You aren't likely to meet anyone who finds pigeons to be attractive, special, or important. In cities around the world, you'll see signs that tell people not to feed them. To some, they are even viewed in the same way as rats: dirty vermin who carry disease and should be avoided. However, I personally have always liked pigeons, and would even say I sort of respect them. For one thing, my grandfather used to keep, train, and race pigeons, so they have always been special to our family. Also, Chicago city pigeons are quite tough in how they survive the winters, and totally unafraid of the humans they share sidewalks with. For this painting, I chose a Chicago location that may seem as instantly recognizable as the pigeon, but actually no longer exists. The Madison & Wabash 'L' Station was closed in March 2015 and demolished that summer, to be replaced by a more modern station at Washington St. I tried to present the station as old and in disrepair, with the pigeon puffed up to stay warm on the platform. The biggest challenge with this painting was getting the perspective correct, with so many different lines and levels.
For this book, I choose to exclude two of Chicago's most common birds: geese and seagulls. They are unattractive, unintelligent, and generally unfriendly birds, who eat garbage and can be aggressive toward people. However, a Caspian Tern is by no means a seagull. While gulls and terns are both members of the Lari suborder, they are distinctly separate families. One major difference is that terns will dive into the water from up to 50 feet to catch fish, whereas gulls do not dive at all. This leads to another important distinction: it is seagulls that want to steal your food at the beach, whereas terns only eat fish. The Caspian Tern is the world's largest type of tern, and will migrate to Chicago in the summer to breed. I chose to place this one flying above one of my favorite summertime spots, Promontory Point in Hyde Park. Located around 55th Street, it is easy to find on any map of Chicago as a small man-made peninsula sticking out into Lake Michigan. In the summer, it is where I like to ride my bike every weekend—which is why I included a bike leaning against a tree. The Promontory Point field house hosts many wedding receptions, including one for filmmaker George Lucas in 2013.
Completed on October 3, 2016, this was the last painting I did for this book. In an attempt to "finish strong," I challenged myself to paint not only one of Chicago's most ordinary and mundane birds, the sparrow, but also one of it's most famous and unique-looking landmarks, the Old Water Tower. I began by painting the Water Tower itself, as I knew it would take a long time to get all the small details correct, and then painted the sparrow on top. But once the Water Tower was complete, I realized I would have to do something special for the sparrow to make it stand out over the strong contrast and imposing features of the background. Therefore, I chose to paint the attractive and unique White-throated Sparrow—rather than the more common House Sparrow—using a limited palette of brown, yellow, and green watercolors. The White-throated Sparrow migrates to Chicago in the winter, and comes in two variations: white-striped (shown here) and tan-striped. During the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the Old Water Tower, built with limestone just 2 years prior, was the only public building in the so-called "burned district" to survive. It later became a symbol of the city's recovery, and today features an art gallery on the inside.