David Zinn: Beloved Ann Arbor Sidewalk Chalk Artist

Local Artist Turns Author

Local artist and author, David Zinn’s new book, Chance Encounters, explores the idea that inspiration can be found in seemingly random and mundane objects we see everyday, but might not pay attention to their potential: an orange sandbag turned clownfish helping to hold down a construction sign. A traffic cone that is actually a hat for witch – in a bathrobe. A patch of weeds making its way out of a sidewalk crack is a fancy, albeit green mustache for a well-dressed smiling gentleman. However, it was the lockdown that truly tested Zinn’s theory.

“I always found an excess of interesting cracks and specks everywhere I went and too little time to draw on them all. I told several people that I would like to experiment with drawing exclusively on the sidewalks in my neighborhood and exploring every single speck within walking distance of my house,” Zinn, who has been creating 3-D images with chalk in and around Ann Arbor since 1987 says. “Then the pandemic happened, and I was granted that wish, so specifically, that I worry I maybe caused it somehow.”

“I always found an excess of interesting cracks and specks everywhere I went and too little time to draw on them all,” said Zinn. Image courtesy of zinnart.com.

Zinn has written several books: Underfoot Menagerie, a collection of street chalk art, and The Untold Tales of Nadine, a book about a mouse in a blue dress that keeps showing up in Zinn’s pictures, but doesn’t say too much about who she is, where she’s been, or what she’s doing. Zinn also has a handbook for those interested in trying their hand at chalk art: The Chalk Art Handbook: How to Create Masterpiece on Driveways and Sidewalks and on Playgrounds. Chance Encounters, another collection of Zinn’s street art, is his fourth book. 

Zinn draws for two reasons – either he’s in a good mood or a bad one. “In either case, it could be argued that I’m making friends for when I need them.” He starts with what is already there, using pareidolia. “This is the same psychological tendency that makes us see animals in clouds and faces in wallpaper patterns,” Zinn explains. He will draw lines and shapes until it is clear what it is he is creating. “The locations I choose are usually on my way to somewhere else, so it’s probably why they tend to be mundane. However, I do get more satisfaction out of creating art in drab or forgettable places because those are the locations that seem most grateful for the attention.”

David Zinn is a local artist that creates whimsical temporary art on sidewalks throughout town. Image courtesy of zinnart.com.

Zinn uses rain-soluble chalk and charcoal. This allows him to draw on a whim without needing to obtain permission that permanent street art requires. And because it’s not permanent, Zinn hopes his work might inspire those who see it to pick up some chalk and create, too. “Chalk is cheap, it doesn’t require elaborate training or cleanup, and the drawings are both temporary and potentially anonymous – all good reasons to stop worrying about being an artist and just go out and make some marks on the world.”

Chance Encounters: Temporary Street Art,” published by Prestel Books, and released March 15, 2022. Available where books are sold or at zinnart.com.