This past weekend I created some 3D street art for the 16th annual Denver Chalk Art Festival. This was my sixth year as part of the event. The Denver festival is my home event, so I feel a special connection with the other artists and the spectators. It is one of the biggest chalk festivals in the country with over one hundred thousand people checking out the artwork over two days. For the last two years I have been a “featured artist” for this event. Throughout this article I will walk you through my process for creating a 3D street painting.
3D Street Art Concept and Design Phase
The concept and design phase of any art project can be one of the most difficult. This is the stage when the artist must confront the blank page (or street, in my case). Sometimes I don’t have any ideas. Other times I have too many. Finding the right concept and committing to it can be very challenging.
I like to begin by writing down as many ideas as I can. I try to write quickly, without judging the quality of each idea. Sometimes writing down a bad idea will lead to a new and better one. I remind myself that this list is just for me, so I don’t need to be embarrassed about anything I write down. As my brain and hand warm up, the ideas tend to pop into my head more rapidly. I continue this exercise until the ideas start to slow down. Next, I read over the list and select a few ideas that stand out as interesting. I don’t have any concrete rules for selecting ideas. It’s mostly a feeling. A lot of art is about trusting your feelings and intuition, especially when selecting a concept. My next step is to begin some rough sketching.
I like to do my initial sketching digitally. This allows me to make major changes much more quickly and easily. I keep these early sketches very simple. The point is not to create a nice looking drawing, only to describe the idea to myself. I just want to establish where major elements will be located. In addition, I want to figure out the scale of each object in the design.
Refining the Sketch
Once I have figured out the basic design elements I begin to refine the sketch. This is where I slow down and start to draw things more accurately. This phase can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. It is important not to rush this phase because it will become the foundation of the final artwork. This is also the phase when I select colors and decide on things like light direction and intensity.
My 2019 3D Street Art Design for the Denver Chalk Festival
This year I designed my 3D street art to be open to interpretation. The image shows a person wearing a haz-mat suit, lounging in a recliner. There is a dog between their legs and a cat near their head. Both animals are also wearing custom haz-mat suits. The person looks very relaxed. They are reading a book and sipping a cocktail. I like the idea of juxtaposing the seriousness of the haz-mat suit with these laid back activities.
Beginning the Artwork on the Street
Once the design phase is complete it’s time for the real fun to begin! When I arrive on location I sweep the section of street that I will be working on. This helps remove sand and dirt that might interfere with my drawing. Next, I make a line drawing of my design. I don’t focus on any small details at this point because everything will be painted over.
Next, I fill in the design with a base coat of tempera paint. This paint is basically liquid chalk, but it will help the artwork look more saturated. Once this base coat of paint is dry I can begin adding chalk colors on top. I usually work from the top of the design to the bottom. This process helps me avoid stepping on areas of the artwork that I have already completed. This piece took 2.5 days to complete, including a couple of rain delays.
What happens if it rains?
This year at the festival I experienced some setbacks from rain. The rain on Saturday damaged my artwork, but I was able to make the repairs and finish before another rain storm on Sunday. Rain is always a possibility when working outside, so I make sure to be prepared. I always have plastic sheeting in my backpack in case I need to cover the artwork. It is also important to remember that rain is not the end of the world and just keep pushing forward. I think that battling the elements together helps chalk artists bond and form stronger friendships.
The crowds were awesome all weekend! Everyone really seemed to enjoy my artwork and lined up to take photos from the viewing point. One of the challenges of such a crowded event is trying to get everyone to the proper viewing point for the artwork. I draw footprints on the ground and explain that this is the best viewing point to see the 3D street art. People are always amazed when they step on the footprints and take a photo. The image seems to jump off the ground!
You can check out more of my 3D street art here.
You can also see a time lapse video of me creating 3D chalk art here.