NATE BARANOWSKI Artist Interview — Chalk Art’s Community Spirit

Chalk Howard Street is an outdoor 3D art experience on Howard Street, Chicago, which features the work of several visual artists. This year, the festival will be happening on-line, and it will feature the work of Chicago-based artist Nate Baranowski. Baranowski, whose experience encompasses several mediums from large chalk murals to acrylic on canvas to digital art, will be creating 3D chalk drawings of meals and products sold by local Howard Street businesses. Additionally, as part of the festival, the official Instagram streaming of the event will offer art classes with the artist himself, as well as interviews with different local business owners. Nate sees in this festival and in chalk art the ability to strengthen community, as, in his own words, “It is truly accessible and approachable in a way that can be enjoyed by those of all walks of life.”

Editor's Note:  The festival is virtual this year and taking place on Instagram @HowardStreetChicago every Friday now through Oct 1, and there will also be an in-person event on October 16, where Nate will be doing a large scale drawing outdoors at Howard and Paulina Streets, with a live music band performing.

Here, Picture This Post (PTP) talks to Nate Baranowski (NB) about chalk art and its unique ability to bring communities closer.

(PTP) Could you share with Picture This Post readers your thoughts on how chalk art can be used as a tool for community building?

(NB) Chalk art by its very nature is out in public spaces. It is truly accessible and approachable in a way that it can be enjoyed by those of all walks of life. This appreciation for public art (much like sports fandom) can give a community a sense of local pride. I have heard people from all over the country so excited to say, "We have a chalk festival in our town and artists from all over come for it!"

(PTP) Why does the ephemerality of chalk art appeal to you?

(NB) I love that it keeps my ego low! It really keeps artists humble because we can't point to a huge body of work and say, "Look what I've done!" I think a wonderful part of art is bringing joy to people. That abstract goal is a focus in art because building an artistic legacy is not a possibility.

(PTP) Which techniques – such as 3D images—do you find are especially effective for generating community interaction with your work?

(NB) When people can be the star of the show in my 3D art, that is the most effective. At times, my art is just a fantastical background, and people can have fun posing in front of it. I always give the example of a dad who takes pictures of his kids and wife in front of the artwork. He looks like he doesn't really want to be there, but over time, he gets more adamant that "you need to pose THIS way!" or "act like you're falling!"  By the end, he has his kids take pictures of him while he acts goofy inside the art showing them 'how to do it.' That breaking of inhibitions is really fun for me to see.

Photo by Chris Guillen

(PTP) Please tell our readers about your evolution as an artist. When did you begin to focus on chalk art and how has your work evolved?

(NB) I first started creating chalk art in college as a side job after seeing scrawled announcements all over the quad and wanting to add artistic flair to it. Although technically, I started as a little kid chalking on my driveway. Overtime, my work has grown in scale and complexity but really not too different from where I started. I never want my evolution as an artist to depart too far from connecting with people walking down the street. At the end of the day, I love creating art but it's not for me alone, so it needs to be accessible to most people. Chalk is probably my favorite medium but as more companies want longer lasting pieces, I dabble in painted murals. I'm much slower in that art form but the 3D principles still apply. It's also nice to not look nervously at the sky when working in paint because I'm fearing rain.

(PTP) Do you find aboriginal/indigenous sand art especially inspiring to the work you do in a Western context?

(NB) I find all ephemeral artforms inspiring. I am more easily bored than an artist painstakingly moving sand but that's probably a part of me that needs growth. Our lives are pretty ephemeral on this earth so creating ephemeral art is a good reminder to not spend my life desperately trying to create something for myself or something that will outlive me. That got a little morbid, but that mindset really helps me enjoy each individual piece of art instead of focusing on my future "legacy."

(PTP) Any other comments to help our readers understand your work?

(NB) Go see chalk art in person if you have a chance. It's a lot of fun! Also, you may be tempted to ask a chalk artist "what happens when it rains?" Try to resist asking it because we end up hearing it a lot. The answer is that it either washes away and makes an artist sad or they say "oh well, it was a good attempt". Or the artist covers the work with plastic and when the rain stops, they start chalking again.

Photo by Chris Guillen
Photo by Chris Guillen
Photo by Chris Guillen
Photo by Chris Guillen
Photo by Chris Guillen

For more information on the festival, visit the Howard Street Website.

For more information about Nate Baranowski and his art, visit Nate Baranowski’s website.

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Images courtesy of Nate Baranowski, unless otherwise indicated.


Virtual sessions:
Via Howard Street's Instagram

In-person live drawing session:
Howard and Paulina Streets
Chicago, IL


Virtual sessions: Every Friday at 11 a.m., August 13 thru October 1

In-person live drawing session: Saturday, October 16 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.



Madalena Martins

About the Author: Madalena Martins

Madalena is a young writer and actress based in Chicago. She was born and raised in Lisbon (Portugal- the home of soccer and custard tarts) then moved to Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina), and finally made it to the United States! Her international background resulted in a deep love for languages, cultures, travelling, and food. She is also a lover of theatre, cinema, music, and literature. In her free time, she enjoys writing, going to the beach, doing improv comedy and sketches with friends, talking to strangers, and suffocating her dog with love.

Besides this, she is interested in climate activism, feminism, and queer studies, and is interested in the intersections between these fields.

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