Every October in Marietta, Georgia, artists from all over the country put chalk to pavement to create street-art masterpieces for the annual Chalktoberfest.
The main road that runs through Marietta Square is closed off, and over two days more than 80 artists challenge themselves to craft museum-worthy paintings with nothing more than pastel chalks.
Less than an hour after the festival officially ends, the roads open and car tires scrape across the chalk artworks, rendering them nothing more than streaks of colorful smudges eroded by blackened tire tracks and gravel. Once it rains, the art will be gone entirely.
For artist Dave Brenner, that’s the best part.
“I can’t even tell you how good it feels to walk away,” he joked. “You can walk away at the end; you don’t have to deal with a large canvas that you have to store or get rid of.”
In 2000, Brenner moved from his home state of Alaska to Michigan for a position at U-M, where he works as the School for Environment and Sustainability’s creative and web director.
He now lives in Chelsea, the town where he first discovered street art seven years ago. One weekend, Brenner and his wife, Shelley Brenner, a U-M alumna, were out for coffee downtown when they stumbled across the annual Chelsea Street Art Festival.
While it was too late to enter the competition, they were given a box of chalk and told they could draw whatever they wanted. The Brenners knelt onto the rough asphalt and drew a koi pond. From that moment on, they were hooked.
Throughout their first year participating in street art, Dave and Shelley Brenner traveled to 11 festivals throughout Michigan, Illinois and other parts of the Midwest, steadily building their chalk-art portfolios.
While the two excelled as solo artists, they often collaborate on street-art pieces and compete as a team. They found their different artistic styles complemented each other perfectly.
“When we collaborate on projects, I usually handle the folds of the fabric, or the background, or some of the more organic shapes, because I can get a lot of those done quicker and faster, while (Shelley) does the most beautiful faces. … She likes to do the detail work,” Dave Brenner said.
The Brenners started a website and brand for their street art called A Pigment of Your Imagination to showcase their collaborative works as well as their individual portfolios.
“We just love working together. We love painting, and if we can both be painting together, we’re just happy,” Dave Brenner said.
As the pair continued competing and improving their street-painting skills, their ambitions turned toward larger projects. The couple have competed in some of the most prestigious art festivals in the United States, including Chalktoberfest in Marietta, Georgia, and the International Chalk Festival in Venice, Florida.
The Pigment of Your Imagination team also started accepting commissions for a number of projects, including a 3D art installation on the Diag called “Michigan Reflections,” and murals of passengers on Flight 93 to honor victims on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
In 2019, the Brenners were selected from more than 1,000 applicants to work as featured artists at a festival in Dubai. With airfare and accommodations provided by the festival, they were able to focus all their attention onto what Dave Brenner calls their “masterpiece.”
Within a 15-by-28-foot space, the couple created a larger-than-life “Cabinet of Curiosities.” When photographed from a distance, someone could pose to look as if they were inside the cabinet, standing on its second shelf.
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In order to properly execute this 3D effect in his pieces, prior to every festival Dave Brenner uses Photoshop to create a grid that stretches an image to show the proportions he’ll need to paint.
Participating as featured artists across the globe has allowed the Brenners to get involved with the community of artists who participate in the street-art circuit as well.
“I can’t tell you how talented some of these other artists are,” Dave Brenner said. “We all share ideas and techniques and really try to make each other better artists.”
Once he’s finished creating a chalk painting, Dave Brenner enjoys watching people interact with his art and hopes it can spark an interest in the creative arts.
“I love to give to other people, and I like to inspire them and let them know that you can do this, too,” he said. “This is so much fun, like, go for it. And so I love that aspect of it, and that’s why I keep doing it.”