THE 15 MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT PAVEMENT ART
1. Q: Did you paint this?
2. Q: What happens when it rains?
A: Rain is a great enemy of street painters: drops of rain will stain a picture and there is no foolproof means of protection. Tenting the picture or covering it with plastic helps, yet water can seep under just about anything if the rain lasts long enough. I fix damaged areas by reapplying the chalks.
3. Q: How long does it take?
A: I paint somewhere between four and six square yards a day. The complexity of the design and the quality of the surface determine how much I am able to accomplish.
4. Q: Are you disappointed when it washes away?
A: I am always aware of the impermanence of street painting; wind, sun, dirt, and rain constantly remind me of its fleeting nature. Even as I’m creating a new part of the picture, I can see that the finished parts are already fading. I’m not disappointed when it washes away because street painting is performance art; it’s very much like attending a symphony. When the music ends everyone leaves with a memory of the music. My work is the same except one is left with a visual impression. And much like a musical recording helps preserve a moment, I photograph my paintings when they’re finished.
5. Q: How long will the painting last if it isn’t destroyed?
A: It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the picture is “gone.” In Switzerland, where the climate is very harsh, I’ve returned to old street painting sites after a year and still seen a faint image of the pictures. Climate, cars, bicycles, and pedestrians are all factors that determine a paintings survival time. They can last anywhere from a couple of days to more than a year.
6. Q: Can you spray something on the picture to keep it from washing or fading away?
A: The permanence of any work of art depends more on its environment, support, and the quality of materials used in the creation than on a protective varnish. Anything sprayed on chalk will immediately change the surface and cause undesirable effects such as turning white into gray. Any sort of fixative applied to chalks on the street will do little to prolong the life of the image.
7. Q: Is it permitted to do this type of painting everywhere?
A: The occupation of public space worldwide is generally covered by municipal codes, which change from location to location. I’ve not heard of many places where street painting is forbidden, although Zurich, Switzerland is one of them. Therefore, most street painters select a spot they are happy with and begin working. It usually doesn’t take too long for a uniformed peace officer to show up and informs a painter if they need a permit, or must move on to a town that permits their work. Street painters tend to assume it is permitted to paint until they are told otherwise.
8. Q: Can you make a living doing this?
A: As with any occupation you generally find people engaged in the work because it supports them. And, like any other trade, there are different degrees of success. Some painters live hand-to-mouth and others enjoy it as a lucrative profession. Success is very dependent on the sheer number of people who pass by a work, their reaction to a particular image, and the artistry of the painter.
9. Q: How many people make their living as street painters?
A: There are probably two to five hundred street painters at any one time that depend on street painting as their primary source of income. There are many more seasonal painters, those who only work in the summer months.
10. Q: How did you learn to do this?
A: I worked on my drawing and perspective skills at art school and was a scientific illustrator for NASA. In order to further my training I left for Italy in order to study directly from the great master works of art. For six months I spent eight hours a day drawing and learning from paintings and sculpture. One day, I saw a street painting and asked the artist what he was doing. He explained the tradition of street painting in Europe to me, and after viewing my museum drawings asked if I’d like to paint the head of an angel while he went to lunch. Working with the chalks came very naturally, and from that point on I’ve been street painting.
11. Q: What kind of chalks are you using?
A: I actually use handmade pastels, which are stronger and more permanent than commercial products. When I first started street painting I used commercial chalks and pastels. I soon found the chalks to be too dusty and they constantly blew away on the street. The pastels were more permanent but too costly; as I would consume a couple hundred sticks per picture. It didn’t take long before I began experimenting and making my own pastels with pure pigments and binder.
12. Q: Why are you able to walk on your painting and not damage it?
A: Most of the painting’s color is in the pores of the pavement and not on the surface. Although I try to walk on the picture as little as possible, sometimes I must in order to retouch a spot, or remove debris that has blown onto it. I may also put a sheet of paper or plastic on a finished area before standing on it.
13. Q: Do you make a drawing of what you are going to paint?
A: When I first started street painting I seldom made drawings of what I would paint. Now that I only paint for special events I work out the composition and geometry prior to arriving at my painting site.
14. Q: How can you see what you are doing?
A: Unlike other projects where it possible to stand back and view an entire work, street painting and large scale mural painting are unique in the sense that one must imagine the whole painting while working on a detail of it. It takes special training and experience to work in such a format.
15. Q: Do street painters ever create permanent work?
A: Many street painters create permanent works of art in a variety of mediums. Street painting can be an ideal way to test ideas and public reaction before committing to the time and cost of creating a permanent work.