March for Science- Earth Day 2017

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.  ? Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

This Earth Day, April 22, 2017, scientists, those who support their work, and those concerned about our current government’s disastrous environmental policies will gather in cities and towns worldwide in a march to bring awareness to the state of our planet and what we’re doing to it. I, along with thousands of others, will be marching in downtown Chicago (and doing some sketching).

Here’s the March for Science mission statement as presented on their webpage:

The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.

Hope everyone I know will be there and/or lend their support in body or spirit.

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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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Eva Niewiadomski and the Catalyst Ranch

Tucked inside an historic brick building just steps away from the site of the Chicago’s infamous 1886 Haymarket riot, Illinois’ best conference venue (as voted by readers of Illinois Meetings & Events’ magazine) has been hosting meetings and events for the past twelve years. In that time, it’s grown from a simple idea to today’s layout of two floors packed with eclectic decor designed to inspire and get creative juices flowing.
The founder and owner of Catalyst Ranch, Eva Niewiadomski started with the concept that bigger and better ideas are born out of stimulating environments. The initial prototype for the Ranch was born at her previous job as a marketing manager with Quaker Oats. Sensing the need for an area there where creativity could flourish, she transformed some underutilized space into two ‘Innovation Hallways’ and a Creativity Room. After being let go from Quaker Oats, she quickly got to work realizing her dream of opening a dedicated meeting and events facility.
Having worked a number of graphic recording/ideation jobs for meetings at the Ranch, I can attest that the fun ambiance and the attentiveness of the staff puts all attendees immediately at ease and in a creative mood.

I recently spoke with Eva about how Catalyst Ranch came to be, and she agreed to a quick Q & A:

Q: Thank you for sharing some of your insights with us, Eva. The story of how Catalyst Ranch came to be is explained well on your website. I’m wondering where you found the confidence to invest so much of yourself in terms of time and money into a new and unique business?
Eva: I wonder about that myself, Dave. I had never thought of myself as being especially brave, especially when it came to spending money. I’ve always been fiscally conservative, stashing away as much as I can into savings. One contributing factor was the severance pay that I received as part of my layoff. Here was a nice reserve of money that someone was handing me to pursue a dream. If not now, then when? It probably wouldn’t happen. But I think more importantly, I believed that the idea was absolutely what Chicago needed. The positive response to my projects at Quaker Oats by my co-workers along with their wholesale enthusiasm for my idea of Catalyst Ranch was probably the biggest motivator. I felt that here was something that I was doing that I was uniquely qualified to do and around which I had a lot of passion. This was work that wouldn’t necessarily feel like work and I could feel like I was doing something positive for society. I get the greatest sense of satisfaction in shifting people’s perceptions of themselves and their capabilities. I believe everyone is creative and imaginative, if only given the right circumstances in which to explore the possibilities.

Q: I get the sense that family is very important to you. Your parents especially seem to have been quite supportive from the outset. How instrumental were they in launching Catalyst Ranch?
Eva: My family is very important. There are not that many of us here in the U.S. The extended family is in Poland and New Zealand. When you think about the fact that my parents (neither of whom have ever had a corporate job let alone sat in a meeting) said that they believed in me and would help me in whatever way they could despite not understanding at all what my venture was about, it’s pretty amazing and very empowering. My dad truly was my first employee and worked very hard at refinishing and reupholstering the furniture along with a million other tasks that encompass a build-out, despite the fact that he was already 78 yrs old. He turns 90 this year! The irony for me is that my dad continues to bemoan the fact that they didn’t help me enough since they couldn’t provide financial assistance. He doesn’t understand all the money that he saved me by doing all the labor for free. Without his help I truly wouldn’t have had enough money to furnish the space and definitely wouldn’t have been ready to open in time for my first client booking. Do you know how much furniture it takes to furnish 9,000 sq. ft.?? My mom was great too. She helped where she could and spent a week just polishing all the furniture and scrubbing the place to a shine after we moved everything in. Then there were all my friends and ex co-workers who painted, helped with the move in and provided their ideas, leads and continuing moral support. Definitely wouldn’t have made it past year one without all of them!

Q: In your twelve years there, what’s the most unusual event or activity that the space has hosted?
Eva: It’s incredibly hard to sort through all the doings here at the Ranch over 12 years but I would have to say that one of my favorites was an event we hosted for the Anti-Cruelty Society called “Paint Your Pet.” Guests brought photos of their pets and artists from Bottle and Bottega supplied canvases, paint, brushes and basic instruction. You can’t imagine the fever of concentration as 50 people sweated over their canvases, creating the most unusual breadth of artistic renditions of their pets. So much untapped talent! And so much laughter and fun! We’ve also hosted meetings where clients constructed some very interesting (and unusual) models and structures, built bicycles for needy kids as part of a team building activity and hit the breakfast buffet in a variety of headgear and boas. We’ve accepted delivery of refrigerators, composters and other top secret prototypes of unusual dimensions. Makes you want to be a fly on the wall to see what they are up to behind those closed doors!

Q: Given the economic problems and layoffs in recent years, there’s been an influx of hopeful entrepreneurs of late. What sort of advice would you give to someone looking to launch their own business?
Eva: I’ve actually met with a lot of people over the years who were in flux with their careers or just unhappy in their current jobs. What I tell all of them is that whatever you decide to do, you must have a passion for it, validate the need in the market for whatever product or service you want to offer, be comfortable with numbers and running financials (do not defer this to someone else without having a working knowledge of how to do a forecast and a budget and the questions to ask), have enough money to survive the bad times and the fortitude to work harder than you think. There is no way to foresee everything that you will have to deal with once you start your venture. But that’s also the fun of it! There are many rewards to be found in following your own path but you must have at least a small appetite for risk. This is just the start of a very long conversation as there is so much to consider and weigh.

Thanks very much, Eva and continued success with Catalyst Ranch!

Catalyst Ranch is located at 656 W. Randolph, Suite 3W, Chicago, IL 60661
For more information. visit the Catalyst Ranch website at




As a side note, the pose in the accompanying illustration was appropriately (very loosely) based on Rembrandt’s ‘Polish Rider’, shown here:

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Sketchnotes from ‘The Minimalists’ Apple Store presentation

It’s been a while since my last post, which is for the best of reasons (busy with freelance assignments), but hopefully that will change (frequency of posting NOT the level of freelance work).

I have a couple of bigger posts I’m working on, but in the meantime, here are some quick sketchnotes from a presentation at the downtown Chicago Apple Store last evening: The Mimimalists.

Josua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus are two guys who met in grade school, went on to successful careers, and ditched them for a stripped down, simplified existence which they discuss in a couple of books and will expand upon in a documentary which they’re currently working on.

The  hourlong presentation was full of  inspirational thoughts on the benefits of paring down one’s lifestyle as a means to improve mental and physical health. The grand message seems to be that anyone can benefit from looking at their environment and asking themselves, “Does the stuff I’m surrounded by really add value to my life?”.

The Minimalists, Joshua and Ryan, are currently on a 30+ city tour to promote their latest book, “Everything That Remains”.

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The Polar Vortex: Grilling Weather in Chicago

“While I relish our warm months, winter forms our character and brings out our best.”
~former U.S. House Rep.Tom Allen, Maine

“Winter is not a season,it’s an occupation.”
~Sinclair Lewis

With all due respect to former Rep. Allen (quoted above), while I agree that winter DOES form our character, whether it brings out our best is debatable, if driving etiquette is any indicator.

With all of February still ahead of us, The Chicago Tribune is already editorializing on this season being possibly ‘The Worst Winter Ever’™. Not even halfway into into this winter of 2014 and it’s already shaping up to be one of the coldest on record in a city known for its fierce winters. At Lincoln Park Zoo, even the polar bears huddled inside to avoid the sub-zero temperatures of the past few weeks.

The polar vortex has brought us a 1-2 punch of near record snow, arctic temperatures, and fodder for climate change deniers’ bogus arguments. Funny how an obscure meteorological term around since at least 1950 can so quickly become part of our daily conversation.

Through all of this, Chicagoans have a tough reputation as winter spartans to uphold. So even though our home team may be absent from this year’s Superbowl, let’s fire up those grills for a weekend barbecue and show that Chicagoans won’t let winter get us down. Just be sure to keep that shovel handy for the 6-8 more inches of predicted snowfall. (UGH!)

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Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry

As the year winds down, it’s traditionally a time to take stock of where we’re at on a personal level and beyond.
I and my family have been fortunate in many ways this year and generally enjoy good health and food on the table. But for believers and non-believers alike, the phrase “there but for the grace of God” reminds us that, despite our best intentions and sound decisions, misfortune can hit anytime and anywhere like a figurative (or literal) hurricane.

Trish, Kristi, and Paula



Recently, I contacted the Community Program Manager at the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry, Kristi Braun, who kindly give me some insight into the workings of our local food pantry (Oak Park and River Forest are villages just west of Chicago) and told me how they’re dealing with this year’s particular challenges. Here’s what she had to say:

Q: Has the latest round of food stamp cuts affected the food pantry’s projected need for resources?
We are seeing an upsurge in client visits. Too early to tell if that is a result of the SNAP (food stamp benefit) cuts , but the timing is right. I think we will see more people coming.  Where else are they going to get the food they need?

Q: How can local residents get involved and what is the best way to donate (volunteering, cash, specific food items)?
There are a number of ways that local residents can get involved.  People immediately think of donating food as the #1 way to help out.  Our focus is to provide protein-rich, nutrient-dense food to our clients.  Protein food donations go a long way.  Food costs have gone up considerably, especially protein foods (meat, peanut butter, tuna, etc).  Of the 60,000 lbs. of food that are distributed each month, only 40% of it comes from food donations.  We have to purchase approximately 60%.  A $1 donation enables us to purchase $10 worth of food.  We purchase our food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository (1 of 8 IL food banks).  So monetary donations go a long way.  And volunteering is always a great way to get involved at the food pantry.  We have been averaging 1,600 volunteer hours each month.  Needless to say, volunteers are the backbone of our organization. 

Q: How widespread is the hunger problem in our area?
Food insecurity in Oak Park is 10.5%.  In Austin it’s 34.2%.  The other communities we serve range from a River Forest low of 5.1% to Humboldt Park at 22.1%.  One of 4 families with children region-wide are food insecure.  One in three working poor and single mother-headed households are food insecure.

Q: How does the pantry get its funding? (private donations, federal/state funding, community organizations?)
All of the above.  By far our biggest source of funding is individual donations.  The only federal support we have is USDA commodities (about 10% of the food we distribute).  We also have a Community Development Block Grant through HUD (allocated through the Village of Oak Park), but it is only about 5% of our funding. 

Q: How will the pantry mark the coming holidays?
While we would love to be able to provide our clients with specialty holiday items (turkeys, hams, etc) we have chosen to spend our food dollars on nutrient-dense and protein-rich foods throughout the year rather than focus a large amount of food dollars on holiday foods that only benefit a few or by providing smaller amount of food needed for day to day meals.
The numbers of those going hungry in the richest nation on earth are sad and staggering, but maybe the most significant number is the amazing statistic that food pantries get a 1000% boost in buying power for every dollar they receive.

For more information on the Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry, here’s a video that goes into more detail:

Many thanks to Kristi and to all the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry volunteers. And to all a great Thanksgiving and remember that giving to those in need is a year round thing.

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August ’69: Flying high in Chicago

“Let’s play two!”
Hall-of-Famer Ernie Banks

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
John F. Kennedy
‘Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs’ speech
May 25, 1961

With those famous words, JFK issued a direct challenge to America’s technical ingenuity and competitive spirit. At the time, many older folks in the crowd remembered an era when the idea of manned flight, let alone traveling to outer space was considered the stuff of science fiction. Yet on July 20th 1969, a full six months under the deadline imposed by JFK, all of America and much of the world were fixated on live TV images of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin beamed back from the lunar surface. The seemingly impossible had been achieved.

The second part of the goal, bringing the Apollo 11 crew back safely to earth was no mean feat either, and once that was accomplished, they returned to an historic hero’s welcome. Nearly a month later, on August 13th, Chicago prepared it’s own ceremony for the moon walking superstars which included a huge ticker tape parade ending at the Loop’s Civic Center (later renamed Daley Plaza) beneath the then two-year-old Picasso sculpture.

My mom and I arrived early to snag a good view along the LaSalle Street parade route. This was the second such parade in the same day for the jet-setting astronauts. In a prophetic foreshadowing, New York City was first.

But as exciting as all of this was, it wasn’t the ONLY reason for this young Chicago area boy’s euphoric state throughout much of that summer of ’69. While Neil and Buzz were hopping along the Sea of Tranquility and in the days that followed their return, the Chicago Cubs baseball team was building up an apparently insurmountable lead in the National League East and were well on their way to fulfilling the long-awaited promise of bring a pennant to Chicago’s north side.

Jack Brickhouse

With a roster of unstoppable All-Stars including Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Don Kessinger, Glen Beckert, Billy Williams, and Fergie Jenkins, they were 75-44 on August 16, up by a season high nine games over the second place New York Mets and bound for glory. I’d attended my first game the year before, and was a diehard fan by the time the ’69 season began, faithfully tuning into the games announced by Jack Brickhouse (HEY HEY!) on WGN.

design by Arnold Skolnick

Meanwhile, just 90 miles away from where the Apollo 11 astronauts were hightailing it out of Manhattan bound for Chicago, a music festival billed as “An Aquarian Exposition” and more commonly known as Woodstock was just about to get under way in the tiny hamlet of White Lake. What began as a paid event ended up being free as the number of attendees grew to more than half a million. Despite some cases of drug overdose and heat stroke, the event was a largely peaceful gathering and quickly turned into a cultural phenomenon. August 17th marked the final day of the festival, and to match the “high” of the festival goers, the Cubs hit their peak two days later with a no-hitter thrown by Ken Holzman against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field. The Cubs, now 8 games ahead of the second place Mets, were on top of the world. But like many hallucinogenic highs, this one ended up in a terrifying “bad trip”, namely to the Mets’ Shea Stadium for two games in early September. By that time their lead over the surging Mets was down to 2 games and on Sept. 9th and 10th, in the midst of a disastrous losing streak, and following a bizarre incident in which a black cat crossed behind Ron Santo standing in the on-deck circle, the Cubs dropped both games to the Mets and, despite a 1/2 game lead at that point, the writing was on the wall. The Cubs finished up the season a full 8 games out of first place and the “Miracle Mets” went on to win the 1969 World Series.
In the years since then, there have been other heartbreaks and near-great teams, but the totality of the ’69 Cubs collapse still goes down in the record books as their most famous downfall. Yet, as we approach the opening of the 2013 baseball season, Cub fans will once again dream the impossible dream of bringing a World Series to the North side.
Hey, if we can put a man on the moon, why not?

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Sketches from the NATO protests

So the 2012 NATO Summit is history, and the city of Chicago is still standing, despite the predictions by some of pademonium in the streets. Whether due to the extraordinary precautions of the police force or a case of overhyped hysteria, things have returned to normal, much to the dismay of the cable news networks. On a whole, the day passed with only minor skirmishes with police. During the early hours, the biggest battle was with the heat.
I was on hand for Friday’s National Nurses United rally at Daley Plaza and Sunday’s protest rally at Grant Park though I left before the march to McCormick place. The Grant Park crowd tried to keep cool as a steady stream of speakers read short prepared remarks aimed at NATO and human rights.
As expected, there were good opportunities to sketch the faces in the crowd and on stage. I added color to some of the images later, which was especially needed in the case of the “generalissimo” in the hot pink uniform.

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2012 Chicago NATO summit

So your brother’s bound and gagged
And they’ve chained him to a chair
Won’t you please come to Chicago just to sing
In a land that’s known as Freedom
How can such a thing be fair
Won’t you please come to Chicago for the help that we can bring?

-Graham Nash

This May, Chicago will be host city for the 2012 NATO summit. It will mark the first time a NATO summit in the U.S. has been held outside Washington. Depending upon which source you reference, the three-day event will be met with either peaceful, family-friendly marches or will be a powder keg of potential violence.

In any case, given that this is an election year, and Chicago is seen as the hometown of President Obama, all eyes will be on the city, much as they were on election night, 2008, when President-elect Obama delivered his historic victory speech from Grant Park. Counter-NATO organizers are taking to social media sites to whip up support among their members and Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields estimates the number of protesters likely to convene in the city at upwards of 40,000. The first permits for protests during the summit have already been issued. So Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is taking extra precautions to ensure that the protests that DO occur are peaceful and any potential violent disruptions are headed off swiftly. The police force is undergoing riot baton training and ordering protective gear including over $190,000 for new state-of-the-art face shields.

Chicago 1968

With the potential for violent protests and strong reaction from law enforcement, there will surely be comparisons to Chicago’s 1968 Democratic national convention, which was marked by violent clashes between young antiwar protesters and then Mayor Richard J. Daley’s police force. As the politician’s convened, live televised images of bloody and beaten protesters being hauled off in paddy wagons tarnished both Daley’s and Chicago’s reputation in the years that followed.

However things play out this May in Chicago (and let’s hope they remain peaceful), there are sure to be large crowds and strong opinions, which always makes for good sketching opportunities. I plan on being there with my drawing pad. If anyone cares to join in, drop me a line.

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Chicago “L” crash 35th anniversary

Here’s an animated short film I made about Chicago’s iconic “L” (short for “elevated” ) commuter train system.

On Feb. 4th, 1977, 35 years ago today, during the busy evening rush hour, two trains collided due to human error. Three train cars completely derailed and fell 20 feet to the busy street below. When it was over, 11 people were dead and over 180 were injured. Though there have been other derailments in the L’s long history, several of which are recounted here, none were as deadly as the 1977 incident.
I was a student in the western suburbs and had only ridden the “L” a few times in my life when I heard the news and saw pictures of the derailment. Since that day, I’ve ridden the “L” countless times to State & Lake, the stop just before the sharp bend in the tracks where the trains plunged to the ground. Viewing the actual scene of the accident, it’s surprising to me that there weren’t even more casualties.

You can read more about the 1977 “L” derailment here and here and read of the survivors’ first-hand accounts here.

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Interview with Raid Bug creator Don Pegler

Update: It was with great sadness that I received the news that Don Pegler passed away yesterday, Dec. 26, 2011. He was a giant in the business of advertising and truly one of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. RIP Don. You’ll be missed.

(Originally Published Oct. 1st, 2010)

With bedbugs, stinkbugs, and R1N1 in the headlines these days, what better time to check in with Don Pegler, the creator and artist behind one of the most successful ad campaigns ever?

The Raid bug campaign, originating in 1963, is part of advertising history, and Don Pegler designed and drew them for 40 years of his career with Foote, Cone & Belding ad agency (now DraftFCB) in Chicago.

I was just beginning my career with Foote, Cone, & Belding at a time when Mr. Pegler was a veteran of the agency and held the esteemed position of “Artist in Residence”.

When I called on him for an interview all these years later, he was as cordial and generous with his time as always, crafting a thoughtfully written twelve page letter in response to my questions.

Were you surprised at how enduring the Raid campaign has been?
DP: When I started on the Raid account I really liked it, but I never thought it would still be going 50 years later. And I got to go out to Hollywood and work with famous people like Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs Bunny and many others) and Tex Avery (Animation Director). At the time, I didn’t realize how famous they were…just a guy making funny voices- and driving a Rolls Royce. Years later at an animation show, some people wanted to touch some of the notes Tex Avery had sent me as if they were touching the Holy Grail.

Where did you learn to be an illustrator?
DP:  I went to The Art Institute of Chicago for a semester, but they weren’t teaching us how to get a job. So I took a night course on how advertising works- one week at a studio, next a printing house, then an agency, etc. At the end of the course, the teacher got us jobs. I was an apprentice at a large art studio- delivering packages and mail, cutting mats, etc. I made $20 a week. But I could use the studio as a downtown base to shop around my samples and look for a real job. One time I went to the office of Esquire magazine on Michigan Ave. to show some cartoons I had done, but they were packing up the office to move to New York. And one of their people had just quit to start a “girlie” magazine. It was Hugh Hefner going to start Playboy. Years later, I was introduced to his daughter, Christy Hefner and I was tempted to tell her that story, but I didn’t.

Did you have other jobs before FCB?
DP: Before joining FCB, I had been a magazine illustrator for five years, and then an animator for five years. A former Disney man taught me animation at a studio called Cartoonists, Inc. in Chicago. But Chicago style animation meant doing the whole job yourself, not like in LA, where you had backup people to do the hundreds of in-between drawings- 12 drawings for each second of film. So I started to feel I was drawing pictures by the pound. And I couldn’t show off because the agency guys would be afraid to change anything after they had sold the idea to the client.

Who would you say were your main influences?
DP: I’d have to say Jack Davis, of course. And a guy named John Huehnergarth, who was a great idea man and artist from the 50’s and 60’s.

Earlier, you mentioned a comic strip of yours that was never published. What happened there?
DP: One day Henny Youngman called me from New York. He told me he was a comedian with a thousand and one jokes and asked if I was interested in drawing a strip. Of course I was. Henny’s strip was about a grandfather who is showing his grandson around New York City. The only gag I remember drawing was: The grandfather takes the kid down to see the subway. When they come back up, the kid says, “I don’t know who lives down there, but he’s got a great train set.” Unfortunately, most of Henny’s jokes were for nightclubs and the syndicate that ran comics had strict rules about what went into the comics, so most of the jokes he sent me couldn’t be used. How do you illustrate “Take my wife….PLEASE!”? They even had words you couldn’t use because “creative” kids could doctor them into swear words. Henny couldn’t understand why I couldn’t use his jokes, so he asked me if I didn’t think he was funny. I told him he was maybe the funniest person I ever met, but his jokes weren’t for the comics, so we gave up. I’m glad I did because even though it was a chance at big money, I wouldn’t want to do the same thing day after day.
I remember walking down Michigan Ave. with Jeff MacNelly, the Chicago Tribune political cartoonist who had just earned his 3rd Pulitzer Prize. I asked him how he had time to draw the strip “Shoe” and do the editorial cartoon AND the cover of the Sunday Magazine section. All he said was “That’s not all I do.” He died young. Too bad. He was a great talent.

What do you think of the more recent computer animated films as opposed to traditional cel animation?
DP: I’m from the horse and buggy days. It’s changed so much that I have no idea how it’s done. Last night I watched the movie “Avatar” and couldn’t tell the real from the fantasy. When digital artists started at FCB, I asked if they drew pictures. They said yes, but it wasn’t that important to what they do. So maybe it’s the end of drawing as we know it.

Any advice for aspiring illustrators?
DP: Because of the difficulty I had getting into the art business- no contacts- no one to ask questions- I always try to help others who want to make a living in art. Through the years, I’ve been asked to look at young people’s portfolios. I’m happy to do that, but I only look at their drawing ability. If they don’t have it, I tell ’em. There’s other kinds of art jobs- designer, art director, etc., but illustrators have to have drawing ability. And I tell them to be careful of what samples they show. One bad drawing or layout or design will stay in the client’s mind over a bunch of good stuff.
My many years at FCB were helped by my being able to draw realistically and also draw comic line stuff. I would be asked to do a client’s portrait one day and a cartoon the next. And I looked forward to it. Every day.

I’m very thankful to Don Pegler for taking the time to share some of his memories of those early days of advertising. Funny how the Raid bugs meet their end in every commercial, yet they’ve somehow managed to endure through all these years.

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Sketches from Occupy Chicago – Part 1


“And we shall organize them for the victory! We shall bear down the opposition, we shall sweep it before us-and Chicago will be ours! Chicago will be ours! CHICAGO WILL BE OURS!”– Upton Sinclair, “The Jungle”


The following are a few on-the-spot sketches (one of which suffered some water damage from wet pavement) of Occupy Chicago gatherings. Some minimal color and tone was added in Photoshop.

Ground zero for the occupiers is at the corner of La Salle and Jackson near the Chicago Board of Trade, where they gather every day at around 1:30 PM.
A couple of the sketches are from a rally co-sponsored by Occupy Chicago and various senior citizen’s rights groups which was held at the Federal Plaza on Nov. 7th to protest proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security. The gathering, which featured brief appearances by Sen. Dick Durbin and other local politicians (notably absent was other state senator Mark Kirk), was followed by a march and sit-in which blocked traffic at the intersection of Clark and Jackson until police peacefully arrested some of the protesters in what amounted to a staged act of civil disobedience.

From an artist’s perspective, the gatherings provide a great opportunity for spontaneous, lively sketches, since the participants tend to be fired up and in constant motion. And despite some efforts to paint the protest movement with a broad brush, it’s members seem to come from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and each has their own story to tell.

As with a previous post of “Faces on a Train”, I hope to make this the first installment of a series.

Thanks for looking. Comments welcome!

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Faces on a Train: first installment

For years I commuted to downtown Chicago’s Loop, riding the “L” train through the west side of the city. Now I ride only occasionally and at off peak hours, which gives me a chance to sketch some of the riders unobserved. With an endless supply of faces and poses to serve as inspiration, it’s fun to experiment with a different styles.

Here I’ve composited a few of these sketches digitally with some of the amazing photos my wife, Lynn, has taken during her commute.

And I couldn’t resist posting a few more of Lynn’s pictures on their own:

I hope to continue this series from time to time, so Green Line riders be forewarned.

Comments welcome.

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Interview with “The Bird Machine’s” Jay Ryan

In the world of band show posters, known as “gig” posters, there are few artists with the stature (physically as well as artistically) of Chicago’s Jay Ryan. From his storefront screen printing facility in Skokie, Illinois, called The Bird Machine, Jay cranks out thousands of posters for famous and not-so-famous bands including his own, Dianogah. Gig posters have become recognized as a cool and collectible art form that are prized long after many of the bands whose shows they promote are no longer around. Along with graphic novels, gig posters have seen a surge in popularity that goes far beyond their core audience.

I recently caught up with Jay at the Daily Planet Rock and Art Poster Party to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Steve Walters’ Screwball Press and he was kind enough answer a few questions:

Q: In one of your previous interviews, you mention one of your painting teachers, Peter Kursel, by name, but it doesn’t say where you went to school. How important do you think a formal art education was for you and do you think having an art degree is a great advantage for artists in general?

Jay: I went to the University of Illinois in Urbana, which was the only school to which I applied where I couldn’t get into the architecture program. I started in industrial design, but soon switched to painting, largely due to a cute girl in the painting program (and 19 years later we’re still together). Peter Kursel was mentioned in that interview, but Roger Kotoske, Barbara Kendrick, Sarah Krepp, Tim van Laar and Dennis Rowan were all important to my education. I think Tim van Laar is the only one of those I’ve mentioned who is still teaching in Urbana.

While there are tons of exceptions, including some of my favorite artists, I think that a formal education is generally a good foundation for making work, so there’s a sense of context to what you’re doing. Learn the rules so you understand where the lines are, and then you’re able to decide when you want to work inside the lines or draw outside of them.

For me, the “formal” part of the education played a minor role in what I now perceive that I learned in school. The figure drawing, line weight, color sense, painting techniques and proper way to cut foamcore were all important, but as I mentioned in that previous interview, I got more from a couple “lessons” I learned about how to redefine what a drawing could be, to lower my expectations away from “drawing well”, and to be able to work around the tendency to freeze up when trying to create an image.

Q: In your book “100 Posters:134 Squirrels” you mention that one of your pieces, the cover for Michael Chabon’s “The Final Solution”  was originally colored in Photoshop then recreated using traditional screen printing techniques. As a traditional screen printer, what are your feelings regarding digitally created art as a medium? Do you use the computer at all at any stage of your creative process?

Jay: Generally, I don’t use the computer for my poster work. I usually* pride myself on making my prints entirely with hand-drawn linework and text, and hand-cutting the separations for printing. I do use Photoshop when I design album covers or t-shirts for bands, but I use the program in the same way that I make my screenprints, by scanning in a pencil drawing, and coloring the layers in the same way I would by hand. This is useful when the project is something that’s not going to be screenprinted, or isn’t going to be printed by me.

* I say “usually”, as I am currently without access to a good Xerox machine for making my key plate films, so for the last 3 or 4 months I have been scanning my pencil drawings into Photoshop and having them output as a film by the service bureau next door to my shop. So I can’t technically claim to be computer-free right now.

Q: On the subject of the creative process, how do you work out your ideas? Much of your finished work seems to have a fresh, sketchy look to it.  Do you keep a sketchbook or written journal of ideas?

Jay: No, I take forever to fill sketchbooks. I don’t
normally just draw for drawing’s sake. I guess I get that itch scratched by pretty much all of the projects I work on, as I feel like they’re all my personal work. I just go “Oh, okay, next is a Melvins print.” I listen to the Melvins, and hope that something comes to me quickly.

Q: Has the recession affected the gig poster market? Screen printed gig posters seem like a great way for music fans and art lovers to get original limited edition artwork at an affordable price and I’ve got to say, as nice as the pieces look in the book reproductions, nothing beats seeing the richness and grain of hand pulled screen prints.

Jay: As a small business owner with employees, I have the same economic concerns as everyone who isn’t a banker-pirate, oil baron, or overpaid conservative talkshow pundit. However, due to the fact that our business model is accidentally based on the idea of getting lots and lots of little paychecks instead of a couple of big paychecks, we’re continuing to do slightly better every year.

Q: As a new and first time dad, do you find your perspective has changed in terms of balancing home and work and when will you give your daughter her first lesson in screen printing?

Jay: This is sort of an ongoing struggle, which we don’t see resolving for a couple of years. My wife and I both run our own businesses, and we’re trying to find the right ways to balance spending as much time as possible with the baby (who turns 6 months next week) while maintaining our respective careers. What we each do is unlike a job at the store, where you can take off for a year, then get another job at the store and things are basically the same. If I were to drop out of working for a year (or more), I think I’d lose some of my audience, and many of my clients. As for lessons, we’ll see if my daughter has any interest in what I do. At the moment, she’s way more interested in getting her toes into her mouth.

Many thanks to Jay Ryan for giving me a rare peek inside The Bird Machine. His posters have been published in two collections including the aforementioned “100 Posters:134 Squirrels” and “Animals and Objects In and Out of Water”. His work and that of many other incredible gig poster artists can also be found at

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Jack Johnson and the “Fight of the Century”

Here’s a printed version of the text above:

“When asked to reveal the secret to his legendary virility, Johnson replied, ‘Eat jellied eels and think distant thoughts.’ ”

“On July 4th, 1910 heavyweight boxers Jack Johnson and former undefeated champion James Jeffries met in Reno, Nevada in what has been called “the Fight of the Century”. The fight was billed as a contest for racial superiority, and Jeffries was touted by many as the “Great White Hope” who would defeat Johnson once and for all. Johnson knocked Jeffries down for the first time in his career twice in the 15th round and his manager threw in the towel. In the riots which erupted throughout the U.S. following the fight, about 25 people, mostly African American, were killed and hundreds more injured.”

“One of Johnson’s wives, despondent over his repeated abuse and infidelity, committed suicide…He remarried less than three months later.”

I discovered the Chicago connection to this story after I’d begun the illustration. His first wife, Etta Duryea, and Jack Johnson are buried together in Chicago’s opulent Graceland cemetery, resting place of many Chicago luminaries including Marshall Field, L. Mies van der Rohe, George M. Pullman and others, though his relatively simple grave marker only displays his last name, and no other information.

Etta Duryea was a upscale socialite and like many of his women, white, which didn’t sit well with people of either race at the time. She suffered from acute depression which wasn’t helped by Johnson’s frequent womanizing and physical abuse. In 1912, she committed suicide with a revolver in the couple’s apartment.


Many thanks to my friend and sports memorabilia collector Jon Oye for scanning these tobacco cards from that era. (He has his own blog, Contemplations on Classic Movies and Music, which I highly recommend.

Coming from an era when African Americans weren’t allowed to compete with whites in any sports other than boxing (even that being a rarity), Jack Johnson, though his unmatched fighting skills and larger-than-life persona, became one of the nation’s first true media celebrities and sports superstars.

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Chicago’s “Bike the Drive” 2011

Chicago’s “Bike the Drive” took place this past Sunday, May 29th and though Lake Michigan was shrouded in fog and mist, the most violent thunderstorms held off until the afternoon, preventing a total washout.

The ride has been held annually since 2004, with Chicago’s main lakefront thoroughfare being closed to motor traffic the Sunday morning before Memorial Day. Riders start out at the intersection of Columbus Blvd. & Randolph Street in the heart of the downtown area and can choose to ride just the south leg to 57th Street , the north leg to Hollywood, or both, a distance of about 30 miles round trip. A pavilion with bands and food is set up in Grant Park for riders or spectators and volunteers supply food and bananas at rest stops at either end of the route.

This year, in preparation for the glorious view of the lake which wasn’t to be, I rigged up a “helmet cam” using my iPhone and a holster carrier. I used the app Timelapse Pro to shoot the video, which worked out pretty well, though I could have done with a rain visor for the iPhone.

By the time we finished with the north route, the south leg was closed, which was just as well since the rains began shortly afterward. The ticket price of $45 ($55 if buying on the day of the event) goes toward the Active Transportation Alliance to promote bicycling safety and advocacy.

This year marks my second year taking part, and though the weather could have been better, I was happy that both my kids joined my wife and me this time around.

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