Street Painting began in Italy in the 1500’s when religious imagery was highly respected. Artists, many of whom were disabled veterans, would paint an image of the Madonna and Child outside a church or Cathedral. This is where the Italian term ‘Madonnari’ came from. As patrons passed by they would toss coins on to the beautiful street painting paying respect to not only artist but also Madonna. Once the artist was finished with their image they would pick up their pastels and coins to move on to another location. Over the years street painting has evolved tremendously. Now you can see street painters all over the world painting traditional ‘Madonnari’ style images but also modern images and even 3D style paintings.
My first experience with street painting was almost accidental. Julie Kirk was doing a festival in Florida and they needed another artist. I hadn’t even heard of street painting before but thought it sounded interesting. I had been painting for years but had never used pastels before so Julie gave me a quick lesson and we went to Florida. From then on I was hooked. I started applying to every festival I could in California and then made the decision to go to the original street painting festival in Italy, and the one in Germany. I won first prize awards at each and was over the moon! -To be in such talented ‘international’ company and to actually win.
‘Maestra Madonnara’ basically translates to Master Street Painter – a title I have had the honor of winning in both Italy and Germany.
I paint for any event interested in a Street Painter. It can be for advertising or promotional purposes, a corporate event, trade show, cultural event, city festival, grand opening, private party, etc. I’ve painted for very large events who wanted to ‘Wow’ hundreds of thousands of visitors, and intimate events where clients wanted something to entertain their guests. I love the opportunity to share my art with new crowds.
The best surface to work on is asphalt because the pastel goes on beautifully. The colors really pop on black asphalt, and because of it’s texture it allows for several layers of color to create depth. Unsealed cement is also workable but sometimes requires a base coat of water soluble paint to give the surface more tooth. (this washes off just as simply as the pastel) If a am working indoors I will prepare a surface ahead of time which will allow the painting to not only be mobile, but also more permanent.
Yes, I absolutely love doing 3D Street Paintings as well as Madonnari Style. When I first began street painting I spent a lot of time really learning my craft by reproducing paintings from the Old Masters…Bougeureau, Caravaggio, Reni, etc. Though I am trained as an oil painter, it was important to me to really learn how to translate those same techniques and subtleties in pastel/chalk. Now that I have grown as an artist it is fun to experiment with new techniques and illusions that the audience can really have fun with.
I always plan my images ahead of time. This gives my client confidence in my performance and also allows me more time to mingle and chat as I work because I know exactly what I am doing. Certainly, things can change here and there depending on the circumstances; surface, weather, etc. can all effect the final outcome of a painting. But I always come as close as I can to what I promise.
One of my specialties is putting together XLarge Scale Collaborative projects that bring together several artists to create mind blowing spans of imagery. In 2009 I put together a team of American and Canadian artists to recreate the central panels of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling. This measured 18 x 92 feet and took 6 days to complete. More recently, I created an original composition titled “The Art of Sound” for the 5th anniversary of the Houston Via Colori Street Painting Festival. This was 8 artists working for 4 days on the 30 x 60 foot street painting. With each, I enlisted the help of local high school students to paint the border around these jaw dropping centerpieces.
Each project is so specific so I try to quote time based on when a client would like me to complete the work. I’ve worked on paintings of all sizes, big and small, and the time it takes really depends not only on square footage but also the amount of detail. So a smaller 4 x 6 for instance, which would be more for a demonstration or small ad, could take 4-6 hours. Something like an impressive 12 x 12 foot painting can take 2- 3 days. Of course, as stated above, the XL projects are closer to a week of production.
I have several things I never leave home without. Tape measure, chalk line, drawing stick, duct tape, and of course, Pastels. I use several types of pastel and am painting/ color specific when putting together my travel case for each project.
Koss soft pastels are a must. I always bring at least two boxes of 48 count. These are a bit harder and have a great color selection to choose from. Then I supplement with Rembrandts, Unisons, Windsor & Newton’s, Schminke’s, and my favorite…Sennelier’s. (I am in love with Sennelier soft pastels!!!) I put together a cushioned box with all the colors I think I may need for each painting and always take a few extra just in case.
This is a question I am asked a lot…as I am sure every street painter is 😉 We are really at the mercy of the weather. Rain and wind can be a big problem, especially while working on a large scale project. Knowing that each project has a part in an events success, I do my best to ensure the successful completion of each painting. If rain is in the forecast and I am in an open area, I will have plastic drop clothes and duct tape on hand to cover my work until the storm passes. Sometimes this will do the trick perfectly, but sometimes with a heavy downpour, the rain will make it’s way in either way. In such cases it’s best to wait for the sun to shine again, uncover, and let everything dry out before beginning again. Yes, in some cases the entire painting is lost and I have to start all over. I’m sure this seems sad to many but for me it’s part of the process. I always tell children it’s like building a sandcastle…You never know when the next wave is going to roll in to flatten your creation…but you build it anyway because you love creating it.
Besides the weather, it would have to be sitting on the asphalt for days in a row. It can be very hard on your body. For me, because I’ve been doing this for almost 14 years, the floor is actually more comfortable then most couches 😉 But sitting on hot asphalt on a warm day can be very uncomfortable. I’ve actually been burnt through my clothing before. So I always sit on cardboard or a carpet square to make things a bit easier.
A street painting created on asphalt or cement can not be made permanent because, unlike paint, it doesn’t bond to it’s surface. There are sprays/fixatives that can be applied, as you would a pastel painting on paper, but they will only preserve the image a bit longer then without. If a permanent painting is requested, I make special preparations on an alternative surface that can be prepped and fixed to create a permanent work of art. Still fragile, the finished piece should be cared for in a delicate manner for a long life.
Yes! I started teaching street painting about 11 years ago. Mostly for festivals wanting to prep their new artists and also for children. I am on the Education Roster for the Orange County Performing Arts Center and the Los Angeles Music Center where I teach Italian street painting workshops and residencies. In addition, I also founded The Street Painting Academy where I offer classes to anyone, all over the world, interested in learning the amazing 500 year old Italian tradition.
If you are interested in a do it yourself course, I have a Street Painting Tutorial DVD – ‘The Street Painter’s Guide to the Pavement. Volume 1: Getting You Started’. I created this with Peter Westerink of StreetPainting.nl. Shot and produced in the Netherlands, we covered the basics of creating your first street painting from the supplies you’ll need to shading and portraiture.