More than 40 chalk artists from both near and far flocked to Clearwater two weekends ago to display their skills in the fourth annual Beach Chalk Art Festival, sponsored by the Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
Participants included locals as well as artists from all over Florida and the United States. Spectators strolled the Beachwalk, voting on their favorite artworks and shopping vendor booths that offered scented candles, garments, hand-painted glassware and a variety of arts and crafts.
Using chalk as their medium and the cement surface as their canvas, the artists created stunning images over the three-day event, ranging from reproductions of great masterpieces to characters from popular movies and TV shows.
“I’m a big Robert DeNiro fan,” said David Lepore of West Palm Beach, who was working on a trilogy of the actor in three of his most famous films: Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, and Godfather II. Lapore, who competes in seven or eight chalk festivals each year, added: “I’ve been in this contest for the last four years, and it’s one of the best.”
Lepore ended up taking the First Place People’s Choice Award for his three-part portrait of DeNiro.
Other winners included Cass Womack for her Wreathed Hornbill and Nate Baranowki for his Star Wars piece.
“I love coming to this and working next to all these wonderful artists,” said Cass Womack, who lives in Brandon and works as a video game production artist at Artix Entertainment in Lutz.
“I’ve had such an amazing time and it was such a great experience — I can’t believe all of the nice people I’ve met,” said 14-year-old Mattie Hamelink, the youngest competitor in the show, who also enjoys creating greeting cards and pet portraits back in her home state of New York. “It’s hard to say goodbye to something I worked so hard on, but I’ll have to get used to it,” she said.
Many artists traveled great distances to compete in the contest, including Eric Greenawalt from Pittsburgh, Pa. Self-named “The Chalking Dad,” Eric created a startling artwork depicting characters from the Walking Dead TV series.
“I’ve got two girls, 12 and 9, back home, so traveling around for this gets tough sometimes,” said Greenawalt, who works in corporate finance in Pittsburgh. “My family understands, though — this is my weekend passion.”
Greenawalt recently competed in a chalk festival in Columbus, Ohio, where he created a mural of Ohio State coach Woody Hayes. “It helps to get a little stipend to defray the cost,” he said, explaining that sponsors often try to help the artists out with art supplies, lodging and travel expenses.
Artist Jennifer Chaparro created a 3-D effect with her Pink Pelican piece, on which she invited spectators to sit and get photographed through her special 3-D lens. “I really like interacting with the crowd and sharing this with all ages,” she said “It’s completely different than painting alone in a studio.” Chaparro, who has a BFA degree from UCLA, spent 25 years in advertising graphic design before becoming a chalk artist. She now gets requests to do street painting for special events, and has created a thriving business called Amazing Street Painting.
As part of the Chalk Walk, the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce awards a scholarship to benefit Pinellas County schools’ visual arts programs. This year’s beneficiary was Wendy Bruce, who teaches art at Ponce de Leon Elementary School.
If you missed the Chalk Walk, don’t despair. You’ll be able to see many of these same artists at the Venice Chalk Festival, to be held Nov. 13-16 in downtown Venice Beach. In addition, Lake Worth will hold its 22nd annual Street Painting Festival Feb. 20-21, 2016, in what is considered to be the largest festival of its kind in the United States. You can find more information about these upcoming events at www.streetpaintingfestivalinc.org and at www.chalkfestival.org.