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‘Just like sidewalk chalk, right?’

Centre Daily Times reporter Cate Hansberry tries Italian street painting after watching the artists hard at work on Thursday.
Centre Daily Times reporter Cate Hansberry tries Italian street painting after watching the artists hard at work on Thursday. adrey@centredaily.com

Steps away from where featured artist Graham Curtis turns asphalt into artwork, there is a space called Young Artists’ Alley where anyone can become a painter for a day.

In the midst of an overarching festival, where most of the art is already complete and for sale, the street painting festival is an opportunity to be part of the process.

“It’s very fun,” painter Violet Sleigh said. “It can be fun even if you think you’re not good at painting, or not artistic.”

After spending a day observing the real deal, this CDT reporter and photographer decided to give it a go.

It was not as easy as it looks.

For $5 each, we received a pack of professional-grade pastels, a pad to protect our knees and an 18-by-18-inch square of coveted street space in the midst of the summer’s biggest gathering of artists.

Unsure of what to paint, we checked out the array of completed works, which included rainbows, horses, a pineapple and a tribute to Thon.

After some indecision, we ended up choosing a Florentine symbol and a beach at sunrise, respectively, and eagerly got to work. Although my Florentine fleur-de-lis quickly began to resemble a splayed red frog, the process was immediately satisfying.

Using our fingers and pastels to create our mini masterpieces was reminiscent of summer days spent scribbling with sidewalk chalk as a child.

However, as our works gained shape, it was clear how difficult it is to produce the perfectly executed pieces that attract festivalgoers to Hiester Street. Pastels are much more unwieldy than a pen or pencil, and it’s physically tasking to crouch over the pavement to draw.

But the smooth glide of the oily chalk over the ground, a balmy breeze in the air and the strolling visitors stopping to look at the artwork made the experience both cathartic and invigorating. Often minutes went by without comment as we became absorbed in our own little squares of creativity.

At the end we had palms and fingers covered in colorful paint, some semi-successful paintings and a newfound appreciation for how difficult — but fun! — it is to create detailed artwork on the liberating canvas that is the street.

Cate Hansberry and Abby Drey, Centre Daily Times

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