LAKEVIEW — Steve Connell has spent the last few years painting glimmering Chicago nightscapes — on his iPad.
"Had someone told me five years ago that at some point in the future I was going to be painting on my telephone, I wouldn't believe it," the Lakeview artist said.
Connell, who works as a commercial illustrator, first started dabbling with an app called "Brushes" in 2010. He'd seen a painting by Jorge Colombo on a New Yorker cover, and was shocked to learn the artist had fingerpainted it on an iPad.
"About 20 minutes later, I had not only downloaded the app, but I had created my first painting," Connell said.
For his subjects, the longtime artist travels the city to find diners, dive bars and shops that might not otherwise look special — but light up at night.
After snapping some reference shots and working on sketches, Connell sets to work fingerpainting on his iPad. Each vector-based image takes 10-12 hours. [See video in top right.]
"I grew up on a lake in the woods in northeast Texas so I was always drawn to urban environments, especially the way it transforms at night," he said.
Connell has captured beloved Chicago spots like the The Green Mill, Wiener Circle, Heartland Cafe and Central Camera. His favorite image, so far, is of the Chicago BLUES Bar at 2519 N. Halsted St.
"If you look at this place in the daytime, it's decrepit," Connell said. "It doesn't even jump out at you. But it just transforms at night once the light comes on."
Connell said he was drawn to the idea of urban isolation. He'll purposefully leave out cars and trash bins, and maybe only include one person in each shot.
"I love that you can be in the middle of a big city," Connell said, "and there's that time of night when things are quiet, and there might only be one or two other people on the street."
He said the "Brushes" app allows for a painterly, loose style — without the clean up and expense of traditional painting. Connell can zoom in, move around and broaden brushstrokes.
"It's just another tool in the arsenal," he said.
Since launching the "Chicago Night" series, Connell said he's received requests to capture diners or bakeries from people's childhoods. Prints of Dinkel's Bakery, 3329 N. Lincoln Ave., have done especially well.
"I've gotten a lot of people who have such an emotional attachment," he said. "Growing up, their grandma used to get them stuff there. I liked it visually, but to some people, it's a warm memory."
The "Chicago Night" prints sells for $24 to 59, depending on their size.
"My joke is that I'm painting again like I did when I was 5," Connell said. "I'm coming full-circle."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: