Do you remember the scene in “Mary Poppins” when Dick Van Dyke’s character, Bert, creates chalk drawings on the sidewalk? Mary, Michael, Jane and Bert jump into one of the drawings and into an animated world of dancing penguins, carousel-horse racing and silly songs like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
The medium has a long and colorful history, originating in 16th-century Italy. Today, artists all over the world render original and non-original artistic designs on pavement (streets, sidewalks and town squares) with semi-permanent materials such as chalk and pastels.
In the United States, we refer to the art form as street painting. It’s also known as pavement art, street art and sidewalk art.
Later this month, St. Augustine hosts its first street-painting event, Paseo Pastel (Spanish for a casual promenade or walk). The free event features more than 70 artists, and organizers expect to draw a crowd of more than 20,000.
Lydia Keohane, board director of St. Augustine Regional Council (StAR) and chair for Paseo Pastel, said that organizing this event (considered a 450th Anniversary Signature Event) has been a group effort.
“Members of StAR had visited a few chalk events in other cities and had the idea that this would be a great event to bring to St. Augustine,” Keohane said.
Keohane and her cohorts enlisted the help of Lee Jones, an Orlando-based professional street-painter, Florida Chalk Artists Association president and the event’s featured artist.
The theme for the chalk walk, “St. Augustine Living Heritage,” encourages artists to create street paintings that incorporate city history, the beaches, water, architecture, foliage — and anything else St. Augustine-related. Jones’ piece for the event will feature an 8-foot-by-8-foot montage including a purple starfish, the Bridge of Lions, Castillo de San Marcos Fort and the St. Augustine Lighthouse.
Born and raised in Madison, Wis., Jones attended Madison Area Technical College where she earned an associate’s degree in commercial art. “Most street painters have master’s degrees in fine arts,” she said.
After graduation, Jones worked several years as a freelance artist and a production artist. She also managed a printing company and opened her own design studio, LJ Designs, in 1990. One evening in 1994, Jones was having dinner at her parents' house when her dad, a longtime Rotary Club member, started talking about how his organization was going to host a street-painting festival.
“I got a D in pastels in college, so I immediately told him, ‘I’m not doing it,’ ” Jones said. “I’m kind of a perfectionist, and so I didn’t want to do something that I would suck at.”
On Christmas Day 1994, after a lot of prodding and persuasion, Jones and her dad took to the family’s driveway to experiment drawing on the asphalt with pastels. “I fell in love with it right away,” she said. A few months later, Jones took part in the Rotary event, creating a sailboat with brightly colored parrots flying overhead — and won best of show.
Over the past 18 years, under the moniker Chalk It Up (chalk-it-up.com), Jones has chalked more than 200 street paintings around the world — from Curaçao and California to Italy and Salt Lake City.
“Italy was an amazing experience,” Jones said. “Michelangelo is my favorite artist — I reproduce many of his paintings — so it was surreal to go to the Sistine Chapel and see his work.”
It wasn’t until 1972 — some 400 years after street painting originated — that the first International Street Painting Festival was held in the small northern Italian town of Grazie Di Curtatone. And it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the art form became popular in the United States. Today, dozens of cities around the country hold their own street-painting festivals.
Paseo Pastel will include professional street painters, art educators and college and high school students. Each will be given 4-foot-by-6-foot sidewalk areas on which to create their work and compete for cash prizes.
Jones held a three-hour chalking workshop Feb. 23 at St. Augustine's Fullerwood Center. The artist estimates about 50 people attended.
“It was a great morning, and we all learned a lot about chalking and the chalking history called street painting,” said Keohane, who took part. “Then, all attending got the chance to try their hand at it. Actually, everyone was so excited after Lee’s presentation, they immediately started chalking when the go-ahead was given.”
For Jones, Paseo Pastel will be like coming full circle in her street-painting career. Her 15-year-old daughter, Brin Jones, and her father, Ed Baranowski, will join her at the St. Augustine event.
“It doesn’t bother me at all that [my art] will eventually be washed away,” she said. “I consider what I do performance art. It’s more about creating and giving people the chance to watch me create.”