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May 15, 2018 > Street painters chalk up joy

Street painters chalk up joy

By Julie Grabowski

From gallery walls to outdoor sculptures and painted utility boxes, art is everywhere. And while ones gaze may be trained upward to spot beauty, eyes will be glued to the ground when Pacific Commons hosts their third annual Chalk Festival on Saturday, May 19.

Chalk art, also known as Italian street painting, is believed to have originated in Italy in the 16th century. Itinerant artists would duplicate Renaissance art on the streets, earning the name madonnari as they often reproduced images of the Madonna. In the mid-19th century street painters began appearing in London, where they were called screevers. The art form grew and travelled across countries, Kurt Wenner starting the first street painting festival in America in 1987 in Santa Barbara.

The Pacific Commons Chalk Festival will showcase the work of talented local artists while involving the entire community in an upbeat, outdoor art appreciation event that we expect to be both entertaining and inspirational for people of all ages, says Heath McCue, Senior Marketing Director, Pacific Commons. This kind of experience also has a way of connecting people and creating a sense of pride in our local talent that we hope will also encourage area youth to explore their own sense of creativity.

Returning for her second year as festival producer and participant, Lisa Jones is a professional illustrator and fine art painter, and founder of MASTERWORKS Kids Art Studio in Corte Madera. Several of her friends had done street painting for many years and Jones first tried it in 2002. I really like it because its truly art for arts sake, she says. We make so many things that are commissioned or for a paid opportunity. Street painting brings people a lot of joy because it is a temporary art, so I love that aspect.

Jones gravitates to pieces from antiquity for her chalk art, and is interested in landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. I especially love to do still life paintings based on the Dutch masters, she says. Jones will be joined by 19 other artists from Marin and Sonoma Counties, San Jose, and the East Bay to dazzle viewers with a variety of subjects including portraits, animals, cartoons, birds, and more. Kids are encouraged to unleash their own creativity at the Kids Chalk Zone.

The process of chalk art begins with the reference picture of the art being reproduced. First its important to laminate your image; chalk is messy, says Jones. Like many street painters she uses the grid technique one-inch squares on the reference sheet translating to one-foot squares on the asphalt. A chalk line is used to measure out a perfect grid.

You want to be careful choosing an image based on the size of your square and amount of allotted time, says Jones. Choosing an image with a large focal point with outside details is a fantastic approach. Pacific Commons squares are 6 x 6 feet, which takes about six or seven hours to complete.

Heat and the condition of the street are the primary challenges that artists face. Very rarely do we get a freshly paved street or parking lot, so were just drawing on whatever surface is there, says Jones. Then there is the heat of the asphalt. Sometimes you cant rub your colors in or touch it. Most of us wear plastic and latex gloves to protect our fingertips. Most experienced street painters put a layer down and rub it in, do some highlights, then add more color down, she says.

While buckets of sidewalk chalk provide happy summertime hours for kids, street painters use a specific kind of chalk called dry or soft pastels that are brilliantly pigmented with just enough oil in them to stick to the street, but not as much as in oil pastels, which are harder to rub in and smooth, and more difficult to remove from the surface. Artists at Pacific Commons are provided a box of 48 Koss chalks, but are encouraged to bring their own if they need specific colors or a large quantity of a color. Artists also trade chalks amongst themselves.

With their art facing the cold spray of a hose just an hour after the festival ends, you wouldnt blame an artist for feeling a pang for their work. But Jones says the transitory aspect sets up a very unique experience with your art. She believes it is liberating and likens the experience to that of a theatrical production or Tibetan sand painting. The joy is in doing it, producing this piece that evolves, says Jones. It lives on through photographs and we just have it clearly in our mind that it is live art and it's here for today and gone for tomorrow. And thats what makes it special.

Jones says many people dont have the opportunity to see artists in action, and Its very gratifying how much joy it brings the viewers. The variety of subject matters, the bright colors on the asphalt, and seeing how artists layer chalk or make an eye look realistic provokes conversation and thought among people viewing it, she says.

Jones estimates seven or eight festivals of varying sizes take place in Northern California. Italian Street Painting Marin is a huge event in San Rafael every June, and Palo Altos Italian Street Painting Expo is another sizable festival in August. Several other small events take place in the East Bay.

Street painting season has begun, and Pacific Commons will surely chalk up another unforgettable experience.

Pacific Commons Chalk Festival
Saturday, May 19
Noon - 3 p.m.
The Block (near DICKS Sporting Goods)
43923 Pacific Commons Blvd, Fremont
(510) 770-9798

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