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Artist brings Michigan’s streets to life with his whimsical chalk drawings

If you’ve ever stumbled upon David Zinn’s chalk drawings in the streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan, you’d know how easily his playful illustrations can brighten your day.

The self-taught artist uses anything from sidewalks, brick walls, and utility covers to sketch animated cartoon-like designs that can make passersby looks twice.

Each piece takes Zinn at least two hours to complete, but the fact that the rain will eventually wash them away doesn’t bother him.

“If all of those drawings were visible, I’d be considered a public nuisance,” he said. “But also I’d run out of places to draw.”

Zinn, who has been producing original artwork in Ann Arbor since 1987, said that he started drawing on sidewalks because he had “successfully failed” to create art anywhere else.

His whimsical characters often interact with the surrounding environment, including overgrown grass, leaves sticking between bricks, and sidewalk cracks.

To make his illustrations appear three-dimensional, he incorporates barely noticeable smudges of darkness into his artworks using charcoal, which he calls “fake shadows.”

“It’s all about trying to make the not real, real,” he said.

In his years of creating chalk art, Zinn somehow ended up drawing a tiny mouse, often when he doesn’t expect her to show up. He named the recurring character Nadine.

“She seems like a good, stalwart, doing-her-best kind of creature. She always seems to be the hero of what’s going on. I ended up posting her on my various social media with captions that sound like chapter titles. People started wanting to know if there was a book of stories about Nadine because it seemed like these were illustrations from a book,” he said.

So, he published the “Untold Tales of Nadine,” which can be purchased on his website.

While many artists had been forced to cancel their plans because of the pandemic, Zinn’s outdoor public art has allowed him to continue creating. He has used his immediate neighborhood as a giant canvas, finding places to draw his characters.

“All in all, I’m feeling grateful that there are opportunities for cheerful nonsense even in the middle of this very weird time and lucky that my chalk art is something I can do (and other people can enjoy) safely and socially distanced,” he told My Modern Met.

Zinn regularly posts his creations on social media, delighting millions of people across the world. Indeed, people are grateful for him, too—his art has become a welcome distraction from all the stress they have been experiencing during this time.

If you’re an artist and would like to learn how to draw like Zinn, he has a book called “The Chalk Art Handbook” that offers artists a review of his tools, tips, and tricks to drawing his fun sidewalk creatures. You may get your copy through Bookshop.

Zinn has found a clever way to make the world a little happier, and that’s way more impressive than his art skills alone!

Check out some of our favorite sidewalk drawings in the gallery below.

Chalk art by David Zinn


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You may visit David Zinn’s online store to purchase his art. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter

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