but you paint what the light gives you :)

My favorite part of this very rapid sketch is the interaction between this car – painted with a ‘shape’ mentality, and these moving people – sketched in with the brush tip, in continuous line.

Like I was saying last post – even if you ultimately won’t stick with Direct Painting – it’s this kind of experimental feeling that broadens your range of brushwork.

And finally – the panorama from the 21st floor! Another highlight to the weekend was being part of a small group of instructors invited up into the student residence to draw this incredible view of the city. (Sorry to people that couldn’t be there, but there was some nitpicky deal about limiting entry, due to it being college property, with all those impressionable youth on hand).

There were some other great views from other high rise decks – but none that I managed to capture.

Doing one of these is an all or nothing roll of the dice. You just start blocking shapes, and never look back.

The double page spread goes from Navy Pier on the left to the Field Museum on the right, with the Buckingham fountain in between.

I recognize this is in no way a realistic sketch – but man, was it a lot of fun to do :) And as far as I’m concerned, that’s what matters.

There was of course, so much more to paint. A weekend only skims the surface. And – I think it’s worth saying – you’re not seeing a number of what I consider failed experiments. Due to this year’s high risk, high reward adventure in Direct Sketching, I would say I only had about a 50% success rate. But that’s what you have to be willing to do, in order to grow your work past the first formulas that tease you with success.

It’s getting to be a huge cliche on Citizen Sketcher – but I hope I get a chance to get back here to paint some of what I missed. The ones where I went down swinging, defeated by the epic monument that is Chicago!

As always, Photos: Laurel Anne Holmes

15 Comments leave one →
  1. osagegypsy permalink
    August 17, 2017 11:43 AM

    Thank you SO MUCH for your blog and photos! And thank you for being honest about the casualties…. even the best sketchers have rejects! That makes me feel such relief. Marsha Gulick Okie Sketcher

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. August 17, 2017 12:18 PM

    A great post, about all that was and all that will be – and you caught pics of Suhita – another CS I follow.

  3. Carolyn Fitz permalink
    August 17, 2017 12:23 PM

    Enjoyed this post very much Marc! I love your honest forthright sharing blog, and your inspiring art! Would you post what your favorite sketch seat/ chair is…and why. I can’t imagine sitting on the ground like some artists (Liz steel)…seems uncomfortable and unsanitary ! I use a lightweight aluminum simple tripod stool…which travels well on the body with a shoulder strap and fits in a medium suitcase . I’d like one a little higher, as I’m tall /long legs. You seem tall too…do you like the height of your chair? But you look like you are ” kicking back” in comfort… wondering what is your favorite stool / chair is to bring along to sit on. I teach several sessions a year at local Cabrillo college extension , called Travel Sketching. I have everyone buy a Pilot parallel pen ( calligraphy nib3.8mm). I had taken an Italic calligraphy workshop years ago, when they first came on the market. I thought , upon using it for the first stroke: ” this is the pen I’ve been waiting for all these years”! Then shortly after, I took the pen along with other sketch pens on a trip to Scotland …and quickly fell in love with it for sketching! You can rock up on the edge and get a thin mono line, with the ink still flowing! No other calligraphy pen does that! …it’s so easy to quickly get a wide range of interesting strokes …thick to thin and all in between ! And the ink cartridge is water soluable…with water brush / pull out the values … push them around! Very fun! Have you used them ? ( pen :$10, pk of six refills: $2) I’ll include a quick sketch / wash from that pen , done recently at an iris garden farm in Scotts Valley ( Calif.). We went there for my once a month ” first Wednesday ,Quick on the draw” sketch group outing. I started this 3+ years ago …and it keeps growing ! I choose a different location each month, and email it out a week before . We are mostly retired seniors ( I’m 70!). We meet and sketch from 10-noon, then go to a nice restaurant nearby for lunch and sharing our sketch(es) with each other at the table. Approximately 12-20 people show up …so enjoyable! All the best to you Marc, Many thanks for your educational and inspiring posts! Carolyn Fitz 225 Ryder Rd. Scotts Valley, CA 95066. Ps…if you ever travel out my way, you are invited to my redwood tree forest garden for a lunch and sketch!

    Sent from my iPad


    • August 20, 2017 8:01 AM

      Hey Carolyn – great to hear about your group – what an excellent way to get out and enjoy the day right? No matter what your age :)
      As for chair – this is such a pain isn’t it. I don’t like having to bring a chair at all – as it’s quite extra amount of weight /bulk to carry.
      But – I’m getting older too, and I find I like some back support now. Though I don’t have a perfect solution.
      Some days I just sit on the ground with an inflatable camping pad (it’s like a very thin square self-inflating pillow). Advantage – it weighs nothing to carry around.
      Disadvantage, getting up and down, from the floor. And sore back if you can’t find something to lean against. Works best up against a sign post or wall.
      BUT – other days I find that not enough, so I have this new Helinox Chair One.
      This is a bit of a hassle to assemble. (It is stiff and takes some strength the first 20 times, till it ‘stretches in’. But once you build it (like a tiny hammock) his chair is very comfortable. Its like a little recliner. It’s also very light weight. And, it’s close enough to the ground, I can put my water and a few extra things on the ground next to me. Also very easy to rest the drawing board on your knees in your line of sight.
      I have in the past used a Walk Stool – which are the tallest, and therefore easy to get up and down from. BUT, they’re not especially comfortable! And they have the worst situation of having your drawing board on your knees, completely out of your line of sight, and probably slanted the wrong way (down and away from you, not up and facing you). Plus, the height of the seat, which is comfortable, removes the ability to use the ground as a side table.
      So! Long answer – but there you go!

  4. August 17, 2017 12:43 PM

    Thanks, Marc for this blog post! Loved seeing what you chose to sketch, especially the elevated train tracks! I wanted to do them, but was a bit overwhelmed by the detail. Since I live nearby in Wisconsin, I plan to return and will have a go at the “L”! Also, I am helped by your 50% comment….so I guess I am doing better than I thought! So much to do, see and draw! Great Symposium! Thanks!

  5. August 17, 2017 2:26 PM

    I feel the same way about going back to Chicago … my pieces from the Tribune and Wrigley office tower buildings were OKish … but just to off to be as good as I wanted. PS Marc, how large is the 2nd piece you posted here? … the one looking down the canyon of ¿Wabash? & the “L”.

  6. August 17, 2017 4:41 PM

    I was on the 25th floor odf the studednt housing so had that amazing view every morning.. I donated one sketch to the auction and Stephanie Bower bought it!! I have been practicing your direct appraoch. Did a few yesterday in my neighborhood here in San Francisco, when the sun finally came out.. fog fog fog.. anyway.. I wanted to find the early sketchers in Chicago, but didnt. Maybe in Porto I will figure it out.. Your El sketches look very rusty and delightful..Great pics from Laurel..Say hi for me!

  7. Meredith Schmidt permalink
    August 17, 2017 5:02 PM

    Hi Marc…love your sketches and H2O. 2 weeks ago I participated in a one week intensive Urban Sketching, 9-4, Mon-Fri thru the much fun.. have done a bit before this, but not to this extent…it helped to build my confidence…Lalapalooza was on a great sketch of the ‘weed’ truck😎 You have to see it, can’t make this stuff up!🙋

  8. Margaret permalink
    August 20, 2017 1:36 AM

    A fabulous blog, Marc. All of you Symposium attendees experienced the same thing – so much to sketch and so little time to sketch in, with the result you didn’t achieve what you’d each call your personal best. For me, however, they are all wonderful because at the end of the day you all achieved what you set out to do – you captured the moment and the ambience of where you were – the most important times of your sketching lives. Well done to all of you.

  9. September 6, 2017 10:46 PM

    Creativity isn’t about reality, it’s about losing yourself into abstract Colors, a lyric to a song that’s intimate only for you. Well atleast that’s what drives me to create. 🙂


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