Sunday, August 21, 2016

Spotlight Sunday – Mary Lanigan Russo

Spotlight Sunday is a series of interviews designed to introduce and highlight Chicago Urban Sketchers individually.  Now that our chapter has over 500 members it has become more of a challenge to meet every sketcher in person and have a conversation.  These posts concentrate on individuals and speak in their own words and sketches.

Meet Mary Lanigan Russo!
Mary Lanigan Russo

Interviewed by Barbara Weeks

If you’ve attended a Chicago Sketch Seminar you know Mary Lanigan Russo as the remarkable registrar, tireless question answerer and desk anchor. Now, let’s shine the spotlight on Mary, Urban Sketcher and photographer.

Barbara Weeks: Hi Mary, welcome to the spotlight. 
Thank you for agreeing to the interview. Let’s jump right in! Tell us a little about yourself.

Mary Lanigan Russo: I was born and raised in Chicago – a proud South Side Irish White Sox fan. I have a wonderful husband, Rick, and I am mother to three fabulous stepchildren, and grandmother of four. My sister, brother, and I have thousands of cousins, and we love them all. I’ve had many jobs over the years, and apart from 5 years in Los Angeles, I have lived only in Chicago and a few suburbs.

Barbara: I know you’ve been part of Urban Skechers Chicago since the beginning. What prompted you to join USk Chicago?

Mary: I had been immersed in photography since the year 2000, printing in a darkroom, later digitally, and participating in art fairs. After my son passed away in February of 2012, I completely lost interest in photography (and everything else), and decided a change was needed. I heard about USk Chicago from a watercolor teacher, who included a link to USk Chicago in an email. I joined immediately by showing up in Lincoln Square in May of 2012.

Lincoln Square, 2012 and 2013

Barbara: Many of us turn to sketching in times of stress. I’m glad you joined us. I remember that day in Lincoln Square and your sketch from that day. It’s great that you shared it here! What else attracts you to sketching?

Mary: I always loved to draw when I was young. As an adult, it has been an excellent form of therapy for me. It’s sad that life sometimes gets in the way of creative pursuits, and I am very happy to be drawing again. It really takes you out of yourself when you concentrate on creating art. Now I sketch because I enjoy the process, the outcome (usually) and the company (always!).

Barbara: Do you have a favorite sketching medium?

Mary: I have always enjoyed drawing with pencil. But, I am also having a lot of fun sketching directly with ink, and then adding watercolor. If I couldn’t use pencil, I would probably just draw with ink - and let the mistakes be!

Barbara: Do you have a favorite subject matter?

My Right Shoe

Mary: I don’t think I have a favorite subject matter. I seem to do my best sketching and painting when my subject has personal meaning to me - e.g., an antique child’s rocking chair from my cousin’s farm, my bronzed baby shoe, my family. When my son died, I joined the Sketchbook Project and dedicated the sketchbook to his story. Special projects seem to motivate me and hold my interest.

Barbara: If you could sketch anywhere in the world where would that be?

Mary: Ireland, of course! I have only visited once, before I started sketching with Urban Sketchers. It is a beautiful country, and it feels like home.

Barbara: Is there an artist that has had a great influence on your work?

Mary: There are so many! Not that I am able to emulate them, but I love the work of Mary Cassatt, Renoir, Degas, Caillebotte, Homer, among others - and contemporary painters like Mary Whyte and Charles Reid (my two favorites). I also idolized my art teacher in high school, Sister Mary Chiara, who did beautiful watercolors of Italy. I have to say that the sketchers in Chicago are the most wonderful, and more immediate, influences. There is an incredible amount of talent and sharing in this group.

Barbara: Caillebotte and Charles Reid are at the top of my list, too. I agree with you about the sketchers in this group. They are immensely talented and generous in sharing their knowledge!
Is there a sketch you are most proud of?

Mary: I still like the very first sketch I did with USk Chicago! Maybe that’s because it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with sketching and sketchers.


Barbara: Do you have a tip to share for sketching on location?

Mary: I was a little apprehensive about sketching on location, but I soon realized that a) no one cares what you are doing, as long as it does not disturb others, and b) when people do pay attention to you and your sketching, they are always complimentary! So, my tip would be, don’t worry - be open to enjoy the moments, especially when children join you and ask you to draw something for them. In Chinatown, a six-year-old boy commissioned me to draw the red Angry Bird for him. His older sister then drew the modern Chinese symbol for “horse” next to my sketch of a horse statue. Great fun!

Barbara: I know that sketching is only one of your art endeavors. Will you tell us a little about your other art projects?

Mary: I am still learning about watercolor painting. I am working on painting portraits of my four grandchildren. And, I have recently decided to draw all the places I’ve lived - which is a very long list - and I plan to have them in a Japanese-style, accordion-fold sketchbook. I plan to use different media like graphite, colored pencils, light watercolor, etc. I also enjoy making journals, which I give as gifts. I recently learned how to do the Coptic stitch in Jodie McGovern’s workshop this past July, so I will be using that technique in future hand made journals and sketchbooks.

Barbara: Are you still pursuing photography?

Mary: I’m still hooked on photography and have been since I was a child, taking pictures with my parents’ Brownie camera. I received my very own Brownie Starmite when I was 12. (I still have it!) I continued to annoy all family members with stealth photography for years. After taking photography classes from 2000 to 2003, my husband built a darkroom in our basement, and I began to produce fine art photos, which I sold at various exhibits. I transitioned to digital photography around 2006, and continued to sell both silver gelatin prints and giclee prints at art fairs and private exhibits. My photos of Ireland are the most popular.

Lincoln Park Zoo
Barbara: We know you’re on Facebook and post to Urban Sketchers Chicago. Are there any other social media accounts where people can see more of your work?

Mary: I do have a blog, which I have completely neglected for the past two years. I am planning to start blogging again by adding my current project to the blog, which can be found at I am also on Instagram as mlrphotos.

Barbara: Thanks, Mary, for taking the time to do this interview and sharing your experiences with us. Hope to see you at the next sketch meet!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Spotlight Sunday - Daniel Young

Spotlight Sunday is a series of interviews designed to introduce and highlight Chicago Urban Sketchers individually.  Now that our chapter has over 500 members it has become more of a challenge to meet every sketcher in person and have a conversation.  These posts concentrate on individuals and speak in their own words and sketches.

Meet Daniel Young!

Interviewed by Alex Zonis

About a week or so back I sent Daniel my interview questions, a set similar to the one all our interviewees get.
Instead of answering my questions in sequence Daniel sent me a story. I know Daniel for a couple of years, so I was only briefly surprised: being unique is his normal way of being.

So I have for you - Daniel Young, his self portrait, his story and work.

Daniel Young self-portrait
Daniel Young:

One of my goals in biking across country was to return to Chicago (the best city in the country, IMO) and turn some of my photos into paintings. But upon returning I soon faced the fact that my vision for the paintings was way beyond my ability to paint them.

I had always been into the arts, but pencil was always my choice of tools and still to this day it's the medium I feel most comfortable using. Which is why I'm enjoying things like the ball point pen. If I'm comfortable, I'm not growing.

Okay - the solution was easy. Learn to paint. The first step for me in learning how to paint Well was to return back to the basics and learn how to draw well.

I already knew that meant practice practice, practice. So I was happy to read an article, posted by Alex saying that "Talent" was about 10,000 hours of practice. That equates to about 5 years, and at 57 years old I needed to get a move on it.

So I started drawing everything, all the time, even earning the name "the guy that draws all the time". Also after returning to Chicago, re-entry into a non-nomadic life proved to be a bit more challenging than I originally anticipated, so drawing became a great escape for me.

People are my favorite subject matter and I love coffee, so Starbucks was the perfect blend.. It was at a Starbucks that Hope Hanley first introduced me USK.

For me, sketching had become an adventure. An adventure very close to cycling; each moment was completely brand new and you never know who or what you'll run into around the corner or over the next hill. But up to this point I had never met another sketcher. Why was I the only one out there drawing? I chalked it up to not owning a TV or a smartphone. And kept drawing. But to have Hope give me hope that there were others out there too. I wasn't the only one! I have to admit I leaned against the table to maintain my balance which had all the sudden gone wacky due to my weak knees. And I'm not kidding. The ceiling to Starbucks opened up to angels sang Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah.

Need I say more? I've been hooked ever since.

This group has such a wide variety of artists, I'm constantly being pushed in new directions as I travel with them in their adventures  And that THRILLS me. You can't help but to become a better artist, just by being around them. 

USK has also changed my vision on what painting is all about.

Plein air painting in the park by the Zoo.
The artist in the painting is Charlie Critchelow

Alex Zonis: Thank you for sharing your story, your talent and your sketches with us, Daniel. I happen to know that you will be co-hosting our sketch meet next week, this is just great - our sketchers can meet you in person!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Spotlight Sunday - Dana Johnson

Spotlight Sunday is series of interviews designed to introduce and highlight Chicago Urban Sketchers individually. Now that our chapter has reached nearly 500 members it has become more of a challenge to meet every single member in person and have a meaningful conversation. These posts concentrate on individuals and speak in their own words.

Dana Johnson

Interviewed by Paul Ingold

Paul: Thanks for participating in our Spotlight Sunday interview, Dana. Can you tell us how you found Urban Sketchers Chicago?

Dana: A few years ago I discovered Urban Sketchers on Instagram and really enjoyed seeing different places around the world through the eyes of artists. When I moved to Chicago last year, I started looking at the Chicago Urban Sketchers sketches on Instagram. It was really fun to see all sites around the city that people were drawing.

Paul: Can I ask where you moved from?

Dana: Sure, I lived in Bondi Beach Australia (near Sydney) before moving to Chicago.

Paul: Very cool. And you also told me that the photo of you sketching (above) was taken in Gnarlaloo, Western Australia. Can you tell us why you like to sketch?

Dana: I love to sketch, it is a great way to really see and remember a place. If I spend 15 minutes observing and sketching in a place I remember the smells, sounds, people when I look back at that sketch. For me it is very relaxing to draw.

Paul: Do you have a favorite sketching tool or materials?

Dana: A small watercolor pan set that I have had for over 15 years, ink usually a micron pen or quill with ink and I really like the fabriano water color blocks. They travel well.

Paul: What would be your favorite place to sketch?

Dana: I love being by the water and Chicago has great spaces by Lake Michigan where you can see the skyline. Millennium and Maggie Daley Parks are also great green spaces, and people watching!

Paul: You sent us four urban sketches. What inspired them? Why are these scenes special to you?

Dana: Sketch 1 - Lincoln Park, one of the first real summer days in Chicago, it was great people watching, everyone was out enjoying the day. I had walked along the lake front and it was a great place to rest and enjoy the view.

Dana: Drawing 2 - The view from my seat on Air Choice One. I had the opportunity to fly with this tiny airline that flies from Chicago. The view over Lake Michigan and the skyline coming into Chicago was fantastic.

Dana: Drawing 3 - Chicago has a lot of great cafés, and most don't mind of you sit and sketch. This image shows my basic set up that I carry with me every day just in case I have a few minutes to sketch.

Dana: Drawing 4 - Ukrainian Village Church. I drew this very soon after arriving in Chicago, I was up on a roof in West Town. I loved the light and overview of the neighborhood.

Paul: What do you do when you are not sketching?

Dana: When I'm not sketching, I work on freelance projects and enjoy being active outside hiking, walking, and spending time with family. I really love pleinair oil painting too.

Paul: Thanks again for participating in this interview Dana! For those that would like to see more of Dana's work... here's her website and social media links:
Twitter: @Dana_M_Johnson
Instagram: @danamjohnson & @sketchworthy

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Spotlight Sunday - Claudia Renzi


Spotlight Sunday is a series of interviews designed to introduce and highlight Chicago Urban Sketchers to one of its own. Now that our chapter has eclipsed the 500 member mark, it became more of a challenge to meet every member in person and have a conversation. The hope is that, through these interviews, you will get to know a little more about one artist and read their story in their own words and sketches.

Interview by: Andrew Banks (AB)

AB: Hi Claudia, thank-you for taking the time to talk and to tell our group a little bit about yourself!

How did you first hear about the Urban Sketchers community and what made you decide to join Urban Sketching Chicago?

© Claudia Renzi
I heard about Urban Sketching Chicago from Don Yang and Alex Zonis. We both take Don's Portrait class. They told me great things about this group and I needed a way to deal with life stresses at that moment. I find drawing very relaxing.

AB: That's awesome.  I also find urban sketching very relaxing.  There is something very meditative about focusing on capturing a scene on paper and blocking everything else out for a while.

AB: Did you sketch before finding USk Chicago?  If so, when did you start sketching?

Yes I have been drawing off and on since college, but never professionally. It has always been a hobby of mine. For the past couple of year I have tried to take it a bit more seriously.

AB:  I believe that you recently held a booth for the first time at the Wells Street Art Fair, and it looks like many of the pieces you were selling were urban sketches?  How did you like the experience, and how did people respond to your work?  Would you recommend other urban sketchers to pursue their own booth at an art fair?

CR: Yes, most of my drawings where urban sketches. Some where done in the spot and some where done at home from a picture (the theaters). Having a booth at the Wells Street Art Fest was a great and exiting experience, but since work a full time job as an Art Director for Crate and Barrel, preparing the artwork was very stressful and expensive in comparison to the profit. People responded favorably, I got lots of great complements and positive feedback. Specially Architects!!! It's good for getting your name out there. (I ran out off business cards) I also confirmed that people who attend festivals are not there to spend money in original art. I was able to sell lots a prints and stationary. Everyone should try it at least once.

AB:  What is your favorite medium to sketch with?

Moleskine Watercolor Sketch book, Japanese Platinum Carbon Ink for a Super Fine Fountain Pen.

AB: Interesting!  This is my "go to" sketch kit too.  I do a lot of ink drawing also, so I really identify with and enjoy your work.  It is always fun to see similarities and differences in other sketcher's work, especially when the sketcher has an overall similar style to your own.  Your work has definitely caught my eye and inspired my own work

AB:  Has urban sketching ever had an impact on your day job as a Graphic Designer?  If so how?

© Claudia Renzi
CR: Yes, it has. It has helped me mostly with conceptual design. I can more easily illustrate/explain logo and layout ideas. I am the kind of graphic designer that likest to sketch before working directly on the computer. My sensitivity to details has improved, specially when it comes to typographical solutions.

AB: Are there any Urban Sketchers who inspire your own work?

Yes of course. Many inspire me.  You, Alex Zonis, Don Yang, Fred Polito, Chris Buczinsky and  Adriana Gasparich. Just to name a few.AB: If you could chose the next location for the our group's monthly meet up, where would it be?  In other words, where is your favorite place in Chicago to sketch?

CR: Montrose Harbor in the summer. Any Chicago Theater in the winter.

AB:  Montrose Harbor would be a great summer location.  I actually spend a lot of time there myself, walking my dog and sketching too.

AB:  Do you have any websites, blogs or social media accounts where people can see more of your work?

Design website:
Fine art website:
Facebook page:
Studio Renzi (Etsy):

AB: Thanks Claudia! Your websites are really well done!  It has been a pleasure, and I look forward to seeing more of your work!

© Claudia Renzi

Sunday, June 19, 2016

USk Chicago Spotlight Sunday: Ken Czech

Interviewed by Wes Douglas (WD)

Spotlight Sunday is a series of interviews designed to introduce and highlight Chicago Urban Sketchers to one of its own. Now that our chapter has eclipsed the 500 member mark, it became more of a challenge to meet every member in person and have a conversation. The hope is that, through these interviews, you will get to know a little more about one artist and read their story in their own words and sketches.

Say “hello” to Ken Czech
On this Sunday, I am proud to introduce you to my friend Ken Czech, an alumni of The America Academy of Art (our host location for the Chicago Sketch Seminar) and a drummer with his group Peace Road. Ken and I immediately found a common bond in our love of music and sketching. Without further ado, welcome Ken and thank you for agreeing to chat with me today.

Ken: Sure thing Wes, I'm looking forward to this.

WD: Since you have been a member for a while and I keep missing you at the USK Chicago gatherings, please tell me your story and what brought you to Urban Sketchers Chicago. How did you hear about us and what do you think about it as a group?

Ken: I found a book on Urban Sketching at Barnes/Noble. As I dug into it, I noticed that "Hey! There are people out there who draw on location, just like I do". This prompted me to investigate USK further and I found the Chicago Chapter with all of you fine folks. I've only been to one event so far, but will surely join you soon in the future. I'm in Schaumburg, so I don't get to the city all that often. I think it's a tremendous activity and valuable resource to:
> Have fun doing what we would do anyway, in a group setting. 
> Learn from others who have expertise in a different area than my favorite routine. 

WD: Ah, only one event so far and here I thought we just kept missing each other. I think my first experiences were very similar to yours. So you were already drawing on location before joining the group? Why do you sketch and how does it help you?

Ken: I sketch because it's something I've always regularly done since graduating from American Academy of Art in '78. I've never been shy about drawing in public. I've met some interesting characters on my drawing excursions. Playboy centerfolds, big-bad biker dudes (who wanted me to draw their prized cycles), great musicians, men & women in our Armed Forces, athletes and little kids who always are up for a draw-session. Each one has a story to capture. It helps me train my eye for, detail, motion, likeness in a figure, gesture, texture, scenery, it goes on and on.

WD: Playboy centerfold?! Bad biker dudes? Ken you sound like a party animal. Beats the heck out of stone cold architecture I guess. So what is your favorite sketch tool? Do you have just one or do you have more?

KC: My go-to sketching tools are typically Micron pens or markers. Something quick & instant drying. I like the permanence of the line. You put it down and BAM!, it's there, good or bad. Forces you to maybe think before you put down the stroke because there's no turning back.

WD: You must have some favorite places where you like to sketch. I wonder if during a long guitar solo if you've ever pulled out a small sketchbook to sketch the guitarist? Ok maybe not. But where is your favorite place to sketch?

KC: My favorite place can be anywhere. I try to keep myself open to any possibility. Some favorite subjects are: musicians - they typically do not move much, so that helps; zoo animals - here you can be brave and try active motion animals like pacing cats, monkeys or sedentary rhinos, reptiles who will pose for you a long time; love to draw people/figures, in motion usually. (appeals to my masochistic sense); love to draw cool architecture, not so much the modern stuff, but old buildings, churches, barns, something with personality.

WD: Great, Ken, you pretty much covered most of the subjects that fit within the urban sketching repertoire. And now looking ahead to your sketches, I see some of my favorites: musicians. Tell me about the inspirations for this first one. I believe you call this "Slide Blues Dobro Player."

KC: Slide blues dobro player, great character study and great player.

WD: I love how this is nice and close up, just like this second one of a blues guitar player. 
Tell me about this one.

KC: Another great blues player. Wanted the close-up of the face and gesture of the hand on the instrument.

WD: Oh, I like these animals you've sketched in this next one. I always want to call these wildebeasts but I'm sure I'm incorrect. Were you on a safari or the zoo?

KC: Zoo animals, from life. They cooperated nicely that day. Animal anatomy - fascinating in its own way.

WD: These symphonic musicians are full of expressions I love. Your shading is really nice too.

KC: Symphonic ensemble piece. I love the variety of instruments and the body-language of each player with the instruments. A fun interaction to witness. I often go to live music events to check out bands for my music's sake as well as an opportunity to live-sketch.

WD: I think I recognize Sue in this next one.

KC: This was my first at a Chicago USK outing. Very enjoyable and had my son with me drawing as well (who also became a USK member). My outing with USK Chicago at The Field Museum. It was great to meet some of you that I've been following on Facebook. Extra fun to have my son there drawing with me. 

WD: Dang it. This was that one chance I had to meet you in person and I missed you? We must've been lost in that record-setting crowd of urban sketchers who turned out on that warm February Sunday. Very understandable. Why are these scenes special to you?

KC: These are special to me because they tap into my interests at the time. My subjects can always change, but I usually go back to my favorites at some point.

WD: What do you do when you are not sketching? Does your day job incorporate your sketching skills?

KC: When not sketching, I am a drummer in a working band, Peace Road, Woodstock Era Rock. We do songs from artists of the era, a wide range of musical styles. We can be quiet/acoustic or loud/bombastic as the song demands. A fun trip.

I also draw at live-model art-sessions, working on my figures and portraiture. (A never-ending challenge), nowhere to hide with a portrait or figure.

I am a retail display designer for International Paper, designing corrugated POP displays. (Those things we knock over with our shopping carts at grocery stores). Even in this computer-age, my company uses my, what I call "analog" art-skills, markers and hardline illustration, freehand for client ideation sketches. They like that not many do that anymore, so I've carved out a niche of survival doing that.

WD: I used to do those kinds of sketches myself for clients and I agree that clients still marvel at the ability to sketch out ideas. Where can we follow you on social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, or if you have a personal website displaying your sketches or paintings?

KC: I am on Facebook under “Ken Czech” and on Instagram as “d_rummer

I have a final story which expresses what I think Urban Sketching brings to us.
Some of you may have had similar experiences, I'm sure.

I was on a vacation trip to upstate New York, Adirondack area near Vermont. Pure "Norman Rockwell" mystique. Quaint villages and great scenery. Was staying in a small town and doing an on-location sketch of this old-fashioned gazebo, used by the town for local band-concerts and the like. This was such a great piece of architecture/craftsmanship, that I had to get it in the sketchbook. As I'm drawing this, a grade-school age kid comes up beside me to watch. His mother was nearby watching/enjoying our interaction, keeping a safe eye on the kid.

The kid says to me "That's a pretty good drawing, I really like it".  
We start to converse, "Do you like to draw also? I asked. "Yeah, I draw a lot!"     "I can draw Fred Flintstone!" "You do!?" "That's pretty cool!" I said. 
The mom is beaming. I tear out a page from the book. "Here, draw Fred Flintstone for me." I continue on with my gazebo. The kid is hard at work. Mom is smiling. The kid gives me this great drawing of Fred Flintstone, done from memory. I'm astounded.  "Can you sign this for me?" I said. 
The kid signs it and we exchange drawings, I kept the gazebo but gave him something out of the book. I still have that Fred Flintstone drawing somewhere in the house. A great memory and chance to meet some cool people along the way.

WD: That is a really special story. I have a feeling that if you were to ask any of us urban sketchers why we go out and sketch in public, we all know if we put up with the elements and constantly moving subject matter that it will be worth it because of one human moment that matters. 

Thank you Ken for sharing your stories, your talent and your sketches with us today. I know I learned so much more about you today. Now all I have to do is run into you at an upcoming sketch crawl.