During the early days of the pandemic, Erik Greenawalt spent a lot of time in his driveway.
Using soft pastels and tempera paints, The Chalking Dad, as Greenawalt is internationally known, transformed the asphalt into works of art that uplifted everyone passing through his North Huntingdon neighborhood — at least until it rained.
It’s an interesting way to bring art to folks who are intimidated by or don’t have easy access to museums and art galleries, he says.
Greenawalt’s creative side didn’t fully emerge until 2006 when his young daughters asked him to draw Disney princesses on the driveway using sidewalk chalk. The professional financial planner soon discovered he had a knack for impromptu, outdoor art.
He experimented with different techniques at home for five years and then started traveling to street painting festivals across the country to learn from fellow “chalkers.”
These days, he’s a member of the Florida Chalk Artists Association (the Sunshine State is a perfect place for this ephemeral medium) and an in-demand talent at all sorts of events, where he creates lifelike portraits and interactive 3D pieces that can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to complete.
Last weekend Greenawalt got his hands dusty at Chalktoberfest in Marietta, Georgia. During last month’s Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival at Kennywood, Greenawalt modified the amusement park’s famous yellow arrow and paid tribute to Mrs. T’s racing potato dumplings.
He’s put Winston Churchill on a sidewalk in Halifax, England, made people exclaim “Crikey!” with a Steve Irwin tribute in Florida and brought “The Sopranos” actor James Gandolfini back to life at Chalk the Block in Columbus, Ohio.
Greenawalt happily chats with observers while he works. Chalking and talking are just second nature to him now.
“I like to do things that are relevant to the times and make some kind of connection with the audience,” he says. “Most of them are whimsical and fun and put smiles on people’s faces.”
One of the most meaningful projects of his life happened on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Greenawalt and 10 other chalk artists drew portraits of United Airlines Flight 93 passengers and crew members at the national memorial in Shanksville. Through his pastels, images of Jeremy Glick, Todd Beamer, Toshiya Kuge and Capt. Jason Dahl emerged.
Occasionally, Greenawalt uses more permanent supplies such as acrylic paints, but chalk is his true love.
Does it bother him that the art he invests so much time in doesn’t last long (especially in the stormy Steel City)?
“It’s actually kind of cool because with pastels the colors will run and fade over time,” he says. “I’m only sad when I don’t get to finish my art before the rain comes.”