A chalk drawing of a solar system complete with flowers and an alien. Drawing with chalk is a great way to spend time outside and be creative and safe during quarantine. Photo by Sadie Tresnit.

As the weather gets nicer, many Portlanders (myself included) are eager to get outside, but quarantine makes that difficult. Exercise is a good option, but the streets are often busy with cars, and Mt. Tabor is already crowded with runners and bikers. It’s nice to read outside, but sometimes you want to do something a little more hands-on. That’s where sidewalk chalk art comes in. It may not be the most productive activity in the world, but it makes up for that by being super fun and creative. Plus, seeing your art could definitely brighten someone’s day (maybe even a dog’s). That’s worth it, right? Even if you don’t have your own yard or the sidewalk where you live is always busy, you can try asking a friend on a less busy street if you can use theirs. It’s a great creative outlet. Anyway, as something of a chalk expert, here’s my list of tips to help you get started on your very own masterpiece.

  1. Draw something abstract. Sometimes when I go outside to draw with chalk, my mind is totally blank, and not just because of quarantine. That’s okay! Having no ideas can be the best place to start, because you don’t have any expectations for the finished art. If you’re really not sure what to draw, start with some colorful shapes and see where things go from there. You can leave everything totally abstract or turn your shapes into recognizable things, like aliens or flowers.
  2. Write a positive message. The world can always use some extra positivity, especially right now. We can’t be together physically, but even a simple message like “have a great day” can really cheer people up. If you’re having trouble thinking of ideas, the internet is a great place for inspiration. Of course it’s the thought that counts, but it can also be fun to practice fancy chalk lettering in these messages.
  3. Use chalk dust to blend colors. This is something I would always do with my friends in the neighborhood when we were younger, but it’s not just for kids. You know how chalk designs can get dusty, especially if you press the chalk down hard? It turns out that chalk dust is great for blending colors. In general, I prefer mixing colors that are next to each other in the rainbow, like orange and yellow, but don’t let that limit you. This technique is great for when you want a cool blended effect and more thorough sidewalk coverage, but it also uses the chalk up more quickly, so it’s best to use in moderation if you don’t want to reach the end of your chalk box too quickly.
  4. Make a game out of it. The obvious idea here is hopscotch, a beloved classic for a reason. Anytime I see a game of hopscotch on the sidewalk, I can’t resist hopping through it, and hopefully I’m not the only one. There are plenty of other games, though. One of my favorites is drawing lines or shapes with my eyes closed, and then opening my eyes and trying to turn them into something. If that’s not your thing, you can always invent your own games.
  5. Don’t be afraid of a wet sidewalk. It rains a lot in Portland, so if it’s not summertime, it can be difficult to find a dry patch of sidewalk to work on. But the good news is that you don’t need one! Using chalk on a wet sidewalk can actually make your colors more vibrant and opaque. If you’re going for a pastel effect, you’re a bit out of luck, but it’s always fun to experiment. If it hasn’t rained lately but you still want to try this, you can also get your chalk wet before drawing on a dry sidewalk. Be warned, though, wet chalk feels pretty weird on your hands.
  6. It doesn’t have to be one coherent design. When I use chalk, I usually start drawing planets. Sometimes it’s a representation of our solar system, but sometimes I also draw different planets just for fun. After that, I usually draw flowers or fun designs. As tempting as it may be to draw a whole landscape, that can take a lot of time, patience, and chalk. If you’re ready for that, by all means, go for it. If that sounds terrible, just remember that your art doesn’t have to be one clear picture. Chalk murals are super cool, but you have plenty of other options. Either way, remember to check the weather before you get started. It would be sad to put a ton of effort into your creation only to have the rain wash it away within hours. Part of the fun of chalk is that it’s impermanent, so nothing has to be perfect, but it’s still nice to have some idea of how long it might last.
  7. Be unique! There’s no “right” way to use chalk, and anything you make will be great. No matter whether you use someone else’s design for inspiration or make your own, your art will be uniquely yours, and that’s pretty neat. Just remember not to compare your art with anyone else’s, and have fun! 
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