My favourite Chicago sketches

September 11, 2017 | 5 Comments

One of the downsides of having a super-productive sketching trip is all of the pages that you have to scan on your return home. As I am heading off on another overseas trip later this week, the pressure to wrap up my visit to Chicago and Montreal has been great. I’m pleased to report that I have now scanned all my sketches and for the next few posts I will be sharing some highlights. If you missed it, I shared a selection of my Montreal sketches in this article.

Today, I have chosen a handful of sketches that I consider my ‘favourites’ from my time in Chicago. I have also breifly stated why I like them. In most cases the selection was made on the basis of how I felt that the time, rather than the resultant sketch. But having said that, most of the time when I was happy with my sketch it was because I was feeling great while I was drawing and painting. There are a few exceptions, but normally the two go together.

Let’s just get straight into it.

Whilst the rest of this post will be chronological, I want to start with my ‘favourite of the favourites’ which was done during my last day in Chicago. This was sketched sitting outside the Tribune Tower, looking south across the river and in many ways was the culmination of all the techniques for sketching skyscrapers that I had developed during my stay. I was totally in the groove for this one.

Jumping back to the end of my first full day: I was initially a little overwhelmed by the scale and repetitive nature of all the tall Chicago skyscrapers, so I chose a shorter but highly complex building – something that was within my comfort zone – in order to get warmed up. I wrote more about this sketch here.

A close up sketch of the wonderful Tribune Tower from the 21st floor of a neighbouring building. Wow! what a gorgeous building and so totally my favourite type of building to sketch (lots of details with strong volumes). Need I say anything more?

I had a crazy-paced day at Oak Park touring and sketching Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. It was an uncomfortably hot and humid day and I was rushing down the street filled with a number of his houses in order to get to the Unity Temple tour on time. This particular sketch only took minutes, so I am really pleased with how it turned out ‘against the odds’.

I did a lot of sketches (mainly ink and wash) leading up to the symposium but this sketch (the top half) of the skyline from Grant Park was a fun example of how effective just using paint (no lines) could be.

Two quick small vertical sketches, on the left using water-soluble graphite and on the right, another ‘just paint’ sketch. I really should do more of these little vertical slices as they are so efficient – they say a lot without having to draw the full scene.

Another ‘paint only’ sketch and another shorter building. This crazy library has over-scaled details so it was great to paint. This was another very quick sketch. The less time I spent on a sketch the less likely I am to overwork it, and the more I seem to enjoy it – as long as I don’t rush!

I normally struggle to sketch at sketchwalks due to a combination of factors – getting distracted by talking to lots of people and then when I sit down to sketch it is often hard to focus. But on the opening sketchwalk of the symposium, at the Art Institute Gardens, I did this quick simple sketch and it worked! I particularly like that tree.

Demos that I do during a workshop do not normally make the favourites list, simply because they are often not finished, and I am more focused on explaining what I am doing than I am on the sketch itself. But this year I was happy with my final sketches in each workshop. More about my workshop here.

I was also very happy with the teacup sketch I did as part of my demo called “Sketch and Sip: How to sketch hot beverages on location without them going cold.” I was using a new cup (that I had only sketched quickly once before) and there were a few wonky bits, but as often is the case, I just trusted that watercolour would perform some wonders if I just left it.

I don’t expect my work during someone else’s workshop to become a favourite as I am normally trying something completely different – out of my comfort zone. But this year, I was happy and excited by experimenting with Renato Palmuti’s techniques. I hope to share more about this later.

And finally, a few of my last sketches in Chicago, done during the architectural boat tour. I sketched non-stop during the tour and it was challenging – all those big skyscrapers from a moving boat. Risk-taking in the extreme, but so much fun!

So there you have it. Ironically, sketches of my two favourite subjects in Chicago (the Wrigley Tower and the Elevated train line) didn’t make it into this article. More about my Wrigley Tower sketches soon!



  • These are all very wonderful drawings indeed!
    I have to admit though, that my favourite of your favourites, is the teacup. To me it is beyond understanding that it can be possible tocapture something so delicate in such fluid strokes – its just unbelievably beautiful!

  • Anne Percival says:

    Your favourite is my favourite too. I am also trying to look for ‘slices’ instead of a whole street……this is following on from a couple of workshops with Lynda Gray in Kendal. Did you go up for the day with Suhita last year??

  • Real Eguchi says:

    WOW!! I really enjoy your sketching and the comments that you include. Given your intro comments, I am wondering if you are ever not particularly feeling happy, anxious and/or distracted and if the urban sketching every draws you intimately into the moment such that it becomes a transformative experience. Transformative in the sense of you developing a deeper awareness of your feelings and feeling happier or more at peace as a result of the sketching.

  • Chas says:

    Sorry to post on a different topic but I was wondering whether you had read this article…

    Hope you enjoy SF as much as I have.

  • Elaine Unger says:

    As always, wonderful sketches that capture the moment and allow the viewer to share it. Makes me see and appreciate these buildings in a new way. Thank you Liz

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