Brandace Cloud is a professional artist based in Wilsonville. She has a studio there and in Staunton. Cloud works in a variety of media, but specializes in photography and clay.

ILI: How long have you been an artist or when did you start? Was there a single incident or moment when you realized this was your passion?
BC: I have been making [art] most of my life, although I never realized that making [art] could be a living. My dad always encouraged me to work hard and make lots of money. But he also, through his actions and through his words, told me to find something I love to do. He worked hard his whole life working jobs he never really loved, so that our family could have a big fancy house and lots of things. While going through college I went through several different career choices. I tried for electrical engineering, computer programing, business, and then graphic design. I received my associate’s degree in Graphic Design from Lewis and Clark Community College and was still trying to make lots of money, but found that art was what I really loved to do. I continued on to Webster University, where I figured I could still make money while taking photographs. I continued on that path until my final year when I took a clay class. The first day of class, I realized THIS was my calling. I was a potter. I was meant to play with dirt and fire. I have been a potter for six years now, and I’ve never looked back… never again doubted what I wanted to be.

ILI: Illinois has been factored into your work in the past. What does being able to live and work in Illinois mean to you?
BC: Illinois is a major factor in my work through the images I put on my pots. I live in rural Illinois, where my “natural” landscape is plowed fields and stray trees. When I wondered what to decorate my pots with, it was intuitive to adorn my pots with images inspired by this landscape. In my tiny town of 600, my house sits on a dead-end street where owls live and play. These creatures also make their way onto my pots, but now have been abstracted to those parts of the animals that intrigue me the most – their eyes, their ever-searching, seeking eyes. What I learned from Webster was that as an artist I need to always be paying attention, always looking, always searching. Now the owl eyes float in a field of color, ever-searching, looking, wondering. My work would not be this, if not for my home in rural Illinois.

ILI: What do you like about Illinois?
BC: The thing that I love most about Illinois is the landscape that inspires me.

ILI: What is your favorite medium to work in?
BC: I am a potter at heart. Although I can work in other materials, clay is my passion.

ILI: What artist inspires you and why?
BC: I am inspired by the artists around me. I feed off the creativity of my friends and those that make [art] around me, including my students! I teach art to kids as young as two years old, all the way through adults. The kids that I teach are unafraid of working, of creating. They are fearless. They make art for themselves. That is an inspiration.
If there is one professional artist that truly inspires me, it is Susan Bostwick, an artist that I admire and work closely with. She is a fellow potter, and Susan has taught me so much about how to be a successful artist through her optimism and joyful approach to art. Her work can be found at

ILI: Where can people view or purchase your work?
BC: They can find it online on my website,, on Instagram at and Facebook at

Kickapoo State Park leafs - Photo by Daniel SchwenWith a length of 390 miles from north to south and an ideal climate for deciduous trees, Illinois is one of the most uniquely-situated places to view fall foliage.

Because the state is so long from north to south, fall comes to Illinois several times. It first comes to the northern part of the state in mid-September and works its way gradually south as the weather cools and each region hits its “peak” fall colors at a different time. In northern Illinois, leaves have already begun to change color and will soon reach their peak, turning otherwise mundane vistas into breathtaking, picturesque landscapes.

One of the best ways to experience fall in northern Illinois is to visit the Cemetery Hill Trail at Cook County Forest Preserve’s Paw Paw Woods.

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Brian TeeThe Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is launching a Zika virus awareness campaign with actor Brian Tee, known as Dr. Ethan Choi on the television series Chicago Med.

Tee, who recently welcomed a new baby girl into his family, is hoping to raise awareness on the public health concerns of Zika virus and what people can do to prevent the infection of unborn babies who may suffer birth defects.

First identified in Africa in 1947, Zika virus is a mosquito-borne infection that has spread significantly across the world since the first reported case in Brazil in 2015. For most people, Zika is a very mild infection and isn’t harmful. However, Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Consequently, infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects.

Inspired by his role as a doctor on Chicago Med, and as a new parent, Tee will star in television and radio commercials with information on preventing Zika-related birth defects and the importance of preparing for and having a healthy pregnancy.

The Zika virus education campaign will air the commercials statewide in cooperation with the Illinois Broadcasters Association (IBA) Public Education Partnership program. They will broadcast on more than 200 radio stations and IBA member television stations.

For more information on Zika virus, go to

A Northern saw-whet owl spotted in Lisle's Morton Arboretum. Photo by Jay Sturner

From the shops and restaurants of Galena to the natural majesty of Shawnee National Forest, tourists added nearly $600 million more to the state’s economy last year. Residents of Illinois may occasionally overlook local attractions, but tourism numbers suggest that people from all over the world are visiting and appreciating the Land of Lincoln in increasingly large numbers.

The Illinois Office of Tourism found that in 2016 alone, foreign and domestic tourists added $37.9 billion to the state’s economy. That is a $571 million increase over 2015. The number of tourism jobs statewide also increased by 20,000.

While Chicago continues to attract visitors from all over the globe, the rest of the state is getting plenty of visitors as well. Not only has tourism revenue increased in Cook County, it has also risen in Lake, DuPage, Will and other nearby counties. McHenry County saw the greatest jump with an 8.9 percent increase in tourism revenue. The DuPage County Convention and Visitors Bureau recently unveiled its “DuMore in DuPage” campaign to promote local attractions like Cantigny Park, the Morton Arboretum and the Naperville River Walk. Local tourism authorities across Illinois are following DuPage’s lead.

Outside of Chicagoland, there are even more varied attractions including the aforementioned Main Street in Galena and Shawnee National Forest as well as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Colinsville and many more.

Illinois is a destination for travelers from all over the world. They come for the attractions associated with a world-class city like Chicago, the parks and downtown shopping districts of the collar counties and the historical and natural sites found downstate. People from outside of Illinois continue to pour into the state to appreciate its unique tourism offerings. As the summer comes to a close, there is perhaps no better time to experience all that Illinois has to offer in its own backyard. Plan your trip today.

6547321591 1fea729a9d bAs Americans all over celebrate National Hot Dog Day, Chicagoans know that to truly celebrate the day, you have to do it with a Vienna Beef dog.

The origins of Vienna Beef go back to the 1890s when Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany emigrated from Austria to Chicago. When the Columbian Exposition came to Chicago in 1893, Reichel and Ladany sold hot dogs to the many visitors.

The next year, they opened a storefront in Chicago’s Westside on Halstead Avenue. Reichel and Ladany also began selling their hot dogs to other restaurants throughout Chicago.

During the Great Depression, people selling Vienna Beef began advertising that their dogs had a “salad on top”, what we now call the Chicago Dog. A Chicago Dog is a Vienna Beef dog with mustard, relish, tomato, pickle, onion, hot peppers and celery salt. No ketchup!

Today, Vienna Beef dogs are made in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago with annual revenues over $100 million. For more information about Vienna Beef, click here to visit their website.

For a list of places you can find a good hot dog on National Hot Dog Day, check out this article.