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"Making art just for the sake of making art"

"Street Waffles" is a work by chalk artist David Zinn of Ann Arbor, Mich. Zinn said he uses a sidewalk's imperfections to his advantage. His inspiration often comes from "connecting the dots" on the sidewalk, he said. (Photo courtesy of David Zinn)1 / 5
"Corner Dragon," a creation by chalk artist David Zinn of Ann Arbor, Mich., who will be taking part in the annual Chalk.a.Lot festival in Two Harbors later this month. (Photo courtesy of David Zinn)2 / 5
Chalk artist David Zinn works with some young observers looking on. (Photo by Ryan Doyle / Video Vision 360, courtesy of David Zinn)3 / 5
"This Way Up?," created by chalk artist David Zinn in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 2014. (Photo courtesy of David Zinn)4 / 5
Chalk artist David Zinn of Ann Arbor, Mich. (Photo by Doug Coombe, courtesy of David Zinn)5 / 5

Two Harbors residents and visitors can expect a troupe of mice, monsters and flying pigs to descend on Waterfront Drive later this month — and they plan on staying until it rains.

David Zinn, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based sidewalk artist, will attend Two Harbors' Chalk-a-Lot Sidewalk Festival this year, and he'll be bringing the creatures — his most frequent sidewalk subjects — with him.

While in Two Harbors, Zinn said he hopes to pass his passion for sidewalk art to others.

"I've found that, especially for younger people, any kind of public art, but definitely public art that's done with something that's familiar to them — like sidewalk chalk — helps them want to make their own art," Zinn said.

Now in its fourth year, the growing festival will take place July 17-19.

As a commercial artist in Ann Arbor, Zinn, 45, was the go-to guy for designing logos, T-shirts, art for promotional materials, and illustrations for children's books. But in 2001, Zinn realized that he didn't want want to spend beautiful days sitting in front of the computer.

"It started out just as a rationalization that if I went outside and drew on the ground with chalk, I'd still technically be making art, and so I would technically be kinda-sorta still be doing my job," Zinn said

Now, he figures he spends more time doing street art than he does commercial art.

"Oddly enough, as soon as I stopped trying to make art people were willing to pay for was when it started to become my job," he said.

Thanks to social media, his chalk art gained attention. Zinn would share his images over Facebook so his brother could see them, but the audience quickly grew outside their family.

"Suddenly, people were walking up to me on the street and telling me that my art is famous in China," Zinn said. "And I have no idea exactly how it got there, but it's cool that's how the Internet works."

That's how Michelle Ronning, the organizer of Chalk-a-Lot, discovered the Michigan-based chalk artist. As his images kept reappearing, Ronning decided to contact him.

"I just thought, 'I'm going to take a stab and see if the guy does travel and if he had that weekend open' — and he did," Ronning said.

At Chalk-a-Lot, Zinn said he'll be attentive to what the attendees in Two Harbors might want in drawings. He described pre-planned works as "dangerous."

"I'll be able to just see what's there in Two Harbors, and then add something that wasn't there before," he said.

Integrating existing cracks, bricks and benches, Zinn uses a sidewalk's imperfections to his advantage. His inspiration often comes from "connecting the dots" on the sidewalk, he said. He finds that far more freeing than a blank white canvas.

"The thing I found... is that it's a very inspirational canvas. It's the opposite of a blank canvas, which I know I am, and think a lot of other artists are probably, intimidated by," Zinn said. "Because there's too many options; a blank canvas is just so blank, sterile — and there's a lot of pressure to wonder if the art you're going to create is going to be an improvement on that perfectly white piece of paper or if it's just going to ruin it."

But, Zinn said, a sidewalk is the complete opposite. People walk on it; the surface is dirty and imperfect. Not to mention that the chalk art is temporary. To Zinn, the sidewalk is a "freeing" base.

Ronning said she hopes other Chalk-a-Lot participants will benefit from Zinn's methods.

"To just watch him work, to speak with him, and to work alongside him — it's pretty inspirational," Ronning said.

Zinn seems to have the same goal in attending this year's Chalk-a-Lot.

"Hopefully along the way it also inspires a ripple effect of more art in more places from the people I meet at the festival," he said.

If you go

Chalk-a-Lot will start with chalk art clinics at 2 and 5 p.m. on July 17, with the main event taking place July 18-19 in Two Harbors. Chalk drawings will be on sidewalks downtown, with entertainment and food vendors at Thomas Owens Park. Events will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 18 and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 19. For a fee, artists can reserve a sidewalk space and receive chalk and other supplies. Awards will be given.

Find more information and a link to register on the Chalk-a-Lot Facebook page.

News-Chronicle Coloring Contest

The Lake County News-Chronicle will be at the Chalk-a-Lot festival this year. If you bring a colored picture of David Zinn's drawing on Page B8 to the News-Chronicle table on July 18, you'll receive a prize. Children of all ages are welcome to participate. If you forget your picture at home, don't worry because extras will be on hand for you to color.

Jimmy Lovrien

Jimmy Lovrien is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. He spent the summer of 2015 as an intern for the Duluth News Tribune and was hired full time in October 2017 as a reporter for the Weekly Observer. He also reported for the Lake County News-Chronicle in 2017-18. Lovrien grew up in Alexandria, Minn., but moved to Duluth in 2013 to attend The College of St. Scholastica. Lovrien graduated from St. Scholastica in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in English and history. He also spent a summer studying journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

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