Why I Paint City Creatures

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For 20 years, my artistic journey has been intertwined with city creatures. My watercolor paintings feature local and global flora and fauna, both common and endangered. Birds especially capture my attention—from devious red-winged blackbirds in Millennium Park to golden finches feeding on my sunflowers and skittish sparrows who gobble up the tiny seeds that fall from river birch trees. I’ve discovered that sparrows’ melodious songs soothe and keep me centered, and it was their wonderful chirping that greeted me on a cold spring day after our very long 2014 Chicago winter.

Although I must admit the birds really do have my heart (I’ll never forget the first scarlet tanager that I glimpsed through binoculars at the North Park Nature Center, one of Chicago’s hidden treasures), close encounters with the city’s mammals have also been memorable. On one brisk February morning, for example, my husband came home from his walk with a flying squirrel that had hypothermia. We nursed the squirrel over the weekend, were treated to some mischievous excitement after it began to recover, and delivered a quite healthy and lively critter to the wild animal rescue facility on Chicago’s Northerly Island for more care.

Why do these critters capture my eye? Perhaps what draws me in and excites me is the contrast they provide with city living. Perhaps it is their ability to slow me down and fill me with wonder. Or perhaps it is that they invite me to enter another world that coexists with mine, one that survives in our midst and that has so much to offer.

I try to share these creatures’ adventures and express my appreciation for their ways of living through paintings, drawings, poetry, haiku, and stories. I am quite honored to currently have two of my endangered species paintings—Wildlife Comes to Lake Shore Drive and Rogers Park Dunes Restoration and Piping Plover—on exhibit through the end of November 2014 at the United States Botanic Garden, in Washington, D.C. The endangered species in these paintings include the Short-eared Owl, Henslow’s Sparrow, Eastern Meadow Lark, and Piping Plover. Both paintings also feature many native prairie plants and grasses from the Chicago and Illinois area, including side-oats prairie grass, switch grass, evening primrose, blazing star, spiderwort, and others.

I’ve become quite interested in the plight of the endangered sturgeon in our waterways, and like the endangered piping plover that has appeared in many of my paintings, the sturgeon has and will continue to emerge in future paintings. In these and other paintings, I seek to entice my viewers through color and content, inspire interest in our native plants and animals, and spark a desire to care for the flora and fauna that coexist in our urban areas.

From top to bottom:

Michelle Kogan, Wildlife Comes to Lake Shore Drive, reproduction 72″ high (orig. 40″ x 26″)

Michelle Kogan, Rogers Park Dunes Restoration and Piping Plover, reproduction 72″ high (orig. 40″ x 26″)

Michelle Kogan, Sturgeon Man, watercolor, 2014

View more of Michelle’s work at: https://www.michellekogan.com/

  • Michelle Kogan

    Michelle teaches art, and in the summers spends a good amount of time painting plein air in gardens and nature venues in the Chicago area. You can also find her drawing, poring over books in her studio, writing and composing haikus while she's on a walk. See her work at http://www.mdandmk.com/mk/index.html

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