Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, Jeanne Gang—some of the greatest, most renowned names in architecture–have marked their space on the Chicago skyline. Their skyscrapers, public buildings, and homes in the Windy City have shaped modern design over the centuries. It is no wonder, then, why illustrator Phil Thompson finds inspiration in Chicago’s Prairie Style bungalows, classic six-flat brick Craftsman buildings, and skyscraping architectural landmarks. As a recently departed Chicagoan, I can attest that Phil and his wife and studio mate, Katie, live in one of those architecturally remarkable apartments that most of us dream of finding. Built in 1912, the Craftsman flat has many of its original Deco fixtures and warm, comforting wood detailing.
A colleague here at UncommonGoods tipped me off to Phil’s intricate custom home portraits. The cleanliness of his structured, blueprint-like approach suitably matches the sparseness of his studio. He surrounds himself just with what he needs: drawing paper, a basket full of trusty micro-pens, and drafting tools. There are a few exceptions to the sparseness—all of which are largely contained within a small bulletin board—a calendar, the usual lists of to-dos, and some inspirational quotations. Phil also prominently displays a beautiful postcard-size watercolor by his grandmother to remind him of his artistic roots.
I am always thoroughly impressed and warmed by artists that are able to seamlessly and successfully blend their passions and skills. Phil and Katie are two of those artists. He pairs his discerning eye and exacting hand with a passion for accurately rendering architectural styles and the home. Phil’s Classic Home Portraits honor those places where we build memories, families, and community.
What are your most essential tools?
Micron Pens, down to their smallest size, and Strathmore drawing paper. But the pens in particular. If I ever find out that company is going out of business, I will buy their entire inventory of pens.
Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My home/studio is in brick 6-flat building built in 1912. Our unit has most of the original woodwork, leaded glass, and some of the original lighting fixtures. It was done in the Craftsman style, which I find have the most beautiful, warm and inspiring interiors.
Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Lunch is my best downtime. It’s my time to get out to one of the great places in Ravenswood, especially those along the historic railway “corridor” behind our backyard.
What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Always plan to pay more in taxes than you anticipate. If you’re transitioning from employee at a 9-5 to a business owner, you’ll get well-acquainted with sales tax and payroll taxes.
What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
If you want to earn more money, forget about trying to outsmart the housing market or real estate market. Focus on finding a business that blends your passion, your skills, and customer demand, and take it one step at a time.
How do you set goals for yourself?
I have an annual sales goal that keeps me going. Daily, I write down a matrix dividing work and personal tasks into “important/urgent” and “important/non-urgent.”
How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
When I get a big custom commission or get a big flurry of print orders, it’s usually dinner out with the wife–on a weeknight (gasp).
What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
It’s on the bulletin board in front of me: “Success is not final, failure not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”- Winston Churchill
What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I want to apply the type of line-heavy stuff I do with pen and ink, to traditional etching/linocuts,and create prints. There are two local shops that teach this type of skill, and I’m planning to take a class there.
How do you recharge your creativity?
Podcasts about people’s personal stories and struggles. I’m fortunate in being able to work and listen at the same time, so I’ve listened to months’ worth of podcasts like this. Hearing about how other people are inspired and come up with stuff, how they worked around roadblocks, gets me charged up.
Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
My wife is like the Roman emperor giving the thumbs up or down when I show her a finished product. She’s honest. Sometimes the result stings but over time it makes my work better. She also is a cornucopia of ideas about new ways to present my work and new subject matter.