If you’ve been reading here long, you know that sidewalk chalk is a big thing in our family.
Our kids learned to draw holding fat sticks of chalk instead of crayons, and I don’t know that there’s ever been a time in the last twelve years–give or take a couple post hurricane downpours–that our driveway hasn’t displayed, at the very least, the faint outlines of a heart, a rainbow or someone’s name in bubble letters.
It doesn’t help, of course, that we graduated from pastel sidewalk chalk to highly pigmented art chalk a few years ago, leaving our driveway in a constant state of–as Brett puts it–“a circus show.” As if we hadn’t already earned that title in our neighborhood the day Dash ran out the door naked wearing a Carol Brady wig, chasing the dog who was wearing a dress. Long story for another day.
My point is, we are well-chalked in this family, and the bottoms of my kids’ feet on any given sunny afternoon prove it. Our driveway is our go-to when we need to decompress, our bonding place when we need some together time, and our invitation to step away from phones and T.V.s for some good old brain-stretching artistic therapy.
During a family chalkfest this past weekend, I thought about the archives of memories we have in this driveway and realized how special this activity has become for our family and how much we’ve learned from it.
1. Art Heals Stress
A friend of mine with a teenager told me one of her best pieces of advice for those pre-teen emotional overwhelm moments is to have a cool-down strategy. Hers was always, “Go take a shower.” Ours? Take it to the driveway! I can’t tell you how many times we’ve settled our escalated emotions with chalk, and it always works. Just the other night, Lainey was upset about something and before I could even suggest it, she asked, “Where’s the chalk?” Sometimes we make art alone in the driveway, sometimes it’s all of us together, but it’s always served as a great way to relax and calm down when life gets crazy.
2. Don’t Tear Down Your Work
Things I’ve heard from my kids in our driveway chalk sessions: “I’m a bad drawer,” “Yours is way better,” “I stink at art”–all of which have served as great catalysts for important conversations about how we value our efforts and talk about our own work. We’ve all said these kinds of things in our mind to ourselves about our own creative work, so having repeated conversations with our kids about self talk is a great reminder for us too. We remind ourselves that comparing our creative work to someone else’s creative work is like comparing apples to oranges, and sayings like “I’m a bad drawer” not only beat ourselves up, but they are lazy, broad assessments that aren’t productive motivators to helping us do better. Through creating numerous drawings that we are both proud of and disappointed in, we are practicing good art critique self talks with questions like “What don’t you like about it?,” “What DO you like about it?” and “What could I have done differently to make it more pleasing to my own eye?”
3. Good Art Takes Determination & Time
My kids have been asking me to draw things in our driveway for years now. While I can’t produce everything they ask me to draw, I try my best to create renderings of their favorite movie and book characters. I take photos of every one (even the ones that didn’t turn out great–I’m looking at you, Moana) and store the pictures in a hashtag as well as a folder titled “Much to Chalk About” on my computer. If it’s any good, it’s not because I whipped it up with magical talent. It’s because I stayed committed to my vision and the time it takes to work slowly and tediously. I’m watching my kids do the same now–slowing down, looking at photos they want to recreate, drawing little by little, shading and blending colors and not expecting good art to magically appear on the sidewalk. I learned to draw from watching my dad draw for years and practicing over and over and over. I learned to draw by creating lots of “bad” drawings and not shutting down because I thought they were no good. I’m still learning to draw by returning to the pavement with chalk, to sketchbooks with paints and to paper with pencil, committed to the lifelong process of creating art that is a tiny bit better than the last time I created art. Good art is more about the process than the finished product.
4. Find Something You Love to Do With Your Kids
This is probably my favorite thing I’ve learned through sidewalk chalk sessions. I’ve found “Our Thing”–something I really love to do with my kids, something that never fails to bring us together, something I’ll always say yes to not because I’m doing them a favor but because I really want to be out there drawing in the driveway. Playing Barbies with Nella isn’t always fun for me (I last an average of 6 minutes), but sidewalk chalk? I’m usually the last one standing. And I know my kids can sense that–they’re happy that I’m happy, and you know what they say about Mama being happy–everyone’s happy. That thing you love to do with your kids? It’s the secret cure to witching hours, bad moods, long days and family challenges. Find your thing. In doing so, let me warn you that you may also find what is definitely not your thing. Like Chuck e Cheese.
A few more from our chalk archives:
One of Lainey’s first people drawings…
Chalk serving as Nella’s Occupational Therapy…
Last week’s Woody & Jessie…
We stay stocked up on this chalk for the good pigmented drawings and usually store it in a little basket in our garage (I also keep the cheaper Crayola sidewalk chalk for the little kids.). It doesn’t wash out as good as the regular sidewalk chalk, but it will come off with a good hosing and a scrub brush. We aren’t too precious about our driveway though and don’t mind at all our “circus show” showing neighbors the art fun we have together as a family. Another great tip with the pigmented art chalk is to use your finger to blend and shade. Not only does it make your colors look prettier and more uniform on sand paper-like cement surface, but it makes the chalk last longer.