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Chalk it up to art; the joys of sidewalk chalk art

Chalk! More specifically sidewalk chalk, the dry smooth colorful sticks typically made from gypsum mixed with color. Easy to use and almost everyone has used some. Teachers used it for centuries on blackboards. Children use it to create whimsical drawings on the sidewalk in the summertime. Chalk can be colorful, inexpensive and fun to use; the downside is that it doesn’t last long. One good rainstorm can wash it all away.

Street art with "under the sea" theme showing children swimming and surfing.
"Under the sea" themed street art by Seili Abraham.

If It won’t last then why use it?

In the Walt Disney classic film “Mary Poppins” the children, Michael and Jane, find their friend Bert displaying a fantastic country scene that he created on the sidewalk with chalk. The characters of the film enter the colorful work of art and have a wonderful adventure.

The pictures are sadly washed away by rain. Mary’s response is “Oh, Bert, all your fine drawings,” to which Bert replies, “Well, there's more where they came from. Meantime, I'm changing businesses. This here is lovely hot chestnut weather.” The artist Bert’s offhand comment and casual manner imply that creating the drawings was reward enough for the artist. It’s hard to imagine being able to create something so beautiful just to have it all disappear with the rain. Thankfully there are artists out there who are willing to put themselves in that same predicament, artists who are willing to create something that they know won’t last, just for the joy of creating it in a public space where anyone and everyone can enjoy it.

Though you may not be able to enter the magical worlds within the art, there are artists capable of creating amazing anamorphic works. Their tricky works of art create the illusion that you are a part of that colorful world.

Then and now, a rich history of chalk in art

Chalk creates endless opportunities for artists and the public alike to create art in public spaces. From small children doodling on the sidewalk on a hot summer’s day to the more serious artists creating masterpieces in parking lots and streets and thoroughfares.

The use of chalk to create art in public spaces has been gaining traction in the United States since the ’80s and ’90s but has been a tradition in Europe dating back as early as the 1600s. Artists of varying talents have been creating masterpieces on streets, sidewalks, town squares and other public spaces. Early artists using chalk created religious works of art in the streets of Europe. Most earned only what coins the public was willing to leave behind as tokens of their appreciation.

In our modern society, some artists are able to make a living creating these impermanent masterpieces as advertisements for companies, or creating contributions to art festivals and other events sponsored by cities.

The art of advertising

Chalk art is not just for pavement on hot summer days when children are playing outside. Cafe’s, restaurants and stores among many other businesses use chalk art to help in advertising. You see chalk art all the time, it’s a fun way to spice things up for business signage. The sandwich board outside your favorite ice cream shop with a menu decorated with cute little cartoon ice creams.

Some companies like Coca-Cola and DHL know the benefit of and artist creating a work of art in a public setting. Even though it won’t last long the sight of an artist creating a fun interactive approachable piece will draw a crowd. Not only will the viewers enjoy watching the process but they will be taking pictures and posting on social media. Even though the chalk art will likely wash away in a few days time that artists work is now a permanent part of people’s memories along with the brand names in it.

Chalk art near you

Each Year Lehi City (in Utah) and many other cities around the country sponsor a chalk art contests. This year's contest was held June 24th, 2019 in the Lehi Elementary parking lot. Local artists of every skill level come together to create amazing works of art with vibrant colors. Competing by age and in the categories of single artists and groups, the art competition takes most of the morning to complete. Each artist or group is given their own space to work in and the sky's the limit.

Artists participating in street art contest in Lehi, Utah
Lehi City sidewalk art competition.

The most amazing part of this competition is seeing the artwork come to life on the pavement. The art, however, won’t last long. Each artist uses only chalk or pastels all water-soluble and no fixatives (paints and other ways to make the art permanent) are allowed. That means that each of these amazing pieces of art will only be available to the public until the next rainstorm.

The beauty of such impermanent artwork is that each artist knows that their work won’t last long so they aren’t doing it for the prize so much as the fun and the experience. There is a certain feeling of camaraderie amongst the artists as they work together to make the world a prettier place. Each contribution is an amazing feat of creativity and ingenuity. Some of the artists are able to create illusions of depth in their works and the art almost jumps off the pavement at the viewer.


The use of sidewalks, streets, and parking lots as a canvas for your masterpiece provide grander opportunities than canvas or paper with limited space. Given plenty of space, an artist can create images of epic proportion and even interactive illusions. Artists like Kurt Wenner, Edgar Meuller, and Julian Beever are known for their larger than life artwork. The images they create reach depths and heights only available to the public through their artistic visions.

Julian Beever is well known for his eye-catching illusions creating vast fissures in the earth and making an image jump off the pavement. The trick is anamorphosis, a forced perspective drawing where lines and shapes in the image are stretched way beyond normal proportions. This may sound silly, but when the viewer stands in just the right spot a sort of magic happens.

Get your chalk and start drawing

Young or old professional or doodler everyone enjoys taking a piece of chalk and expressing themselves on a large canvas. Don't worry about critics; it will be gong tomorrow!

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