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Chalk festival takes art to the street

Sep 16 2012
California artist Lori Escalera works on a chalk painting of Queen Victoria on Government Street during the Victoria Chalk Art Festival. International and local chalk artists are drawing in chalk on two blocks of Government Street and in the Bay Centre's centre court. The festival continues today. For more details, go to victoriachalkfestival.com. 

California artist Lori Escalera works on a chalk painting of Queen Victoria on Government Street during the Victoria Chalk Art Festival. International and local chalk artists are drawing in chalk on two blocks of Government Street and in the Bay Centre's centre court. The festival continues today. For more details, go to victoriachalkfestival.com.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

Joseph Williams of Victoria spent Saturday afternoon on Government Street on his hands and knees, struggling to create with chalk something he could do easily with pen and paper.

"It's a massive learning curve," said Williams, 40, a professional cartoonist, sweating over his first attempt at drawing with chalk on a street.

"The medium is completely out of my comfort zone," he said of the bumpy pavement that was his canvas. "I work in a sketchbook in laboratory conditions and I usually don't work in colour. I like to break out and do something different."

Williams was participating in the first annual Victoria Chalk Art Festival, an event featuring local and international artists using the street as their canvas. The five-day festival, taking place in the Bay Centre and along Government Street between Fort and Yates, started Wednesday and wraps up today at 6 p.m.

Part of the joy of drawing on the street are the people who come along and want to talk to you and bring along dogs to pat, said Michael Las Casas, 51, of south Florida.

"I've been doing this for 20 years," said Las Casas, a professional graphic artist and art teacher.

Chalk art appeals because it's outdoors "and the size is cool," he said of the 2.4-metre by threemetre boundaries.

Las Casas, who attends four or five chalk art festivals a year, chose to create an image of orcas swimming underwater.

"It was the first thing I thought of," said Las Casas, who has not yet seen orcas in the wild.

"I was hoping to see them on the ferry but did not see them. I've painted whales before and I've got them on my website - I like the animals."

He often invites young children to join him on the ground, showing them the process of drawing with chalk.

Jeanie Burns, 55, also of south Florida, decided to do a portrait of her husband, Michael Blair, who stayed home to look after the couple's high-maintenance dog.

"I'm making him into a Renaissance man," said Burns, showing a sketch of a man with a distinguished beard wearing period costume.

The chalk used in street art isn't any different than normal chalk, she said, "but I have more of it," pointing to a spectrum ranging from pastels to deep hues.

"It has more pigment in it than the kiddy chalk, but you can buy it in any art store," she said. "There's nothing special about it. This is cheap stuff."

Burns started in chalk art 16 years ago and decided to explore the genre.

"I had been a student in Italy during college, and I remember seeing it on the street and I was quite taken by it," Burns said.

She likes chalk art "because it lets people see the art emerge rather than having a finished piece."

That aspect was clear as she paused during the portrait, with Blair's hair and eyes emerging as though a curtain were slowly being dropped.

Chalk art also has a performance element, which suits her.

"I'm somewhat of a ham, I'm a talker," Burns said.

"It's a performance art, essentially. I don't perform on stage - this is my stage." smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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