Birds of Chicagoland:
As a child growing up in New Jersey, I had two main hobbies: art and bird-watching. I would spend hours staring out at our backyard bird feeders, recording each and every bird I saw. I soon learned the different types of feed that could attract different types of birds, and started bringing my bird journal with me everywhere I went. Using my trusty "Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America," I enjoyed drawing pictures of all of my favorite birds. My interests shifted away from drawing superheroes and cartoon characters, and my love of art and birds became intertwined.
When I reached high school and my family moved to Kentucky, the types of birds I saw in my backyard changed somewhat dramatically. Instead of sparrows, jays, and doves, I now saw falcons, vultures, and hawks; and instead of watching them eat bird seed from a feeder, I now watched them hunt for rodents and even smaller birds. It was fascinating at first, but throughout high school and college my hobbies changed and I soon forgot much of my ornithological knowledge. As for my love of art, I earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, but never pursued it as a career and kept it mainly as a hobby. Plus, my artistic subject matter had long since shifted away from birds, and now focused on famous movie scenes, historical portraits, and race cars.
In 2008, I moved to Chicago and didn't care what kinds of birds I would or would not find there. However, it doesn't take an expert ornithologist to notice that Chicago has an amazingly diverse array of birds. I would walk through Lincoln Park and see Great Blue Herons and Wood Ducks; I would travel to parks and arboretums outside the city and see woodpeckers and big hawks; I would walk along the beach, lakefront, and river and see cormorants, terns, and kingfishers diving in the water; and I would walk to the Museum Campus and Northerly Island and see falcons, owls, and beautiful songbirds. Signs around the Museum Campus have information about what types of birds you can find, where, and during which seasons.
It was purely by coincidence that, two or three years after moving to Chicago, I was both looking for new artistic inspirations, and finally noticing birds again. In 2012, I decided to paint a picture of a bird for the first time in over a decade. Through the process of researching images, doing research, and trying to get all the small details executed correctly, my childhood love of painting my favorite birds came rushing back to me. Over the next couple years, I tried several more paintings of birds, and then in 2014 had an idea that would eventually become this book.
Creating the artwork for this book took exactly two years. Despite the work lasting 24 months and resulting in 24 final paintings, I did not produce one painting per month. There were months where I completed two or even three paintings, and there were months I never picked up a paintbrush. There were paintings I had to re-do, and others that I scrapped. During this time, I did not paint or draw anything except birds, as I wanted my style to remain as consistent as possible.
Two years is the longest I've ever devoted to any single project. A lot can happen in one's life over the course of two years: I got engaged, helped plan our wedding, was married, visited Europe twice, endured two Chicago winters, continued to work a full-time job, and much more. There were times I felt more stimulated and motivated by these paintings than I have ever felt before about anything, but there were also times I wanted to give up and thought it would never be finished. It reached a point where people would say to me, "oh, are you still working on that thing? I had forgot..."
In the end, I consider this book to be my masterpiece. It is the most time, effort, research, and emotion that I've ever put into anything I've done. It is the culmination of a lifetime of watching, reading about, and drawing birds. It wasn't a school assignment, or something intended to make money; I did it simply because I knew I could, and would be challenging, enlightening, and enjoyable. I hope this book will encourage you to better appreciate the beauty, diversity, and ecological importance of birds, in Chicagoland and around the world.