When Loyola graduate Eric Kessler’s first year of teaching was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, he found comfort in routine walks around his neighborhood.
Kessler — who said art has been a hobby of his throughout his adult life — decided to start drawing the buildings he walked past, from local storefronts to neighborhood homes and anything in between.
“I didn’t actually put much thought into it,” Kessler, a Chicago Public Schools teacher, said of the title. “It explains what I did and what the body of work is … and I thought there was a simple charm to the words. It was fitting, and why complicate things that don’t need to be complicated?”
Kessler said he worried for his friends, family and students after the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020. As he was figuring out how to teach from his living room, Kessler said he realized it was still safe to go out for walks — with masks and social distancing guidelines, he noted.
“I could focus on the beauty around me rather than worrying about things that were outside my control,” the 34-year-old said.
He continued drawing throughout the summer — what he describes as one of his most productive periods as an artist — using a mixture of ink pens, markers and watercolor paints.
“When that school year finished in June 2020, I posted my grades for the last time … and I just felt a weight off my shoulders,” Kessler said. “I took a walk and I took my sketchbook.”
He drew St. Ignatius Church (6599 N. Glenwood Ave.) that day.
Kessler described publishing his book as “a shot in the dark.” He initially shared the news through his personal Facebook page in the beginning of July. Throughout the month, he continued to spread the word on other platforms, including his art page on Instagram and a Rogers Park Facebook group.
“The first run was just 20 books,” Kessler said. “I was cautiously optimistic that I could sell those.”
After selling about 80 copies, Kessler said he realized his book was bigger than he expected. He said sales went “through the roof” after Block Club Chicago published a piece about his art.
As of Sept. 7, Kessler had sent out about 230 copies of his book — and one to his mom, which he said doesn’t count.
“Just the publication felt awesome,” Kessler said. “It was really fulfilling to see my work turned from pages in a sketchbook to a finished, professional book that I could share with the community.”
Art has always come naturally to Kessler — he said he often creates art in the evenings to relax — but this book was the first time he made his work public.
“The first time that I really shared it with the community on Facebook,” unless you consider my little art instagram page or my little art Facebook page. But really sharing it with the community.”
Kessler — who grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin — said his art was immediately influenced by Chicago’s architecture upon moving to the city in August 2015.
“All the skyscrapers, all the old brick buildings,” Kessler said. “Every building is such a work of art by itself. There’s just so much that caught my eye and just worked itself into my artwork.”
Kessler moved to Ravenswood in July — closer to the school he works at in Irving Park, where he teaches fourth grade — but he said he still feels “such a strong connection with Rogers Park.”
While in the Rogers Park and Edgewater area, Kessler attended Loyola, completing a graduate program in elementary education in 2019.
Kessler isn’t sure what his next step is and he’s fully focused on teaching right now, but he said he’s considering making individual prints of some of his work.
Kessler also recalls some of the community members who reached out to him post-publication, including local journalists and a neighborhood store owner.
“He paged through it and said, ‘My God, did you get everything?’ And I said, ‘Well, I tried.’”
“A Walk Through Rogers Park” can be purchased on Kessler’s website.