Chalk it up to creativity

Houston Muralist’s Cross-Country Chalk Collab Inspires in Trying Times

Four artists around the country each draw one-quarter of a chalk mural honoring nurses.

By Emma Schkloven May 12, 2020

Art is often at the forefront of innovation and change, so it’s no surprise that creatives around the world have found a way to overcome isolation in this time of social distancing. Houston muralist Anat Ronen and her fellow artists from across the country have shown just how successful these digital collaborations can be with their chalk painting honoring the first responders on the COVID-19 frontlines.

Ronen and her artist friends often work on pieces together at chalk art festivals around this time of year, creating elaborate street paintings that enthrall passersby and rack up likes on Instagram. But, like so many events these days, many of these gatherings were cancelled due to coronavirus pandemic, leaving those who planned to attend adrift.

“Street painting is such a small community that we really feel like a big family,” Ronen says, “so when those events are cancelled, it means we can’t see our family.”

But street painting is meant to bring joy, the Houston muralist says, so instead of dwelling on their cancelled plans, the artists decided to use the power of technology to collaborate from afar. Ronen, along with Naomi Haverland of Seattle, Jolene Russell of Sacramento, and Jessi Queen of Atlanta designed an homage to emergency coronavirus responders, using their friend and fellow artist Shelly Brenner, who is a nurse in Michigan, as their model.

Top: Artist Jessi Queen works on her portion of the collaborative coronavirus mural at her home in Atlanta. Bottom: Anat Ronen's completed quadrant at her home in Houston.

After coming up with their concept, the group split the design into four equal quadrants, with each artist painting one of the portions in their respective driveway and then snapping a few photos so the images could later be stitched together to form the complete picture. This approach allowed each artist to infuse her own style and personality into the overall work, says Ronen, whose portion, located on the bottom right, drew inspiration from America’s World War II-era propaganda posters.

“You can see the difference, but that’s a beautiful thing—that’s diversity,” Ronen says. “We’re not all alike, and that’s what makes it beautiful.”

Most of the quadrants took about a day and a half to bring to life, although Ronen’s section took only about half a day (she had to work smaller than her counterparts because there’s a long crack in her driveway disrupting her canvas). Painting a single section without seeing the rest of the image was a challenging, but the muralist says the success of the finished product proves that distance is just a number.

“What we wanted to demonstrate is that you can definitely still be connected and have it be meaningful,” she continues, “even if you're not on the same grounds, even if you're not in the same city, even if you're not at the same festival.”

Creating chalk art at home has also given Ronen a window into how people respond to her art—something she doesn’t pay much attention to when drawing at festivals or painting one of her prolific murals around the Bayou City.

“I do my thing. I see people interact and I see people enjoy it, but then, I turn my back and never come back,” she says. “This time around, it’s like I can see people stop by my driveway and taking pictures.”

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the mural collaboration below. 

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