Finding art in unexpected places makes life seem rich. Many cities and towns realize this makes their communities more attractive places to live, so they make efforts to incorporate art into their planning. Our town is currently installing new sidewalks along the major roads and they are sprinkled with poetry and drawings submitted by residents. I think it would be really cool to be waiting to cross a street and looking down and having my heart touched unexpectedly by a finely constructed poem.
Even on a simpler level, I also get touched when I come across sidewalk chalk drawings. It is comforting to me that some child saw the wide expanse of the sidewalk as their never-ending canvas. A child’s sidewalk chalk greeting actually changed me one day. I was taking my dog out for a walk in the middle of a busy episode of a string of busy episodes that is my life, probably hunched over and grumbling that I didn’t really have time for this, when I came across a simple greeting at my feet. It said “Happy Summer!” I shook myself. Whoa. It’s SUMMER. When did this happen? In my inability to release myself from the tyranny of my to-do lists, I’d neglected to stop and look around and notice the changing earth. Thank you, child on 16th Street. You opened my brain that day.
Once in a while I’ll come across hopscotch grid, with worn bits of sidewalk chalk thrown to the side. This game never caught on in my childhood playground, but I love it anyway. I love the spontaneous nature of hopscotch, I love its colorfulness, I love the looks on kids’ faces as they strategize.
My hands down favorite thing to do with sidewalk chalk is to create kolams. I learned this from an Indian friend who explained to me that it is a daily practice in parts of southern India. A woman will get up in the morning and, with rice flour, create a beautiful artwork consisting of dots and continuous lines on the ground in front of her doorway. Of course having this in the doorway guarantees gradual destruction, but she explained to me that this is precisely the point – that nothing of beauty lasts forever. There are several purposes of kolams, from letting birds and insects feast on the rice flour as a way of expressing our interconnectedness and creating good karma, to attracting Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, to simply starting each day creating something beautiful, a guarantee that art will be part of your day.
My less virtuous act of creating a kolam is done when I’m waiting for the charcoal to ash over in the grill and because using rice flour is downright painful for the beginner, I use sidewalk chalk.
Its temporariness is part of its charm. There’s no pesky maintenance, there’s no anxiety over it getting ruined. I finish it, sit back and admire it, then release it to the elements. Eventually foot tracks, wind, and rain will make it disappear. Then I can make another one.
There are many beautiful designs to use, but this is a simple one I use the most.
It begins with this dot pattern:
This shape is added around these dots (the color doesn’t matter):
Then this green one:
And then the blue:
Then the fun part starts. I color in all the spaces I’ve created and make it as colorful and lively as I can. This is also when I decide what this time is about. I can offer it as an invitation to prosperity. Or I can consider more ways to bring more beauty into my life. Or I can simply enjoy the bliss of sitting on warm concrete on a summer afternoon, taking the time to create something of fleeting beauty.
From the child on 16th Street and me: Happy Summer!