Thursday, September 29, 2016

Urban Sketching The Art Institute Lions

The Art Institute of Chicago's famous western entrance on Michigan Avenue is guarded by two bronze lion statues created by Edward Kemeys. The lions were unveiled on May 10, 1894, each weighing more than two tons. 

The sculptor gave them unofficial names: the south lion is "stands in an attitude of defiance," and the north lion is "on the prowl." When a Chicago sports team plays in the championships of their respective league (i.e. the Super Bowl or Stanley Cup Finals, not the entire playoffs), the lions are frequently dressed in that team's uniform. 

Evergreen wreaths are placed around their necks during the Christmas season.


Funny thing about sketching Chicago architecture: you sketch it once and you feel pretty good about it until months or years later, when there's a voice inside your head that says "Let's try that again." And that is why you see two renditions of the same defiant lion.





Sunday, September 25, 2016

Are you up for a big Urban Sketchers Chicago Challenge?

An Urban Sketchers Chicago Challenge: by Wes Douglas

Dear Urban Sketchers,
Are you up for a big challenge?

Background:
The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago (OHC) is the city’s annual architecture festival. For one weekend, October 15-16, 2016, you can explore Chicago’s most iconic and unique architectural treasures. From mansions to sacred spaces, theaters to private clubs, hotels to secret rooms—OHC gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at many of the city’s great spaces that are rarely, if ever, open to the public.

Here’s your chance to venture into new neighborhoods, learn the stories of Chicago’s buildings and experience the diversity and culture of each community. If you are looking for an excuse to visit Chicago and want to see our city's best architecture spaces, this weekend is highly recommended.


OHC is completely free-of-charge—no registration or tickets are needed. So gather your friends, plan your itinerary and mark your calendar for October 15-16, 2016!

Check out the incredible locations open for touring and sketching:
http://openhousechicago.org/sites/

The Challenge: 
In the past, Urban Sketchers Chicago has organized our October monthly Let's Sketch events around this phenomenal opportunity to see the city's most inspiring and impressive architecture. In our typical format of the "3-hour sketch crawl window," the USk Chicago organizers had taken the liberty to pick out two or three buildings in which to tour but miss out on the other 150 or so equally impressive buildings.


This year's Urban Sketchers Chicago Challenge: I wonder what would happen if I challenged Urban Sketchers to "divide and conquer" as many buildings on your own (or with a sketch buddy) and share your sketches in the Urban Sketchers Chicago Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest groups (whichever is your social media preference).

Add these hashtags (#OHC2016 #uskchicago #urbansketchers) in your descriptions when posting your sketches so that we can find all of your wonderful impressions of the CAF Open House.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Navy Pier– Something for Everyone

Navy Pier, Chicago

Urban Sketchers Chicago is excited to be hosting the 2017 Urban Sketchers 8th Annual Symposium. We'll be welcoming over 450 urban sketchers from around the world to meet, sketch, and share our city! As a teaser of all the sights in store for you next year, over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing some of our sketches (both new and old) of our beautiful, diverse, and exciting Chicago. 

Whatever the season, weather, or time of day, Navy Pier is a great place to draw. In fact it's one of my favorites!  -Barbara

Rainy day at Navy Pier

Winter evening at Navy Pier


Spring at Navy Pier


Glorious autumn day at Navy Pier, even though a boat docked and blocked my view!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Hidden Beauty of Chinatown Chicago

Urban Sketchers Chicago is excited to be hosting the 2017 Urban Sketchers 8th Annual Symposium. We'll be welcoming over 450 urban sketchers from around the world to meet, sketch, and share our city! As a teaser of all the sights in store for you next year, over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing some of our sketches (both new and old) of our beautiful, diverse, and exciting Chicago. 

Chicago's Chinatown is easily accessible with many forms of public transportation and my favorite mode is the Chicago Water Taxi. There is something relaxing about taking a boat ride on the South Annex of the Chicago River to arrive at this bounty of color and detail. It is not the same as riding a San-Pan in China, but equally as nice.

Arriving at the Water Taxi stop in Chinatown sets you at the doorstep of Ping Tom Memorial Park and a dramatic red and yellow pagoda-styled pavilion. I was immediately captivated by the graphic nature of the lines, curves and exquisite details of the tiny dragon figures located on each apex. 

If sketching plants and foliage is your thing, then you have to check out this one-of-a-kind dwelling so covered with vines that it should be called a tree house. Located just steps from the Ping Tom Memorial Park and a sight to see in person.




Monday, September 12, 2016

Urban Sketchers –Meeting, Sketching, Sharing in Chicago!

Urban Sketchers Chicago is excited to be hosting the 2017 Urban Sketchers 8th Annual Symposium. We'll be welcoming over 450 urban sketchers from around the world to meet, sketch, and share our city! As a teaser of all the sights in store for you next year, over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing some of our sketches (both new and old) of our beautiful, diverse, and exciting Chicago. 


One of my favorite places to sketch – The South Garden, the Art Institute of Chicago, 2009

One of my favorite places to sketch – The South Garden, the Art Institute of Chicago, 2016

Recently, I was going through some old sketchbooks and found myself saying over and over, "Oh, that's one of my favorite places to sketch!" Then it dawned on me, I love sketching in Chicago – anywhere. I hope you will, too. 

– Barbara

Sunday, September 4, 2016

USk Chicago Spotlight Sunday - Aaron Elswick

Spotlight Sunday is a series of interviews designed to introduce and highlight Chicago Urban Sketchers individually. Now that our chapter has over 500 members it has become more of a challenge to meet every sketcher in person and have a conversation. These posts concentrate on individuals and speak in their own words and sketches.



Interviewed by Andrew Banks.

Hi Aaron, thanks again for taking the time to be this week's spotlight feature and for sharing a little bit about yourself with the group!

Andrew Banks:
How did you first hear about the Urban Sketchers community and what made you decide to join Urban Sketching Chicago?


Aaron Elswick: A couple of years back I was sketching commuters on the Metra and I ran into Peggy Condon.  She noticed what I was doing and suggested I join Urban Sketching Chicago. Until then I thought I was the only weirdo that did this.

Andrew: That's awesome. I always enjoy hearing about how people find out about the group.  Sometimes it's through our social media accounts, or through a Google search, but these in-person introductions are always the most memorable.


Andrew: Did you sketch before finding USk Chicago?  If so, when did you start sketching?

Aaron Elswick: I have drawn and painted most of my life. My primary subject matter has always been sharks (most often drawn from reference photos).  I began sketching on location a little over 3 years ago to become a better urban designer. It was the summer before I started my Masters of Urban Design and I didn’t know much about architecture at the time. 

I decided going out and drawing architecture would be a great way to learn what I could before school started. During this same period of time I was interning as a landscape architect. I noticed that my boss – the lead designer –  was always the one drawing throughout the design process. I realized that summer that if I ever wanted to be the one drawing (and I did) I was going to have to draw as fast and legibly loose as my boss did when creating (her “cartoons,” as she calls them). 

Andrew: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Does urban sketching ever have an impact on your day job? If so, how?

Aaron Elswick: I have a professional degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Kentucky and a Masters of Urban Design from the Savannah College of Art and Design. I am presently employed as a Site Architect at Terry Guen Design Associates, a local landscape architecture and urban design firm. To explain what we do as simply as possible I like to say: "If you’re not standing inside of a building, then you are standing in exactly what we do." At TGDA we call this “Design for Life,” viewing our work as the backdrop, or stage, for the play of life to unfold. Our objective with every project is to design a sustainable environment that allows for the most acts of the play to occur, be it social, environmental, or economic. Urban sketching is the foundation of my design process and on a daily basis it helps me imagine, draw, and design for the future.

The Bean Context, my first attempt at using markers on location. This sketch was drawn during Wes Douglas’ 2016 UskChicago Sketch Seminar Workshop- Markers for Beginners. Mediums include: Stabilo fine 0.4 pen, ultra fine sharpie, and Chartpak Design Markers. (~40mins)

When I am sketching on location, I am analyzing the proportions, textures, scale, and context of the objects that define a place and simplifying it all to just a series of lines. As a Site Architect, I use my urban sketches as a mental reference bank to draw and design a city. Drawing is a tool and the language that I use in my career to communicate and explore ideas. Although drawing is only a tiny piece of my career, it is easily one of the most critical assets of my design process. Urban sketching is how I practice, learn and explore topics related to my profession.

The two most valuable lessons I have learned professionally, via sketching on location, is to be unafraid to fail and that the ugliest sketch is better than no sketch at all. A mentor of mine once broke it down to me like this:  the best designer is the one who is least afraid of failing. Before I started urban sketching I only wanted to show people perfect drawings, but I have learned that this hinders the design process and restricts the flow of ideas. Loosening up a bit and focusing on conveying an idea, as opposed to seeking perfection has been a real turning point in my career. Being unafraid to fail has gotten me to the “design table” at a very early in my career. I credit joining Urban Sketchers Chicago and its community for giving me a space to explore this practice and learn the truth in the advice I’ve been given.

Andrew:  Wow, that's so awesome.  Your response is not only inspiring and challenging, but also a great reminder to me (and I am sure others as well) about what urban sketching is all about.  It really sounds like urban sketching is intertwined with your day to day professional work, and is giving you some great opportunities for creative expression and experimentation all at the same time.  


I really like what you said here: "the best designer is the one who is least afraid of failing. Before I started urban sketching I only wanted to show people perfect drawings, but I have learned that this hinders the design process and restricts the flow of ideas. Loosening up a bit and focusing on conveying an idea, as opposed to seeking perfection has been a real turning point in my career."  

I really think that every single person in our group will benefit from that advice.  I know I already have.  It's so easy to get critical of our own work, wondering whether it's worth sharing or not.  But when we start holding ourselves back or aiming for some standard of perfection we lose out on a lot of creative opportunities.

Andrew: Is there a specific subject matter you are particularly drawn to or inspired to sketch?

Aaron Elswick: I am most attracted to iconic facets of Urban Design – buildings, public spaces, infrastructure, streetscapes, and everything else in a city. I like to capture the whole scene and believe in going big or going home. The public realm is my home and I firmly believe that people define great places and not buildings or landscape architecture. 

Therefore I am commonly sketching in a crowd or in places people choose to spend their leisure time. Doing this enlightened me to the extremely social aspects of urban sketching, which is now is my favorite part. I love the Q&A sessions, exchanging of stories, and impromptu workshops that sketching on location facilitates. Occasionally, I want to sketch from a distance and tend to choose public parks. However, I rarely ever sketch a singular object. For me and what I do, context is everything!
The Nature Board Walk at the Lincoln Park Zoo, Studio Gang Architects, sketched during the 2016 UskChicago outing with a Stabilo fine 0.4 pen and ultrafine sharpie. (~30mins)


Andrew: What is your favorite medium to sketch with?

Aaron Elswick: My favorite medium to sketch with is 100% pen and ink. A pen tells the truth and the whole story of the sketch. The authenticity of storytelling through my sketches is something I have recently have started to explore. I learned to draw with a pencil, but in my profession pen and ink is the standard for hand graphics. To learn how to draw with a pen, I just stopped taking a pencil and eraser with me. At first this was quite the challenge, but with a lot of practice it is now starting to come more naturally to me. 

This approach has saved me countless hours of erasing and inking over pencil. It has also changed the way that I view the world, instead of just seeing a brick building, I now see the lines and shapes that define the building. In return I have begun to develop my own style and form of artistic expression, which will always be a work in progress effort. Using only pen and paper forced me to embrace imperfections and lead me to take the Bob Ross approach: “I made some mistakes once, now they are trees.”

Andrew: The idea of truth and authenticity in storytelling through our sketches is a super interesting topic and I would love to hear more of your thoughts and approach to this sometime.  I agree though, there is something really freeing about jumping in to a sketch in ink without any pencil outlines.  It definitely forces you to be intentional with each line. I work a lot with ink myself and I like to tell people that while you can't erase ink, it's also a fairly forgiving medium to sketch with if you know how to work with your mistakes and build them into the sketch. 


Andrew: Are there any Urban Sketchers who inspire your own work?

Aaron Elswick: In all honesty, every member inspires me. Seeing how often people are posting, what they are sketching, and the techniques they are using motivates me to get out there and go do it more often.  I believe some members are in a completely different league and/or playing an entirely different game than I am. 

There are two members that really speak to me with their work and influence my sketching: Andrew Banks and Wes Douglas. Both of these guys are absolute masters of their craft. What I enjoy most about their work is the subject matter and their uniquely identifiable styles. Andrew’s hatching and spot on architectural rendering style is extremely impressive. Wes’ diversity of subject matter, techniques, and use of markers is out of this world.

Andrew Banks:  That is the beauty of the urban sketching community. There is such a wide range of styles, techniques, view points and skills levels to learn from. There is never a shortage of inspiration to be found, that is for sure.

Thank you for the compliments!


Andrew: If you could choose any location for the next group sketch event, where would it be?

Aaron Elswick: Without a doubt I would choose the Shedd Aquarium! Sharks are my weird obsession and I have been drawing them my whole life. The Shedd would offer a unique opportunity to take a crack at the plethora of subject matter the aquatic environment offers, after all it is pretty hard to draw underwater. It would be a real treat and I would absolutely LOVE to see how all of the different members of UskChicago depict life underwater.


Andrew: Do you have any websites, blogs or social media accounts where people can see more of your work?

Aaron Elswick: I am on Facebook and Instagram at the moment. I have a lot of projects in the works and a website/marketplace is in development. Once that all gets launched I’ll be sure to let the group know. 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aaron.elswick
Instagram: @acelsw2  https://www.instagram.com/acelsw2/

For more information on Terry Guen Design Associates and “Design for Life” please see https://www.tgda.net/

Andrew Banks: Thanks again Aaron!  


Sunday, August 28, 2016

USk Chicago Spotlight Sunday: Meet Lewis Achenbach

Today, I have the pleasure of introducing you to a very talented artist and founder of a fresh new sketching experience. His name is Lewis Achenbach and he is an artist, painter and the man behind the “Jazz Occurrence” music experience. We’ll talk about “JazzO” a little bit later but I think you will find what he is doing to be quite inspirational and very much like urban sketching. I often see Lew with buckets of paints and brushes in his hand but other times he is sitting with a sketchpad and pastels or markers, capturing however the music moves him.

So without further ado, let's meet Lewis!

Wes Douglas (WD): Hello Lewis and thank you for taking the time to chat with me here today. I used to wonder, Lew, if what you are doing at the JazzO music events relates to “urban sketching” at all. I mean, you sketch on location, you draw/paint from observation, and you share your work online. Those are all Urban Sketching guiding principles and even one more “we welcome all styles and mediums.” That seems to fit within the urban sketching manifesto if you ask me. What do you think?

 Lewis Achenbach (LA): Wes, let me first define my versions of the terms ‘sketching’ and ‘painting’, or at least compartmentalize the two via process and media. I use those terms interchangeably. ‘Sketching’ always comes off as an informal enterprise compared to the high-art word weight of ‘painting’. It is creating that is getting done, and that is what should stand out. 

I don’t differentiate between black and white and color either. It’s either dry or wet. Dry is sketching. Painting is wet. That is how I categorize the process. And the gig usually dictates dry or wet. But I will use the term ‘sketch’ to make it simple. 

WD: Why do you sketch? How does it help you?
LA: I create to music, mostly, or at least it is what I’ve become known for, which is cool with me. So I sketch to hear the music, in the way my brain likes to hear it. 
In general, I sketch to get a grasp on what is going on in the world. It’s my vehicle to understand; my default tool in my toolbox. Sketching slows thing down for me, so I can hear, and even rewind what I’ve just heard. I can look at a drawing the next day and residual hear the gig from last night, in a sense.

WD: What is your favorite sketching tool?
LA: I like the caveman grit of charcoal, right now. Pastel, chalk too for the dry work. Acrylic is the functional wet on-sight media. AD markers for small moleskine sketches.
  
WD: Where is your favorite place to sketch?
LA: I love Constellation Chicago. It’s the vibe of the place. I feel welcomed there, to create. And I have a mental archives of great sound experiences from there. And they have me formally paint large scale on canvas. Which you cannot do without permission from the owner, and blessings from the musicians. So it’s a relationship thing too. 
Also, sketching on the beach is becoming a haven. 
And I like to combine the music and exterior spaces thing, which is why music festivals have become a favorite gig.


WD: What is the inspiration for the sketches you selected?
LA: Well, music is the simple answer. But it’s really knowledge that I seek through sketching, and wisdom through that. How else, as artists, are we to communicate to others, except through our gifts/talents/tendencies? I get to ‘tell’ the musicians how I have just felt about the live performance, by showing them a live document of my experience. I dialogue through visual means. So my inspiration is also the ability to ‘be heard’.

WD: Why are these scenes special to you?
LA: So the artworks are special because they represent a personal memory (a concert) but they also embody this impossible task and continuing adventure. The task of capturing fleeting live music while it’s lingering in the air. And the adventure of documenting this impossible gig: trying to sketch something that doesn’t really visually exists (except in my imagination). And I’m trying not to force the colors and forms onto the music. I let the music tell me what to do. What colors and line quality to use. The music tells me what personal references to touch on, and use as push off points, to create an authentic artwork, where I am just a vessel, present in front of the paper/canvas, getting the music ‘out’. If that makes any sense. 

WD: What do you do when you are not sketching? Does your day job incorporate your sketching skills?
LA: I do a decent amount of organizing, networking and self promotion. Which has all to do with the Jazz Occurrence project; where I produce events so that I can curate and paint larger scale next to the musicians, and really physically get ‘into’ the music. If I am part of the show, I can cut loose and even influence the music happening in appropriate ways. 

I also educate; teaching improvisation and ways/means of cross influence and collaboration with students. 

And I paint houses. And I have a small animation studio in my basement, where I do free-lance animations and videos for various corporate franchises. It’s all brush in hand, clay in hand, col-erase pencil in hand kind of work. Actually the live music (in the moment, broad brush stroke) sketching bore out of a necessity of contrast to the tight pencil on paper draftsman day job of animating at a studio in NYC. But that’s another story (and I wont get into getting arrest for graffiti on the lower east side during the Mayor "RudyGiuliani administration).

WD: If anyone wants to follow you or to find out more about Jazz Occurrence, do you have any links online?


LA: Yes, there are a number of links where I post information about Jazz Occurrence and when the next events will be:

Facebook:    
Lewis Achenbach 
Jazz Occurrence Art Exhibition 
@jazzoccurrence
Twitter: @lewisachenbach #jazzoccurrence
Instagram:     lewisachenbach #jazzoccurrence
Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/149828834  
(at TEDx Naperville 2015)


WD: Lewis, I greatly appreciate the time you’ve given us here today and I really enjoy how your Jazz Occurrence project has redefined common perceptions of what a “sketch” can be. I look forward to the next time you and I can hang out with one of your group of jazz musicians and sketch together. 

Spotlight Sunday is a series of interviews designed to introduce and highlight Chicago Urban Sketchers individually.  Now that our chapter has over 500 members it has become more of a challenge to meet every sketcher in person and have a conversation. These posts concentrate on individuals and speak in their own words and sketches.