Chicago Field Museum sketchbook

Here in Chicago, we’re lucky to have a wealth of world class museums to visit. Several of them, including the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium, are clustered in a group next to Soldier Field known as the “Museum Campus”. As a student, I made numerous trips in from the western suburbs to visit each of them years before I could appreciate what local treasures they are. Fortunately, I’m part of the Urban Sketchers Chicago group, a group open to artists of all backgrounds and training, who are interested in sketching in a live environment, and our regular sketching meetup this month took us to the wonderous Field Museum of Natural History. Here are some of the sketches from that trip:
This one is of a Peregrine Falcon, which has recently been upgraded from “endangered” to “threatened”, thanks to the efforts of wildlife conservationists.

This is a sketch of a Black Hat Dancer’s costume worn by Buddhist monks in the ritual of the Cham dance, which is considered a form of meditation and an offering to the gods.

This is the Field Museum’s most famous resident, Sue, sketched during an earlier visit. She was acquired in 1997 and is, to date, the largest, most complete, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered.

Here’s a sketch of a pair of fighting African elephants who, along with Sue the T-Rex, are featured prominantly in the main hallway of the museum. These elephants are one of the first specimens displayed by the Field Museum in 1909. Here’s a fun video about the people & taxidermy involved in bringing the pair to life.

And finally, here are a few more miscellaneous sketches of various exhibits throughout the museum.

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The Wind is Coming: Donald Trump’s House of Cards

The Wind is Coming: Donald Trump's House of Cards

The Wind is Coming: Donald Trump’s House of Cards

“Democracy is so overrated.” -Frank Underwood , House of Cards (Season 2, Episode 2)

In a recent New York Times interview with Donald Trump, the subject turned to energy policy, specifically alternative energy solutions. In typical Trump fashion, his response was meandering and full of vagaries. When pressed on a meeting he had with Brexit leaders regarding windmills and how they might detract from the views on his Scottish golf course, he came up with the memorable line, “The wind is a very deceiving thing.” From there he rambled on about how windmills are made in Germany and Japan out of massive amounts of steel that “goes into the atmosphere”(?) and “kill all the birds”.

This is a man to whom we’re entrusting the future of our country and in many ways the world. His decisions will no doubt effect every one of us, whether we live in the US or not, for the next 4-8 years and likely much longer, especially in terms of the environment and Supreme Court appointments. For those who haven’t read the interview and still say we should give the man a chance as we have all previous Presidents, I challenge you to read the interview in its entirety and NOT conclude that Donald Trump is mentally unbalanced and has absolutely no business anywhere near the Oval Office.

Already his cabinet nominees read like a who’s who of corruption, many of whom have expressed opposition and even taken legal action AGAINST the departments they’ll be heading . It’s amazing that the numerous charges of sexual harassment against him and his admitted sexual assault, disturbing as they are, are not even the most worrying of his corruption. Neither are his countless business conflicts of interest, which he’s done nothing to eliminate and stands to profit from BIGLY.

Now Trump and his cronies’ well documented ties to Russia are finally coming to light, conveniently AFTER the election. Whether Trump himself was unaware of the Russian hacking of the DNC emails, he now seems indifferent and even resistant to uncovering the truth. And now, he’s continuing his crusade to discredit all major media outlets and specific reporters who aren’t firmly onboard the Trump train.

In three days, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, an event considered unthinkable and I even took part in lampooning just a year ago. And just as surely, some day, either before his term is up or after, the full extent of his corruption will be exposed and his house of cards will come tumbling down.

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2016 review: One bright nugget

2016 sewer Cubs win
OK, so we’ve had better years when looking at the total picture. Beloved celebrity deaths, war, division, contentious elections, etc., etc. But, at least for Chicagoans and even many non-Chicagoans who have never been to Wrigley Field, the 2016 World Series provided a much needed sense of hope & joy. The Cubs are supposed to be as good or better in 2017, but it’s hard to imagine the magic and drama of this year’s World Series can ever be repeated.

May 2017 bring hope, heath, and much happiness to all of us. Best of luck in the New Year!

Summer’s End: Farewell Cicadas & Walnuts

  1. CicadaWalnuts06Fall has definitely arrived to the Chicago area, and with it the end to the summer’s familiar ambient buzzing sound coming from the native cicada. This year’s brood was the annual cicada, which according to Wkipedia, are also known as the dogday cicada or harvestfly, though I’ve never heard them called either. cicadaI’ve taken some artistic license and depicted the orange eyed and wing tipped 17 year cicada (aka. the periodical cicada) who, according to the “Chicago Botanic Garden website”, aren’t expected to emerge until 2024.

As for the walnuts; our next door neighbor’s grand & glorious walnut tree has branches which extend over our fence, towering far above our driveway. Throughout the later summer months, the sound of squirrels cracking open the hard shells can be head clearly and constantly across the back yard. walnutsThe falling nuts striking the metal garbage can lids from 20-30 feet act as a warning gong for anyone passing beneath. They’re fairly substantial and a direct hit on the head could lead to hospitalization or, at the least, a nasty bump.

Like cicadas emergences, walnut tree production can vary greatly from year to year, and may be on an “alternate bearing” schedule, producing nuts one year and reserving their resources the next. As it happens, this was a very bountiful year for our neighbor’s walnut tree, with a sea of green, nearly lime-sized walnuts dotting the rear part of our driveway. Later, those that remain after the squirrels have had their fill take on the familiar wrinkled, brown look of dried walnut shells. As a bonus, I’ve discovered that disabling the electric eye on the garage door results in a powerful nutcracker.

For more info:

“University of Illinois extension: Cicadas in Illinois”

“Morton Arboretum:Black Walnut Tree”

 

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Trump & Putin: Really Into Each Other

RussianDolls“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
-Winston Churchill, 1939

 

What to make of Donald Trump’s relationship (or lack thereof) with Vladimir Putin?

A sampling of Trump’s contradictory quotes only makes things murkier:

Donald Trump last week: “I never met Putin. I don’t know who Putin is.”

Donald Trump in 2013: “I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success.”

Donald Trump in 2015: “I got to know (Putin) very well.”

Donald Trump yesterday: “Just so you understand, he said very nice things about me. But I have no relationship with him. I don’t…I’ve never met him. I wouldn’t know him from Adam except I see his picture, and I would know what he looks like.”

And Donald Trump is (just barely) seen as the more “trustworthy” candidate.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“For still there are so many things that I have never seen: in every wood in every spring there is a different green. I sit beside the fire and think of people long ago, and people who will see a world that I shall never know.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

A couple of weeks ago, which seems like an eternity in the current Presidential election news cycle, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made a candid, off cuff comment when asked in a New York Times interview what she would do if Republican nominee Donald Trump were to be elected President in November. She jokingly replied that her late husband world tell her “Time to move to New Zealand!”. Not surprisingly, her sardonic comment was met with outrage from Trump and others in the GOP.
Shortly afterward, after briefly doubling down, she backed off, calling her own choice of words “ill advised”.

With the increasing possibility that Donald Trump could, in fact, pull out a win in November, some have looked into the very real notion of relocating, at least for the next four to eight years, to New Zealand, or some other welcoming oasis.

Hopefully, self-exile will no longer be an issue come November.

VOTE!

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Game On: Donald vs. Hillary

Hillary tormented by Alien TrumpSo it’s come to this. As grueling as the campaigns have been on the nominees, sildenafil it’s been truly agonizing for the voters. And at the presumed end of the nomination process to determine the two most qualified candidates for the highest office in the land, it’s hard imagine coming up with two less likable individuals.* And with the proven effectiveness of negative ads, it’s only going to get uglier leading up to November’s general election.

Only five more months until it starts all over again.
And remember: in the voting booth, no one can hear you scream.

*In the latest polls , Donald Trump has an unfavorability rating of 63%, with Hillary Clinton only slightly better, with a rating of 61%

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The “Golden Wrecking Ball”

Sarah Palin's Trump "Golden Wrecking Ball"This Memorial Day weekend, sildenafil Sarah Palin gifted political cartoonists the world over with the perfect nickname for 2016 GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. In a glowing and rambling rally introduction, she dubbed him the “Golden Wrecking Ball”, a name that will hopefully follow him through the remainder of his campaign. Thank you Sarah!

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Hillary vs. Bernie- Showdown in New York

Today, Wisconsinites vote in their Democratic and Republican primaries. Until recently, best Hillary Clinton was comfortably ahead in the Wisconsin polls and was hoping to further widen her national delegate lead over Bernie Sanders.

But in the latest polls, Sanders has surged ahead by about 5 points, and is now predicted to win by a little, or maybe a lot, if his upset in Michigan was any indication. Realistically, Bernie Sanders still has a lot of catching up to do if he wants to wrest the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton. But no one can deny that the momentum is definitely with the Sanders campaign.

Which brings us to New York.

As elsewhere, Sanders’ New York rallies are drawing thousands of potential voters compared to the hundreds at Clinton’s rallies. Losing the state that twice elected her Senator would be a major blow to the Clinton candidacy and would be a huge game-changer. while he would still trail in the delegate count, there’s no doubt that a Bernie Sanders victory would send a message to the DNC that Sanders isn’t going down easily, and could, just maybe, pull the ultimate upset. His rejection of income inequality and special interest money controlling Washington resonates loudly with voters across all demographics.

As of now, Hillary still holds a single digit advantage over Bernie in the latest New York primary polls, after leading by 20-30 points just weeks ago, but the trajectory is undoubtedly in his favor. Whatever the outcome, New York’s April 19th primary should be a strong indicator of who will be the Democratic nominee come November.

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Trump the Entertainer


“Let me entertain you
Let me make you smile

Let me do a few tricks
Some old and then some new tricks
I’m very versatile”

-From the broadway show “Gypsy

Tonight marks the official start to the US Presidential primary season, and the likely coronation of Donald Trump as the nominee of the Republican party. As recently as a couple of months ago, virtually no political pundits would have seriously bet on Trump seizing the GOP nomination, but no more. What began as a novelty campaign marked by insults, vague platitudes, and jingoistic bombast has implausibly snowballed into a full fledged movement. We’ll know within the next few weeks whether the Trump candidacy is for real. Already in the past couple of interviews, there are signs that he’s toning down the lunacy in an effort to win over more moderates. If it works, he may just pull off the slickest trick ever in US presidential politics.

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Donald Trump illustrations for Vanity Fair

Recently, I had the great opportunity to create illustrations for  “A Terrifying Look at Our Eventual Trump Presidency” a satirical article written by Bruce Handy mocking the one and only Donald Trump in his bid for the White House. See more images and the original article here.

The deadline was pretty tight, but there were minimal revisions and lots of leeway for putting my own spin on the captions. Many thanks to Associate Editor Alexandra Beggs and the team at Vanity Fair for bringing me in on this fun project!

NASA Mars Announcement:

This morning, NASA is scheduled to share a “major scientific finding”about Mars. Here’s a quick sneak peek at how I imagine it will look.

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Dog Phobias. Case study: Sadie and Ella

Dog PhobiasPhobias are strange things. Most of us have them to some degree. I myself have a pronounced fear of heights. Some call it a phobia, which implies an irrational fear, but I’d call it common sense fear of bodily injury due to falling from a great distance.

Dogs are similar in this regard. But our two girls, Sadie and Ella, couldn’t be more different when it comes to weather conditions for instance. Ella shows a total disregard for thunder and lightning, whereas Sadie goes to her “safe spot” behind our couch and will wait out the duration of the storm, sometimes trembling at an especially loud crack of thunder. She’s gotten a bit better as time goes by, but no amount of petting and soothing talk will completely dispel her fear. And according to canine psychologists, by overcoddling her, I may have only been rewarding and reinforcing her fearful behavior. Oops.

After 13 summers of occasional loud & violent storms without incident, any intelligent animal should realize thunder & lightning are a natural occurance and nothing to fear, right? Then again, lightning strikes DO account for around 50 deaths and 300 injuries on average annually in the U.S. alone, so maybe her fears aren’t totally irrational. Ella, on the other hand, has no qualms whatsoever about going out in the middle of a loud thunderstorm. So who is the smarter dog? The one who blissfully ignores the forces beyond her control? Or the one who spots potential danger and avoids it at all costs?

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Trump!

Morally bankrupt Donald TrumpIf the race for the Republican presidential nomination is a circus, Donald Trump is definitely its number one sideshow attraction. Whether repeatedly dropping the f-bomb at a speech in front of potential donors, giving out his opponent’s personal phone number, or lobbing cheap insults to anyone who disagrees with him, his campaign so far more closely resembles a Comedy Network roast or a WWE taunting rather than than a presidential run. And so far, the audience seems to be eating it up. As of this moment, he leads among the GOP contenders in the major national polls.

So keep it up, Donald! It should be an entertaining year ahead.

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Texas: land of the conspiracy theory


Note: This post was started before this past weekend’s disastrous flooding. So far the count stands at 17 dead and 10 missing. I considered holding off on putting it out there, but ultimately decided while we all sympathize with those affected by the deluge, we can still recognize the peculiar character of the state that will still be there long after the water recedes.

The state of Texas has long has a long reputation for marching to its own paranoid beat. So it makes sense that many of the fringiest and most persistent conspiracy theories trace their roots to the Lone Star State. How fitting is it that the granddaddy of all conspiracy theories originated on a Dallas street more than 50 years ago? The brief 8mm footage of the John F. Kennedy assassination taken by Abraham Zapruder has been dissected and analyzed more than any other film in history, healing and the general consensus of the official forensic experts is that Lee Harvey Oswald was the single assassin acting alone. But thanks in large part to Mark Lane’s 1966 book “Rush to Judgment” and Oliver Stone’s “JFK”, terms like “pristine bullet” and “grassy knoll” have become part of everyone’s vocabulary, and a large majority of Americans today believe that there was in fact a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. Though who exactly was involved is up for debate.

More recently, radio talk show host, blogger, and Texas native Alex Jones has yet to find a conspiracy too outlandish or offensive to broadcast. Some of his greatest hits include theories that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings were faked and the U.S. government was directly tied to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. In a crazy hall-of-mirrors style twist, he himself is the subject of a conspiracy theory now making the rounds which posits that Alex Jones is none other than the alter ego of deceased comedian Bill Hicks (himself a firm believer in the JFK conspiracy theory). It’s pretty amusing to watch the video of Alex Jones accusing the “Alex Jones is Bill Hicks” crowd of being conspiracy theory loons.

Since President Obama has been in office, general distrust of the U.S. government has played a huge role in a number of conspiracy theories, especially when it comes to immigration policy. Starting with the general presumption that minorities tend to vote democratic, it wasn’t long before right-wing GOP politicians in Texas, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Louie Gohmert, promoted the idea that Democrats were busing young illegal immigrants across the border en masse who would eventually be allowed to vote, thus keeping them in power.

The latest conspiracy theory making the rounds in Texas and throughout the southwest involves the military operation code-named Jade Helm 15 (http://www.businessinsider.com/jade-helm-conspiracy-theory-2015-5). It’s a real Special Ops training exercise set to take place this summer. What really makes this theory stand out is the surprising degree of legitimacy it’s being given by people of influence. Walker:Texas Ranger himself, Chuck Norris was recently reported to have said that he has serious questions about Obama’s “scheming”. In addition, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has directed the state guard to monitor the operation. Whether he actually believes that the Jade Helm operation is an effort by the U.S. government to impose martial law or is simply pandering to right wing extremists, it’s a pretty defensive reaction to a standard military exercise.

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Inequality and the California Drought

 

A while ago, I was given an assignment to create an illustration for a national conference addressing economic inequality in the U.S. I saw it as a great opportunity, since it’s a vitally important topic and one which I have very strongly feelings about. I was given the main thesis along with some thoughtful initial direction, and and I presented several rough concepts for consideration.

After a number of back and forth iterations, the one that was ultimately decided upon was a simple allegorical image depicting ladders and star-bearing trees as a metaphor for inequality. The thinking was to present the subject as being more about inequality of opportunity and not so much about class conflict. Due to exclusive copyright issues, I’m unable to show the final image, but one of my initial rough sketches, which I used as inspiration for this image, was seen as putting too much emphasis on the “99% vs. the 1%” for this particular assignment.

Now, given the recent headlines about California’s mega-drought, it’s taken on a more literal meaning. Gov. Jerry Brown’s conservation and rationing measures are already being criticized for giving unfair breaks to big business and the oil industry in particular, whose fracking technology uses tremendous amounts of water for an already controversial process. Solutions for now involve conservation and shared sacrifice, and praying for rain. In the long term, growing and engineering crops that require less water, and improved desalination and groundwater drilling techniques may help. Given the fact that nearly half of the nation’s produce is grown in California, it’s a problem that will eventually affect nearly everyone in the U.S., most of all those who can least afford it.

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