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Chicago Skyline

I wanted to sketch Chicago’s skyline but I couldn’t see the forest through the trees. I had to find a vantage point away from the high rise of the Loop.

I found the vantage point near the northern steps of the Field Museum on the shores of Lake Michigan. I found a shady bench and sketched the skyline to the north.

I approached the sketch focusing more on shape and form over detail. To achieve this goal I used thick ink lines by inking my pencil likes with a Faber-Castell 1.5 black ink pen. I had seen this technique to urban sketching used by British sketcher James Hobbs.

I like Hobbs’ quote, “The idea of a drawing being ‘finished’ suggests to me a kind of polished death. I would rather have four quick drawings than one ‘perfect’ work.”

After my sketch, I walked further north on the Lakefront Trail, until I found another skyline view and another shady sketching bench.

A sketch from a Lakefront Trail bench. The building that rises the highest is Chicago’s highest: the Sears Tower.

There is a deadly side of all this verticality in our urban centers. These buildings steal the airspace for our migrating birds who often migrate at night. While the reflective wall of glass windows make for great photos and sketches, these mirrored walls are deadly for birds.

It is estimated that 600 million birds are killed each year from building strikes according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. That’s 600 million! And Chicago is one of the deadliest cities in the United States for bird deaths.

The Chicago Tribune noted that about one billion birds die each year from flying into buildings, making it the deadliest city for migrating birds in the entire country.

It is one thing to read about these statistics, it’s quite another to witness it for yourself. One morning while I was walking a block away to get coffee, I saw a bird sitting on the ground. It was an ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla).

I could see it’s orange crown, which is difficult to see in life, framed by two black stripes. As I looked up above the canyon of skyscraper on West Chicago Avenue, I could see how this migration met its match.

While there is beautiful architecture in the Windy City, the migrating birds of America pay a heavy price for our “progress”.

Coda: I walked back willing that the ovenbird was just stunned but looking down, the bird was squashed underfoot.