Q&A: Chalk artist Micah Hollenbeck to chalk LSC plaza Wednesday

Sierra Cymes

Professional chalk artist Micah Hollenbeck will be chalking on the Lory Student Center Plaza all day Wednesday.

Hollenbeck started chalking at the Denver Chalk Art Festival with his dad and sister, Mark and Grace Hollenbeck, respectively, seven years ago.

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In preparation for Wednesday’s event, Hollenbeck spoke over the phone with the Collegian about his work and what it’s like to be a professional chalk artist:

Q: What is your favorite part about creating chalk drawings?

A: I know I speak for my dad, my sister and myself when I say we love connecting with other artists and other people just talking to us while we’re working. It’s such a fulfilling thing for us. We love going out and doing this because we love talking to new people and getting to know people. Usually there’s this sort of barrier — I feel that some people feel like they can’t approach artists while they’re working. But this medium is so different. People feel like they can come talk to us. They’re there to look at the artwork and you’re there to work. You’re sharing this together. I’ve never had anyone come up to say ‘your work sucks.’ People are usually very supportive.

Q: Do you have another job to help supplement your profession?

A: For my sister, it’s primarily self-sustaining. I have a second job that I work as well. I make natural art, like organic foods and stuff, so that’s what I do alongside of chalk art.

Q: What is your primary subject matter?

A: I tend to do lots of portraits, lots of kind of quirky sci-fi/fantasy sort of portraits and stuff. Colors are very important and just understanding what will pop from the pavement and what will not. It’s a very interesting process and definitely very different from any other sort of art medium that’s out there.

Q: Tell me how you get those colors to pop. Do you have to layer multiple colors?

Normally we use chalk pastels. Something very soft that you can rub into the pavement. And that’s basically what it is. It’s a layer of just rubbing in basic color and then highlighting and using more vibrant colors on top of that base color to make things pop and to add dimension.

Q: How long does it take you to complete a drawing?

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A: Depending on how big it is, it will take all day. Like for Wednesday, I’ll be getting there at 8 a.m. and then I’ll be working until five or six in the evening. So it’s an all-day activity.

Q: How do you feel about creating art that washes away with the next rainstorm?

A: Personally, for me, I think that’s what is beautiful about the medium — that it is so temporary. People try and strive to keep works of art healthy. With this artwork, you can’t preserve it unless you literally rip out the chunk of cement. So I think that’s the beautiful part of it, and then that opens up for people to talk to you about the artwork. They take pictures and then they share that, and that preserves the artwork in a way.

Q: And it makes it a commodity in a way.

A: Yep, it’s almost like a first edition.

Q: That’s a totally different way to look at the temporary-ness of it. But I bet the weather has been sort of a love/hate relationship for you.

A: Yeah, especially for the festivals. They’re usually multi-day things, so it can be nice one day and then rainy the next day. So there’s definitely love/hate with that because you have to go in and rework things. It’s the nature of the beast.

Q: Can you use sidewalk chalk or do you have to use the specialized chalk?

A: Well, I wish (generic chalk) had more colors, but you can. With the Crayola sidewalk chalk, you can definitely use the same techniques and you can make beautiful works of art.

Q: What would you recommend for any person who wants to get into chalk drawing?

A: Be prepared for sunburns, and just have the perseverance to keep working and keep perfecting the craft. Because the first time you do it, you’ll probably be like ‘oh, well, that’s not what I expected,’ but just keep doing it because you will get better and it will develop just like any art medium. You know, you’ve got to practice painting before you master painting. And this is the same idea. It’s just in a completely different setting. Honestly, it’s diving into the deep end. You just gotta do it. You gotta go out there, take your chalk, take all the necessities you need and go out there and you’ve just got to lay it out there for all the world to see. It takes a lot of courage.

Q: What are you looking forward to for Wednesday?

A: I am very excited. It’ll be the first time where I’m not with my dad doing it. So it’s a little nerve-wracking, but I’m definitely excited to come out and see the campus.

Collegian A&E Writer Sierra Cymes can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @sierra_cymes.