Meet a few chalk artists sketching images, portraits on urban sidewalks everywhere

Artists crouched over a concrete canvas spread joy and elicit “oohs” and “ahhs” from passers-by around the Tampa Bay region year-round. 

Essential to every vibrant city in every colorful corner of the globe, chalk art -- sometimes called street painting or sidewalk art -- has long been celebrated in pop culture. Perhaps one of the most endearing media moments for chalk art came during one particularly magical scene in Disney’s award-winning 1964 film Mary Poppins. Remember the chalk drawing scene?

Of course, one doesn’t need to watch old movies to enjoy fresh local chalk art. 

Chalk artists unite in the Tampa Bay Area several times each year for chalk walks sponsored by Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts (TBBCA) at events such as the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in downtown Tampa, the Suncoast Arts Fest in Pasco County and the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance Chalk Walk in South Straub Park

Here’s a look at just a few of the talented artists who spread chalk -- and joy -- wherever they go.    

Holland M. King  

Holland King comes from the “City by the Bay” -- the “other bay” that is: San Francisco. He went to school in New York City before joining the United States Army for four years. 

“I did comics for a few publishers,” he says. “The first was The Vicious Circle Project, which is now defunct,” King explains. “Everyone has gone their separate ways and became successful in different avenues.” 

The 40-year-old also worked with Halloweenman Comics, owned and created by Drew Edwards. “I still work with him on occasion doing character designs and random projects. I also flirt with Cornerstone Studios, run by Jesse Hansen,” he explains. 

“All of these are comic book publishers.”  King’s comic background is evident in his artist’s portfolio, a colorful book filled with action heroes and pop culture icons. 

Crouched over two 4’x8’ ecru boards at the 2016 Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, King chalked a sketch of characters from the Muppets Electric Mayhem Band. 

“I currently only do about one or two art festivals a year,” says the Home Shopping Network customer service representative. “I’d love to do more [events] but getting time off work can be difficult, especially if I’m not getting paid.” 

While he works around his “day job” schedule, he hopes to parlay his art into a full-time gig. “I’m working on trying to get into the set design department or the graphic design department.”    

Bridget Lyons

Art comes naturally for Bridget Lyons

“I have always wanted to be an artist,” says the 42-year-old Tampa resident. “According to my mother, I started drawing before I could walk.” 

She picked up chalk and charcoal to draw large portraits when she was in high school, and she continued using the mediums through her college years while studying art, art education and liberal arts at Florida State University. 

“After a few years in college, I decided that painting was my new medium that I wanted to learn, and I kind of walked away from chalk.” 

Lyons didn’t stay away from chalk for long. 

“About seven years ago, I heard about the TBBCA’s Hyde Park chalk walk. I was too late to enter for that year, but literally the day the application came out for the next year, I turned it in -- and that is where it all began for me.” 

Lyons, who has won multiple awards for her art, attends as many as 17 events per year and regularly travels outside Florida to participate in various festivals. 

Later this year, she will travel outside the United States to draw chalk art. What draws Lyons to the ephemeral nature of chalk art? 

“Street painting, as sidewalk chalk art is called, is considered a performance art. Just the same as a musician on a street corner, it is all about being in the moment,” the artist reflects. “Most of us are out there because we love the fact this is not permanent. It will wash away and fade just like a memory,” she says. 

“Worldwide there are probably less than 1,500 professional chalk artists,” Lyons continues. “To be a part of that is pretty elite, but we are family and work well with each other. Of all the art occupations I pursued, it is by far the most accepting and rewarding.”   

Kumpa Tawornprom 

Kumpa Tawornprom, 46, arrived in the United States from Thailand in 1990 and established himself as a leading sculpture artist. His clients have included Busch Gardens Tampa, Nickelodeon, Universal Studios, and other big names. Still, one of his favorite ways to spend weekends is to kneel before the pavement and spend as much as 15 to 20 hours in a single day chalking. 

“I attend three or four events each year,” he says. “One of the hardest parts of the process is prepping,” he says, readying his chalking canvas for the vibrant colors and Thai themes that speak to the culture he loves. He is also sharing the love of art with younger people, such as Tim Ritter, an up-and-coming Thai-American artist whom Tawornprom is mentoring.    

Cassie Marie Franek 

Cassie Marie Franek grew up with a paintbrush in her hands, and by the age of 11 knew she wanted to be an artist. 

“I’ve been creating ever since,” the 20-year-old says. “My first time creating sidewalk chalk art was in March 2013 at the TBBCA Chalk Walk in Hyde Park.” 

While she loves being a chalk artist, it isn’t without its challenges. 

“I would say the most challenging thing is the physical strain of long hours sitting on cement,” she admits. “The most rewarding thing would definitely be the sense of community that comes from people observing and appreciating art. I especially love seeing kids get excited when they realize that they can create art with chalk on their driveway, too.” 

Sidewalks provide Franek with her primary canvas space, though she also uses chalks and pastels on paper. She participates in about a dozen chalk events each year and has scored many accolades, including two People’s Choice awards. 

Franek is also involved with graphic art and advertising design -- just a few of the ways she has parlayed her education from Marchman Technical College for Commercial Art, where she studied during her junior and senior years as a homeschooled high school student. 

“I currently work part-time as a custom framer at Michael’s arts and craft store. The rest of my time is spent on commissioned work and creating original art.”    

Dani Grazziano  

Many believe Dani Grazziano represents the next generation of chalk artists. The 15-year-old has made her splash in the art world with her drawings of mermaids and other whimsical subjects. Dani started chalking on the three-car-wide driveway at her family’s Lutz home when she was just seven years old and hasn’t looked back. 

“In the beginning, we just used Crayola chalk and would buy a new pack whenever she ran out of black or another color,” her mom, Maureen, recalls. “We learned through talking with other artists about Eternity Arts – their chalk [texture] is like butter.” 

The Grazziano family looked on with pride as Dani worked alongside seasoned artists at events such as the Hyde Park Chalk Walk and Suncoast Arts Fest at the Shops at Wiregrass in 2013. She has gone on to win multiple awards, including two People’s Choice awards. 

“I’m surrounded by all these fellow talented artists who put their heart and soul into what they do,” Dani remarks. “The feeling [of winning] is like defying gravity when your name is called.” 

She is also winning over a lot of support from her colleagues and even has gigs providing sketches for First Unity Church of St. Petersburg, Lutz Leaguerettes Softball League, and Cheval Athletic Club Director Larry King, Jr. (yes, son of CNN News Host Larry King). 

When she isn’t sketching, the homeschooled Dani stays busy studying Florida Virtual School coursework. 

Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

 Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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