Take the L Train
Today Marilyn and I headed to Millennium Park, another downtown attraction worthy of a week’s worth of sketching. After we exited the Red Line train, we walked a few blocks to West Madison Street, then headed east toward Lake Michigan. Here, skyscrapers blocked most of a cloudless sky, shielding us from the scorch of the sun.
Just past State Street, an elevated train bridge caught my eye with its industrial, old world look. We sat down at a Mexican restaurant's outdoor patio table that provided an unobstructed view of the El tracks. Marilyn ordered us lunch while I held the umbrella-less table. The temps today were edging toward the 90s, but the humidity was low enough to make that bearable. My sketchpad page glowed a pristine white before me as I studied the bridge, a break between tall buildings permitting sunlight.
After devouring a burrito bowl piled high with spicy chicken, black beans, guacamole, sour cream, salsa, and lettuce, I sketched the bridge while keeping cool with a glass of Iced tea.
Since arriving here in Chicago, I’ve done most of my sketching while standing on pedestrian-laden sidewalks, occasionally finding a comfortable spot to lean against a building. It’s not the most pleasant way to draw, but I’m willing to sacrifice comfort for a good vantage point. Today, it was great to have a place to sit and take some time.
The downtown commercial district of Chicago is called The Loop after the elevated train tracks that encircle the area. The L (or El, short for "elevated") was built in the late 19th Century. The area is home to the historic theater and shopping district, the more upscale Michigan Avenue's Magnificent Mile stores having gradually migrated a half mile north.
As I put the finishing touches on my drawing, Marilyn commented that she had never paid any attention to the elevated train bridge before now. I reflected on how familiarity with a place makes its details so easy to overlook. That’s what’s so great about being an artist on the road, everything looks new whether it is, or not. In this case, my sketchbook sorely needed a drawing revealing the city's history and grit. After all, I am in Chicago.