by Martha Bowers
I am sure you have noticed beautiful coloured chalk menus and drawings on blackboards in many restaurants and pubs around town. But have you ever wondered who does them? Chalkboy, a.k.a. Andy Brown, is the talented artist and calligrapher behind those original works of art that attract the attention of customers and are much more interesting than the mass-produced, electronic signs that we see in most places.
Brown was born in Manitoba but now lives in Burritt’s Rapids and is well known in Ottawa for his chalk art. His grandfather was an artist and taught him oil painting. He always loved drawing but instead of drawing what his art teachers wanted, he developed his own style and learned to use acrylic, pen and ink, pastels and, of course, chalk.
He also likes woodcarving for fun and has donated works for various fundraisers. His positive attitude toward life is reflected in his artwork. “I get by doing what I like doing,” he says.
Brown was living in Centretown in the mid 1980s and was a regular patron of the Royal Oak on Bank Street at Gilmour. He offered to do a blackboard menu for the bar in exchange for free beer, and the rest, as they say, is history. Through word of mouth he began to receive requests from other businesses. He has a unique technique, loves to play with chalk, is detail oriented and demonstrates great skill with fonts and lettering. His customers give him ideas for the drawings but he has quite a bit of freedom. “I try to please my clients but censor myself so that my work is not too twisted or morbid!” On the contrary, his pictures are humorous, playful and creative, suited to each particular business. Some of his clients are regulars and he does new boards for them every week, while others engage him occasionally or seasonally. Unlike paintings, chalk doesn’t last and he uses no preservative, so he has managed to ensure that he will have jobs in the future. He used to get government contracts to do illustrations for training manuals, etc., but now the government doesn’t seem to have money for those projects, so Brown relies on his chalk art.
He has developed a niche for himself among small businesses. Those in the Glebe include Irene’s, Morala Café, Rosie’s Southern Kitchen and Raw Bar, Purrdy Paws, Compact Music and Jack Astor’s. We can also see his work at the Elgin Street Diner and, of course, the Royal Oak. In addition, thousands of music fans check out his chalkboard listings of performers on the various stages at both Bluesfest and Cityfolk.
Brown says that he has no freedom 55 so he will keep doing his chalk art until he can’t climb on a ladder any longer. Let’s hope that will not be for a long time yet!
If you are interested in having Chalkboy do a board for you, you can contact him through any of the businesses listed above.
Martha Bowers is a Glebe resident, art lover and organizer of Art in Our Gardens, who can often be found helping out at Morala Café.