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Chalking it up for fun

Staff photo by Kremena Spengler Kara Carlson takes her inspiration from Wanda Gag, among others.

NEW ULM — Pedestrians walking along 5th South and Washington Streets have noticed the sidewalks are getting more colorful this summer.

New, elaborate chalk drawings have appeared nearly every day for months. The work can be credited to Kara Carlson. Armed with a steady supply of chalk, she has been brightening up the boulevards since the early days of the COVID pandemic.

Carlson said she has skipped a few days for weather, but 99% of the days she has been outside creating chalk art at least once a day.

“This is my crazy art lady way of cheering people up,” Carlson said. She and her family has been on serious lockdown since the pandemic started and the chalk drawings are a way to get outside and bring a little color to the community.

Carlson was inspired to start drawing with chalk after reading in The Journal about another woman who adopted the hobby during the pandemic. COVID has been a boom for chalk art.

Photo courtesy of Kara Carlson Carlson’s photo-realistic image of an astronaut was a challenging project, requiring attention to subtle color differences.

Carlson said it was a challenge to find chalk in the early days of the pandemic because it was selling out at most stores. Even ordering chalk online was difficult, but she eventually able to find some higher-end pastel chalk.

These days chalk is once again regularly available.

Carlson’s chalk is of higher quality than most brands. It leaves a deeper pigment and has strong staying power. A light rain shower will not remove all the chalk.

On rainy days, Carlson will still go outside to sweep away old chalk drawing the rain did not quite eliminate. But it is temporary art. The rain and wind remove the chalk and Carlson is fine with that. It gives her the space to create more art.

“There is nothing more fun than a clean slate,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Kara Carlson “Cheerful Chalk To Read When You Walk” is the theme of Carlson’s sidewalk art.

A lot of her work is inspired by jokes or puns. “Jokes with words play well on sidewalks,” Carlson said. People are more likely to stop a read the joke and appreciate the artwork. It has been an awarding exercise that has attracted the attention of the community.

“I am meeting all my neighbors,” Carlson said. “Everyone is out walking during the pandemic and they walk past. We shoot the breeze.”

Her art has also inspired neighborhood children. Carlson said a group of kids were watching her draw and asked to join. Soon she started an informal chalk camp on Tuesdays. Local kids would come over and draw. The group even chalked up Mayor Robert Beussman’s sidewalks recently.

The chalk club is finished for the summer, but Carlson continues to draw on her own and neighbors continue to be impressed with work. Some of her popular works include an art drawing of Hermann the German. Recently her photo-realistic astronaut caused pedestrians to stop and marvel. The astronaut was the most challenging chalk drawing she has done, Carlson said.

“There are so many subtle colors,” she said. “I had to learn new techniques and find high, low and medium color values to make it photo-realistic.”

Photo couresty of Kara Carlson Carlson has been joined throughout the summer on Tuesdays by neighborhood children.

Carlson is always collecting ideas for new designs. She has even taken requests, including a version of “American Gothic” where the farmers are wearing face masks. There is another request for a chalk version of “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.”

Though the chalk art eventually vanishes, Carlson has documented her work through photographs. Many of these photos have been posted and shared on social media. Carlson is considering creating a children’s book of the various drawings as a way to share the past works with those following.

Those interested in getting into chalk art are encouraged to view works online. A google search of “COVID chalk art” will give hundreds of examples of what can be done in the medium.

Photos courtesy of Kara Carlson Carlson loves to illustrate terrible puns, like the ones above.

Photos courtesy of Kara Carlson Carlson loves to illustrate terrible puns, like the ones above.

Photos courtesy of Kara Carlson Carlson created this tribute to George Floyd and violence-stricken Minneapolis.

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