Beauty can be fleeting. A sunset’s coral and azure streaks, overtaken by darkness. A vibrant red leaf, blown away by the autumn winds. And a colorful alfresco artwork that will soon fall victim to rain, sprinklers — or even just the feet of pedestrians.
Using chalk on pavement to create transient works of art is Clifton Gold’s side hustle. By day, the Milpitas-based artist works in printing production for San Jose State University. On weekends, he travels to sidewalk art festivals, from community-based Bay Area events to invitation-only festivals, including Santa Barbara’s prestigious I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival.
So we asked him for an insider’s view of the genre.
Q What do you love about this medium?
A The ephemeral nature. Because the work is not permanent, and the supplies are inexpensive, it allows you to experiment and try techniques and subjects you wouldn’t normally do on paper or canvas. It’s fun to get together with like-minded people, create colorful work for the audience and enjoy the sunshine and live music!
Q You’re a color-blind artist who has succeeded in a visual, vibrant field. Tell us about that.
A Yes, I am color blind. Browns, reds and greens look the same, so do blues and purples, and lime greens and yellows. Family and friends help me label my chalk. Over time, I’ve also learned what colors are where in the various brands’ boxes, and I have an app on my phone that also helps detect colors.
That challenge has led me to create my own style and chalking techniques. My core art style is inspired by pen-and-ink drawings and doodle patterns, so I use a lot of black chalk in the base of my pieces, then I accent with colors and white highlights. It’s kind of like a giant coloring book. The audience sees the piece develop from black and white to glowing color throughout the event.
Q Which of your sidewalk creations stand out in your memory?
A “The Garden Keeper” that I did at the Chalk Festival in Venice, Florida, in 2019 was one of the most challenging but rewarding experiences. This was the largest and most detailed piece I’ve done (12 feet by 12 feet), and the first two days of the festival were riddled with rain and strong winds. But the piece came out better than I expected and was well-received. I also love doing the Chalk It Up festival in Sacramento with my nieces. We always create a piece based on their ideas, and they help do all the coloring.
Q What would you like people to understand about this genre?
A I don’t think people realize how physically challenging it is. Imagine doing planks and burpees all day long — that’s pretty much what it’s like to chalk a mural, crawling around on the ground all day. You are at the mercy of the weather. One day at the Italian Street Painting Marin event in San Rafael in 2018, the temperature got up to 100 degrees, and by noon, the asphalt itself was 130 degrees. You are also at the mercy of attendees who aren’t watching where they’re going, so sometimes they walk right across your mural, and you have to fix the footprints.
Q How does it feel to see your art vanish?
A When you first start doing it, it’s a little sad. But you get used to it. Some festivals leave the murals and the environment eventually wears them out over a couple weeks, so you get to see them age. Other event organizers have to wash the streets immediately afterward, so you see the piece disappear in five seconds!
GOLD’S 5 BEST TIPS FOR AMATEUR ARTISTS
— Use a light touch with the chalk. Lay down a very thin layer, then blend it into the pavement with a scrap piece of carpet, craft foam or your finger to get a solid color and fill in the crevices.
— It’s all about layers. Slowly build up the chalk, colors and highlights, applying the chalk lightly each time. This will keep the dust down, and you will use way less chalk.
— Apply the darkest colors first, then layer the lighter colors on top. Why? Because dark chalk specks that get on top of light colors look like specks of dirt. However, specks of light color chalk on top of darker chalk look like sparkles, creating a glowing effect.
— Work first on the focal point, on what you want the audience to see first. Usually, it’s the eyes. Then you can work out from there. That way, you’re not stepping over completed areas to get to other areas or painting yourself into a corner. And, if you run short on time, you can work looser in the outer areas.
— Use knee pads, wear a hat, apply sunscreen, drink lots of water. And take plenty of stretch breaks!