David Zinn Art

Maybe there isn’t always a reason for creating art.  Sure, it’s necessary – as David Zinn pointed out in Create MI’s interview – but it’s easy to get pulled into the trap of thinking that there needs to be some big statement made with it.  Or that the “tortured artist” is the only valuable type out there.

But what if you ran across a little 3D drawing of a mouse on the sidewalk, would you walk by without noticing?  Do a double take?  Clap your hands in delight like a child? David Zinn’s chalk art brings smiles to faces for no reason other than that – it makes the day a little brighter.  It is “ethereal art.”

Zinn has worked as a commercial artist for years now – his designs are visible all over town in logos, on event posters, on municipal websites… so people in Ann Arbor, certainly, and probably beyond already have an idea of his work.  So when he was looking for inspiration, he picked up what he describes as a child’s toy – sidewalk chalk – and just started drawing.

Have you ever seen the image of a green monster raking fallen leaves under the sidewalk?  It’s all over the internet, because it’s clever.  That little guy’s name is “Sluggo,” and he has a worldwide following of his own.  He is NOT, as some may think, an alien, but rather a monster – specifically because, as Zinn says, he’s never been drawn inside a spaceship.  Monsters have a way of being completely open to creativity.  Zinn’s flying pigs and mice, as well as various monsters and furry animals, make appearances all over town too.

See the createmi mini doc below:

When David Zinn walks outside to make art, he scopes out the world around him.  This is, as he says, “unacceptable behavior” in the sense that while it’s okay for people to walk down the street, talk on a phone, look past the others on the sidewalk, head somewhere specific, drawing on the street isn’t something that people see every day.  They don’t necessarily notice the world around them.  But it’s his job to notice.  When he draws, he finds something interesting in the architecture – whether it be a crack, a piece of gum, a clump of grass – and turns it into whatever fantastical creature works with it.  There are practical considerations.  Some places are not available for drawing.  One man can only carry so much equipment with him.  Sidewalks are notoriously hard, so knee pads are a hot commodity in David Zinn’s world.  The sun invades and throws shadows in places that break the illusion.

It takes the experience of making art to make art, especially chalk art that’s supposed to look real.  Zinn relies on a combination of low-tech equipment (a long stick with chalk on the end) and higher-tech gadgets (cameras to see perspective in the sketch stage without interference from the human brain trying to make the pieces fit) to make his illusions come to life.  People don’t often notice when he’s on the ground, getting rough ideas down.  Zinn says that he thinks passers-by try to avoid the people acting in “socially unacceptable” ways, so it’s often children that start watching the piece take shape before the adults catch on.  In working on the streets of Ann Arbor, he’s part of a community made up of panhandlers, street musicians, other artists… people who aren’t part of the norm.  That’s gratifying, in a way, on its own.


David was kind enough to let Createmi.com film him while he created one of his drawings and once the small piece he created began to look “real,” people began to stop.  Preteen boys zipping by on their skateboards stopped dead in their tracks, and one said the work he was doing was “awesome”!  Lots of people still went on their way, looking straight ahead… but, as Zinn says, “If you do enough of this in a community, people might start keeping an eye out for what else could be out there.”

We mentioned that it must be heartbreaking to know that these chalk drawings can’t last.  It’ll inevitably rain, the wind will blow, people will step on them.  But Zinn says that is the most freeing part of the experience.  He can’t sit there and obsess over the small details of the drawing once it’s done, because it’ll be gone within a day or a week anyway.  So every day there is a new slate of possibilities – maybe in the same place, maybe somewhere else.  Of course, in this day and age the art can be preserved to a certain extent by photograph and may show up on the internet months and years in the future.  So he does get to keep his artwork, in a way.


Zinn would like to see more public art in Ann Arbor and elsewhere; he’s been discussing the possibility of small mural installations.  He’s had the opportunity to make chalk drawings on a commissioned basis for festivals, etc., but there is something about more permanent art that can also add so much character to a community.

People often tell him that they can’t draw, or that they wish they could.  His simple response is that anyone can.  They just need to do it.  David finds the process of creating art the important part and if you ever see him drawing on the street stop for a moment, talk to him; you will surely be inspired by his imagination and creativity.


Samples of David Zinn’s work can be seen on his website, around Ann Arbor, and anywhere he visits with his set of chalks.

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