Let me preface this by saying I completely underestimated how physically exhausting art can be. As a spry, young individual, I left with no feeling in my knees at the end of my four-hour streak of chalk-arting. 

I was feeling confident. I like drawing, although I do not claim it as a skill. And who doesn't want to feel like a kid?

Upon arrival I was handed a kit of 42 colored chalks and escorted to my spot. It was about the size of a compact car parking space! For some reason I thought it was going to be a piece of cake, even though the last time I used chalk was when I was taking its pastel particles across my parents' driveway and the chalk was bigger than the size of my fist. 

My artistic ability does not extend beyond that of cutesy doodles, and so I wasn't going to be transforming my 7 feet by 7 feet rectangle of asphalt into anything remotely close to the Birth of Venus or The Creation of Adam.

I couldn't compete with that. So I decided to draw a childish scene of a woodland mushroom house, where the roof was meant to look like a toadstool.  

I started off with the grass, which would encompass most of the scenery. I wasn't taking the SAT, so I peeked at my neighbors' art. I quickly learned that using one shade of green was playing it far too safe, and merely dragging the pigment across the asphalt was not enough. 

OK. I have a method. Scribble a little dark green, rub it with my two fingers. Scribble some lighter green to add dimension, rub it with my two fingers. I continued that for about an hour, until I took a step back and realized I still hadn't constructed the piece de resistance: the mushroom house. 

The artists at Via Arte have thought of everything. Many have brought their own chalk sets, blueprints of how they're going to create their chalksterpieces and what appear to be tchotchkes like cushions and gloves. By the time I got around to coloring the "roof" of my mushroom house, designed after a toadstool, I could no longer feel sensation in my fingertips.

Gloves are absolutely not tchotchkes, but rather a vital tool.

And as I'm closing in on hour two of this, I'm no longer delicately smudging the chalk with two fingers. It's full-on use of both of my palms. 

This is around the time when I'm getting tired of squatting so I don't bring unwanted color to colored asphalt and I realize that cushions are also not useless gadgets. It is also when I arrive at the conclusion that chalk is the cousin of glitter: it gets everywhere and spreads like contagion. 

Chalk on my jeans, shoes, socks, arms, legs, hands, shirt and face, because I had forgotten that, oh yeah, I was using every square inch of my palms to cover this behemoth of asphalt space. 

The midway point also marked the time of what I call the chalk-artist's existential crisis: My art is vastly lower in skill level to those around me, especially my neighbors' canvases. 

But that's OK, because my repertoire consists of doodles on my reporter's notebook. 

The mushroom house might be the best part of my drawing. The grass surrounding it has dimension, but no concept of perspective. I decided to add another mushroom, that is supposed to be in the foreground, but it was almost as large as the toadstool house. I thought for a moment, "Maybe I shouldn't be free handing all of this."

But I was committed, chalk was everywhere and we're two and a half hours in. There was no turning back now. 

Hour three had just begun and I decided to look at the entirety of the piece, from the festival-goers perspective, for the first time. Maybe it's because I'm an amateur and have this behemoth of an asphalt space, but I noticed I had completely neglected the right side of my space. 

At this point I was scrambling around to get most of the asphalt covered with color. If it wasn't apparent by now, my appreciation of the artistic skills of the other Via Arte artists was sky high. Granted, I had a limited time frame to complete this less-than-elaborate scene, but I didn't know if I would be able to have the stamina to do it for two days, let alone one full day.

Once hour four rolled around, I knew it was time. My disproportioned, toadstool gnome-abode piece was as done as it was ever going to be and I looked like I came out of a chalkboard. I may have done more squats at Via Arte than I have ever done at the gym.

I'm convinced that chalk art is almost as strenuous as running a marathon. I really don't know how I could've done this for two days with the severe lack of preparation I had. Chalk artistry has long evolved from dragging color across your parents' driveway. 

Battle wounds aside, I am proud of my drawing even though it looks like it belongs on a refrigerator rather than with Bakersfield's chalk artist elites. As for Via Arte, hats off to all of the other artists who somehow possess both the physical and creative strength to pull off these masterpieces. They are truly the renaissance artists of today and have my utmost respect. 

Kasey Meredith writes for Bakersfield Life magazine, and also covers stories for The Bakersfield Californian. She can be reached at kmeredith@bakersfield.com and 395-7382.

(1) comment


Sorry, but the second mushroom was of no help.

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