Freedom March – Sarasota Chalk Festival 2013

So after beginning our chalk art career in April for UVM, Justin and I made our first chalk festival appearance this November at the Sarasota Chalk Festival—an unbeatable opportunity to take our art to the big stage and meet some of the world’s best chalk artists.

The theme this year?  Legacy of Valor – Honoring Veterans, Inspiring Patriotism, and Embracing Freedom (Check out founder and chairwoman and all-around awesome Denise Kowal speaking on this.)  While I am grateful to our soldiers and veterans, I am concerned with how readily our country deploys them.  As a resolute pacifist (and a citizen of Vermont, the state so blue it is actually…green), the theme took awhile for me to chew on.  I thought of taking up a piece honoring the Four Immortal Chaplains, four chaplains of different faiths who gave away their life vests to soldiers aboard the sinking U.S.A.T. Dorchester and linked arms as the ship went down.  To me, this is valor at its finest—selfless and loving, bigger than any national or religious boundaries.  But that got me thinking about other kinds of patriotic valor, which led me to this image:


This is, as you can probably tell, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marching from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.  Yes, going out to fight the ostensible war is valorous, but so is fighting the war within—and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. showed his country an incredible kind of fight: immovable, unshakable love.  He loved his country enough to demand it mend its glaring faults, and to do so without undermining the dignity of any other, be it those who met him with hatred, those who resisted him, those who degraded him and his people.  He knew that the only way to fight hatred (and I mean the only way, as opposed to just hacking off another Hydra head), was with love.

(That and look!  It’s also Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, my favorite religious philosopher and a good friend of King’s.  Inter-religious dialogue to boot!  He wrote of this march, ‘I felt like my legs were praying.’  And there is also Dr. Ralph Bunche, about whom I am ashamed to say I knew nothing before this project.  Turns out he was a great diplomat and the first African American Nobel Peace Prize winner…and really should have turned up in US History class, unless that was just me not paying enough attention.)

So here’s the design I decided on (though I was bummed I couldn’t fit the nun in there, too).  It’s meant to show the path behind them and before, King’s and Heschel’s hands open to invite us to join the march, which must continue as long as people keeping being…well, people:


Okay, so image located.  Next problem: to do it in 2D or 3D?  Well, no one can march with them unless they are life size, right?  Justin reminded me that you can’t get a 3D illusion with the viewer the same height as the subject—so we figured a 2-foot stepladder into our equation, did the math, and after much sweat and stress and Photoshop trial and error came up with this:


So there is the big secret.  Stretch the heck out of it, and voila!  3D!  Keep in mind those tiny feet need to be life size.  The image stretches from there to about…35 feet!  So here’s what that grid looks like on top of a ladder that is really not quite high enough:


Higher up, it would squish into a lovely rectangle with even squares.  I am lucky enough to have my Aunt Kathie in town, so we were staying with her and borrowing her ladders…and this was the shorter of the two stepladders she so kindly lent us.  When we set up the taller one, people were not allowed on the top rung, so this is as accurate as the view got for anyone who actually followed the rules and didn’t step to that third rung.

At about this point—all of 8:15 in the morning the first day of the Festival when just the 3D artists were called to set up on Burns Square to get an early start (because 3D, as you can see, gets big and unwieldy)—the media descended.  All we had was a grid and a couple feet to show for ourselves, but you can see us in the Herald Tribune and ABC7.  Check out Elena’s video to see all the different ways teams lay out their 3D pieces—I had never thought there would be such a variety.  I had certainly never thought that one could create a 3D piece without a grid, but our neighbor, the great Gregor Wasik and his partner Marion completed their whole piece (which even included a wall) without one.  Instead, they had their viewing lens, string, tape, and an insane amount of street painting chops.

They were also amused at my sad attempts to speak German.

So anyway, Home Depot had donated a lot of chalkboard paint, so as I drew our piece, Justin painted in the outline:


Which eventually became this shadow right down the middle of the road.  Here I am as the guinea pig for a Heschel height-check:


Next came what was to me one of the scariest parts—painting those faces in.  Wait, what—painting?!  Wasn’t this a chalk festival?  Well yes, but there was a threat of rain, and we found ourselves (to our great surprise) with brushes and plastic cups full of tempera paint.  And why scary?  Because getting resemblances of people is all good when one is just drawing them, but when their faces are stretched over six feet, things get tricky.  I started with Martin Luther King, Jr., as he has the most recognizable face.  I only just about captured a resemblance before it was dark and time to clean up.  I continued sketching out the faces in black and white paint the next morning while Justin cleaned up the grid and began the background.




As this stressed me out for several hours on end, I took refuge for awhile that afternoon with the relatively un-distorted legs and feet of my marchers:


Next came the gray—hours of gray coats and giant hands until, by the end of the day, we had blocked out most of the picture.



In the meantime, early festival-goers interested in process were coming by, most of them delightful.  Thanks to all of you Vermonters who saw us on the news for coming by and introducing yourselves!  Nonetheless, we were asked pretty much just three questions:

a) what happens if it rains?

b) I know that’s Martin Luther King, but who are these other two guys?  Al Capone and Colonel Sanders?


c) what is that you’re using?  is it a kind of liquid chalk?

Okay, so I got really sick of all of these, but remedied c) first by going back to Heschel’s face and chalking over the paint to get a more accurate resemblance.  Next came the feet.  In the meantime, Justin did the reverse: he had chalked in a couple paint splatters only for the chalk to just blow away across the rest of the picture, so he painted back over it.

As for a), well, it did rain.  It was amazing to see just how fast a whole street of art could be covered and taped—it was all done in a matter of minutes.  By that time, though, I’d also attacked issue b) by writing the names of my three subjects beneath their pictures (with a cross by MLK’s name and a Star of David by Heschel’s, in case anyone else is as excited about these things as I am, which almost everyone…wasn’t).

The rain continued into the next morning, taking away valuable work hours.  Fortunately, we were moving quite fast so we could afford to take the time to eat a leisurely breakfast and wait for the rain to stop with minimal panic.  Next on the list was fixing these messy heads:


Which was easier said than done. The blurry reference photos were not super helpful, nor was the fact that to really see if I had a resemblance yet, I had to see the view through a lens from atop the ladder.  Sometimes I scuttled back and forth, a lot of the times Justin wound up with this obnoxious task, until my camera and his phone wound up with way too many shots like this:


…to make sure that I had finally gotten that six-foot-stretched face okay.


Once the faces were done, Justin jumped in to help deepen the shading in the coats.


(He is also the guru behind the lettering.)  It still didn’t quite jump yet, so I threw in a black outline, and finally began to run out of things to do!

In the meantime, the festival was getting crowded.  Now people were asking:

a) what happens if it rains?

b) know that’s Martin Luther King, but who are these other two guys?  Al Capone and Colonel Sanders?


c) I see a lot of other artists using what looks like paint.  But you’re using chalk!  What’s the difference?

By Sunday afternoon, Justin and I were pretty much finished and ready to just play around with the picture.  I put in some extra outlines for fun:


…And I found out that I could see quite a bit of our piece in Justin’s sunglasses:


There continued to be a lot of delightful people, some new questions, insights, and stories, mostly the same old questions, and some more Vermonters representing down in the sunny south.  I was touched when one man came by Saturday morning, nodded at Heschel, and said: One of the greatest minds of the 20th century!  (And I said: yes! yes! yes!).  Another woman who came by said she had met Dr. Ralph Bunche, and it was great to see how many kids recognized Dr. King instantly, even from beside the six-foot-stretched face.

There was also this man with his macaw:


So I took some pictures of the constant stream of picture-takers, some of whom braved the ladder and some who were happy enough just to see the strangeness of the piece from the side:




But not many people were marching with them, so I added some footprints on their shadow and a prompt:


…and the next day we collapsed on the beach and reveled in the pelicans and super fine, white sand at Siesta Key Beach.  I’ll be posting some of the other art on my Facebook page, but you can also see a bunch of it, not to mention some cool videos, here.  You can see fly-bys of our piece on Day 2, Day 3, and in the context of the rest of the festival (AMAZING stuff) here and here.  Here are some more finished pictures and fun angles:






We were given prime real estate this year and had a lot of traffic by our piece.  From the first morning, we were surrounded by energetic volunteers and were adopted by wonderfully warm volunteer photographers and had the chance to meet and befriend great artists from all over.  And we were even fed…cupcakes, though without the espresso from the café down the road, I don’t know if I’d have made it.  We are used to whipping out a big piece in a matter of hours, so all we have known up until now is to work fast and hard.

So we had a blast, wiped ourselves out completely, didn’t get too sunburnt despite being the only team from VT (in November, where it is currently below 20 degrees and dark) and we learned a lot…like things we need for next year:

a) chalk on a stick

b) one of those sweet viewing lenses

c) no ladder


d) to slow down and take more time hanging out with all the amazing people around.


Live and learn.


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