Homes of Famous Chicagoans

May 08, 2017 — Phillip Thompson

A Year of Homes: 2016

Here's a look back at a selection of the homes and buildings I drew this past year. It was a great year. Wishing you all the success and happiness you wish for in 2017. 

Here's the link to a vertical scrolling page of home portraits

January 01, 2017 — Phillip Thompson

Locking in: The Creation of the 7 Locks Brewing logo

Some friends of ours, Keith and Laura, opened a brewery in Rockville, Maryland, called 7 Locks Brewing. It's a great spot, great beers, highly recommended--check it out if and when you're in the area. 

Last year, the 7 Locks crew decided to give their original logo (below) a re-design ahead of some new beer releases. 

Keith approached me to take on the task, which I gladly accepted. I shipped them the final logo just before this past Thanksgiving. 

I was happy with the outcome and the development process. In this post I wanted to share that process, showing the stages from concept to finished logo, with the sketches along the way and my thoughts and reflections on each.

January 01, 2017 — Phillip Thompson

The Night City Sky maps.

One of the disadvantages to living in Chicago (and most big cities, for that matter) is missing out on a clear view of the night sky. What's worse is forgetting it's up there.

Whenever we head back to Katie's hometown in more pristine northwestern PA, I'm always blown away by the epic night scene that reveals itself nearly every night. These days, the closest I'll get to the night sky from within the Chicago city limits is a visit to the planetarium and packet of astronaut ice cream.

This past summer, Katie challenged me to come up with a way to combine the fascinating patterns of city streets with the immense depth and unique patterns of the night sky. Many iterations and false starts and trashed drafts later, we finally came to a design that we liked a lot. The series includes Chicago, Washington, DC, Boston, New York, and San Francisco.

We're happy to introduce this as out latest print release, and it's available exclusively through Uncommon Goods. Right here. Image below for your consideration.

In other news: If you're interested in anything from my storefront, use the offer code THETURKEY15 for 15% off all purchases until December 4.

Thanks for reading. There's some work that I'm chipping away at that I can't wait to share with you. In the meantime, I wish you a great and comfortable holiday season for you and yours. Don't hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any ideas for projects, prints, or world peace.
All the Best,
November 28, 2016 — Bench Bookkeeping

The Origins, the Minimal City, the Press, the Venues

Maps & The City

Anyone who knows me might say, among other things, "This guy loves maps." That is true. The other day I got to thinking about why I started making maps at all.

Katie and I used to live in Bucktown right on Armitage and Western. There were two places nearby that we loved: Margie's Candies, a 100-year old sundae shop offering up huge servings smothered in homemade chocolate; and the Map Room, one of the great pioneering beer bars of this city.

Around 2009 or so I was in the Map Room drinking with my longtime friend Matt. Looking at the maps plastered all over the walls, I was struck with an idea to make a map of the city's best beer bars. I went on to research and ink that map, Katie colored it, we released it to the public, and it got some nice traction. It was a lot of fun and it took us to some new corners of the city.

As the years passed, other beer bars popped up everywhere, ordinary bars started calling themselves beer bars, and worst of all, some of the bars that were on my map closed. So, like many maps, it faded and became a snapshot in time. Nonetheless, I love the fact that this map is one point in time that I remember well.

there are some Easter eggs in the map that are fun to revisit. For example, I drew two of my friends who first introduced me to beer better than Yeungling. Here's Tom and Jim (below), talking and walking outside The Map Room.

The Minimal City

Earlier this summer, I decided to make a departure from my typical style. I wondered how I could reduce the city of Chicago to a very minimal presentation while preserving some soul of the city. That led me through many, many drafts, some using criss-crossing lines, following its grid-like pattern of roads. I finally settled on a design that showed some continuity from the horizontal streets through to the waves of Lake Michigan, and was happy with the outcome.

I thought the lines needed to really pop out, and so I settled on a screen printing the design in gold ink on a Midnight Blue stock. This was created at Hoofprint in Pilsen, under their expert advice. (I highly recommend checking them out, by the way. They provide a range of printing services all from a converted Funeral Home.)

Here's the print in final form. 18" x 18" on heavy French Paper. Available on my site here.


Cape Horn Illustration in the Press 

It was a great honor to have Runner's World feature the Cape Horn marathon maps. If you or your friends and family are running a race this Fall, let me just say Good Luck. My hat's off to you. I haven't run a marathon since the Chicago Marathon in 2013 and every time I think about doing another one I pass out in fear of mile 18. If you're running this year, get in touch and I'll get you a good deal on a framed marathon map print. Runner's World article is here

It was also a huge honor to have the Chicago Alphabet featured in an article by Patty Wetli of DNAInfo! She does great reporting on news in the neighborhood and in the greater Ravenswood area. Read about the origins of the print and some of the early scratch-work and sketches. 

As always, I'm offering the ABC's to Chicago-area teachers for free--right now I estimate the print is in 30+ classrooms! Get in touch if you're a teacher or know one. Click the image below for more product details:

New Places & New Work

If you're local, find my work at the great shop, Neighborly, on Montrose and Damen. I've always loved their selection of well-designed, locally sourced products, and I'm proud now that my work is part of their lineup. That includes recent releases like the Minimal City print and the Chicago Alphabet.

Also exciting news: I've worked with the Brooklyn-based retailer Uncommon Goods for some time now--they sell three of my marathon maps and the home portraiture through their site. I'm proud to say that we've deepened the partnership to include a set of prints that will be released very shortly. It will be sold exclusively through Uncommon Goods and be featured prominently in their marketing. Stay tuned for a newsletter all about that print. Hint: It's a map. (Shocked?)

Two upcoming Chicago fairs where Katie and I will be showing our work. Stop by and say hello: Thanks for making it all the way to the bottom, dearest reader. You can get to my site this way.
October 26, 2016 — Phillip Thompson

The Chicago Alphabet, decoded!

Want the full run-down of the Chicago Alphabet? You've come to the right place :) Keep scrolling down for the letters!

A is for Adler (Planetarium), 

B is for Bean, 

C is for Cubbies, 

D is for Deep Dish, 

E is for Elevated Train, 

F is for Ferris Wheel, 

G is for Grant Park, 

H is for Hancock Building, 

I is for Illinois, 

J is for Jazz (& Blues), 

K is for Kick-off, 

L is for Lake, 

M is for Magnificent Mile (or Michigan Avenue), 

N is for Navy Pier, 

O is for O'Hare, 

P is for Picasso (sculpture in Daley Plaza), 

Q is for aQuarium, 

R is for River, 

S is for Snow, 

T is for T-Rex, 

U is for U-Boat, 

V is for Victory, 

W is for World's Fair (or White City) in 1893, 

X is for (White) soX, 

Y is for "Yes, We Can!" 

Z is for Zoo!

The End. Happy spelling! Click here to go back!

September 07, 2016 — Phillip Thompson
Building Drawings: Commemorating Great Buildings for Customers

Building Drawings: Commemorating Great Buildings for Customers

I wanted to share a few examples of building drawings I've done for customers. 

The first example is the Rookery, which I carried out for an architect I met at the Ravenswood art walk. I've posted this elsewhere, but wanted to walk through the panels.

The first is an elevation drawing. This took a while. I started with a tour of the Rookery, which I believe was given by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and I took tons of photos.

Rookery drawing

Drawing of the Rookery interior:

Drawing the Rookery exterior details:

Rookery exterior drawing details

So that's an example of a building drawing that's historic. The Rookery is stunning. It's like Chicago's Taj Mahal, and definitely deserves all the attention. So glad that it was restored to its current glory, I believe in the 80s.

But there's other work that I do, some of which is less prominent on the site. Here's one that I did for developer Evan Oliff, who wanted to show off one of his properties and present an original to his client:

Storefront Rendering in Pen and ink

Yet another building drawing example is something like the one below--made for the Skokie County Club. This is a drawing of the exterior of their building. The final version had the names of all the board members in a coin-like medallion over the building.

Skokie Country Club drawing pen and ink Finally, one other example of the custom building drawing is this one, done for the great restaurant Daniel in New York. They wanted to have a holiday card with their building facade done and thought that it would have more character if done by hand.

Daniel Restaurant drawing

And this is the final version of their card:

Daniel Restaurant holiday card

So that's just a small sample of the building drawings I do. Please get in touch here and let me know what I can do for you.

Little Cottage, Gold Coast

In 1871, fire swept through Chicago, ravaging a huge swath of the city from 18th Street to Fullerton Avenue. In its ashes, citizens immediately began the process of building the city taller and more stately.

In 1872, one of those citizens built a cottage of his own at 1241 N. State Street. Like most of the cottages popping up at the time, it was brick rather than combustible wood, suited to the narrow lots, economicalgood for a worker and his family.

Within a decade or so that worker had new neighbors: distinguished families like Potter, Goodman, and Lincoln, all living in mansions. Today, Gold Coast is chic, bustling, populated, and well-developed.

That worker's cottage is the last of its kind, nestled among larger multi-unit buildings that are almost literally squeezing the cottage between them. The economy of the neighborhood is almost like a slow tectonic force acting on a grain of sand.

DNAInfo recently reported that this cottage has just been sold to a developer with plans to demolish the home and build something more lucrative in its place.  

I love a free market. I don't begrudge the seller or the developer. There's an opportunity to add value to a property that had been so neglected, its exterior was crumbling and its kitchen lacked appliances. No one was showing it much lovethat is, until its sale made the news.

On the other hand, I love that this home is a slice of the city's history. It has cultural value to anyone who loves and appreciates that history. More than an artifact, though, the home stands for the long-forgotten people who passed through. It's a thing that holds tight to the past and asks you to remember, despite the weather and the years.


If you want to support the preservation of this home and others like it, the organization Preservation Chicago takes the lead on issues like this. I'm not affiliated with them.

DIGITAL IMAGE: The sketch below is available for free in a downloadable high-resolution 8.5" x 11" pdf.

PRINT: Or if you'd prefer, we can send you a signed print on high-quality, heavy stock paper. That's available for purchase here for $16. I also do custom home and building portraits. For more like this home, check out this gallery of home drawings.

June 26, 2016 — Phillip Thompson

The More Things Change... by J.B. Rivard

Today we have a guest post by J.B. Rivard, who wrote Illusions of Magic, an illustrated novel set in Chicago in 1933, weaving a suspenseful story of a stage magician's life into the fascinating historical fabric of the day. Highly rated on Amazon, the book is available in Kindle format here. 


     The final two chapters of my novel Illusions of Magic take place in the Chicago & North Western railroad terminal. But, since the book is set in 1933, it’s not THAT North Western Terminal, the station that today occupies the lower floors of that 42-story glass-and- steel building at 500 West Madison. Yet it IS, in many ways, the same terminal. What do I mean? Read on.

     More than a century ago, as rail passenger and freight transport more than doubled and tripled, railroad companies recognized a shortage of facilities for handling the traffic. Chicago, the hub of railroads that crossed the continent connecting the cities of the east with the booming west, saw the construction of two great terminals to meet passenger demand: the Chicago and North Western Railway Terminal, and Union Station.

     Where the Transportation Center serving Metra’s commuter trains now stands, the Chicago and Northwestern Railway built a Renaissance Revival-style station (photo below), which opened in 1911. It occupied the block on Madison from Canal Street to Clinton Street.
     Easily the most monumental structure on the city’s Near West Side, its six huge granite columns rose more than 60 feet from street level. Two clocks with nine-foot faces towered above and alerted passengers to the hour. But its prize feature was the 40,000-square-foot main waiting room on the second level interior, which rose 84 feet to a barrel-vaulted ceiling. Light streamed through north- and south-facing arched skylights in the sides of the vault onto the richly colonnaded walls below. In its early years, 50,000 passengers a day passed through this waiting room.

     Stretching three football fields in length to the north of the terminal was the train shed, housing 16 tracks elevated above street level. This huge structure of steel columns and arched steel ribs included roof slots allowing smoke and steam from the locomotives of the time to escape as well as skylights to allow light in (see my illustration below). Passenger platforms, two city blocks long, separated pairs of tracks. At the far north end, the 16 tracks merged through intricate switches and crossovers to six tracks that led trains west, northwest, or north.

     Demolished in the mid-eighties, this famous terminal was replaced by the 42-story Citicorp Center skyscraper (photo below). Its train station, now called the Ogilvie Transportation Center, was renamed after Gov. Richard Ogilvie, who created the RTA, the parent of Metra, in 1997. Yet it still features 16 tracks entering from the north under a rebuilt train shed, with passenger platforms separating pairs of tracks. Thousands of passengers still leave the station in trains, bump along the crossovers and switches to six tracks that head north, northwest, or west to their destinations.

     As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.


Thanks to J.B Rivard for this contribution. Be sure to check out his website, Illusions of Magic, here.

For more info on Cape Horn Illustration: Here is a large gallery of our home and building drawings and more about what we do. Get in touch here! 


June 21, 2016 — Phillip Thompson

Portrait of a Home: The Story and the Drawing

Sharon Wiesenmayer has lived with her husband, Peter, in her home on Ainslie Street for 49 years. In that time she's seen lots of changes to the home and neighborhood.

She remembers kids wandering through the streets of Lincoln Square on their own, seeing shows--plays, not just movies--on the Davis Theater stage, remembered a belly dancing club at a site on Western Avenue at Leland, that is now a parking lot.

Through all the changes to the neighborhood, though, the area always been a "sleepy enclave of nice and decent."

She and her husband had sights on their home, a gorgeous, 1916 example of American Craftsman style with a Spanish style roof, long before they had ever made a purchase offer.

Sharon and Peter had each grown up in the neighborhood and, once married, moved into a condo building at Winona and Western. One day, Sharon's cousin dropped a hint that the Ainslie home's owners might be looking to sell, though they hadn't listed nor even told many others. Sharon and Peter went up and knocked on the front door, introducing themselves to the surprised owners, setting events into motion that led to the ultimate sale of this beloved home. They are the home's fourth owners. 

Much later they found out that the former owner, who ostensibly worked as a newsstand attendant in Evanston, was a bookie. He had been stashing evidence of his occupation under a radiator cover. 

They found the home and neighborhood well-suited to raise their children.

Two occasions in their personal history with the home stand out:

The first was when they and neighbors handed over the control of the "baby street" that borders the home on its eastern side, running perpendicular to Ainslie. For its early history, the street was private, under control of the homeowners around it. The street at one time had two pillars and a wrought-iron gate that could be opened and closed.   

The city approached the street's owners with a deal: Make the street public and we'll maintain it for you. The homeowners agreed. Years later, a water main broke and completely flooded the street and surroundings. The city took responsibility for maintenance, true to their word.

The second event in the home's history was a fire. Previous owners had at some point created a false, second wall in parts of the home, obscuring some of the home's beautiful leaded glass windows. Besides that, the electrical outlets were dangerously jerry-rigged for the new design.

One day, Sharon came home to find that the electrical setup had failed and that the walls were smoldering. While Peter ran to grab the attention of the fire department battalion chief who lived nearby, she rushed in to see what could be salvaged. Opening the door and letting in air, however, only strengthened the fire.

When the battalion chief arrived, he directed the crew to douse the flame at its source first, eschewing the common practice of punching a large hole through the roof and windows. He wanted to save as much of the beautiful house as possible.

That decision helped save the original windows and Spanish tile roof. A fortuitous result of the fire was that Sharon and Peter could finally restore the walls to a state closer to the original, finally exposing the beautiful living room windows. They also expanded the kitchen to a more modern, larger state than the space offered up by the original.

Both Sharon and Peter show evident pride in what the home has become, and in the neighborhood. They know many neighbors who, like them, have kept house and home for decades and tell the story of the area through the story of their own lives.


Chicago Home & Building Portraits: Learn about how to get a home portrait of your own >>

Here is a large gallery of our home and building drawings and more about what we do.

June 06, 2016 — Phillip Thompson