“Irefuse to work next to anyone painting SpongeBob,” said Delphine Louie when asked about her experiences with the chalk painting festival, I Madonnari, an event held annually by the Children’s Creative Project.
According to Ms. Louie, there is a lot more grime than glory involved in turning a section of asphalt into a masterpiece at the Santa Barbara Mission.
Visitors walk through the festival marveling at each finished product, though they don’t always realize that the process is much less pretty.
Finishing a square requires hours of grueling work bent over under the hot sun while getting covered head to toe in chalk.
“When I go home at the end of the day and get in the shower I watch the swirls of color go down the drain and think to myself, ‘Oh my God, I am so dirty!’”
After a long day Ms. Louie says her pants can usually stand up on their own they are so imbedded with chalk.
The question always is ‘do I wash them, or do I just not care and use them again tomorrow.’” Though the pants are optional, socks are an absolute need-to-be-washed item.
The physical elements of the process alone are harsh, but every artist is also working against the clock with only 3 days to complete a square of up to 12 X 12 feet.
So what makes this kind of work so rewarding?
Ms. Louie has a competitive nature and loves working “against” other artists.
“Working with the known and the unknown and finding how I will overcome the unpredictable factors also adds the challenge to my experience.”
Somehow she is able to keep a cool head when surrounded by hundreds of sometimes-critical observers.
“I learn from the negative feedback, and the publicity encourages me.”
Another factor of the whole process is that the final piece isn’t permanent.
Before the work even gets finished there is always a chance of rain or a clumsy visitor’s footstep to smear the image or cause the colors to bleed.
However, Ms. Louie knows these challenges well as this marks her tenth year as an artist at the Santa Barbara I Madonnari Festival.
This year is also very special because she has been selected to be the featured artist to illustrate the square at the foot of the Mission steps . Her qualifications for the honor include her participation in chalk drawing festivals around the world including Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and Grazie, Italy.
Ms. Louie likes to keep her work classical but with her own twist. “I like taking the Madonna and changing her to an Asian ethnicity.”
After three days of hard labor and finally getting to see her work pay off with recognition from countless onlookers, she goes home, washes off the last of the chalk, and treats herself to a really nice massage.
Though she is always very busy with her own square, Ms. Louie says that collaborating with her students at the festival and seeing the progression of their work is most rewarding.
This year, she will be collaborating with student artists junior Zoe Serbin, sophomore Maya Christian, freshman Kela Johnson and senior Morgan Raith.