Austin Robertson is innately drawn to chalk pastel art.
The 23-year-old Davenport artist, who earned an associate’s degree in fine arts from Scott Community College, was the first-place winner in the first Quad City Arts Chalk Art Fest in 2017, in downtown Davenport, and has taken part every year since.
“Just watching the creations come alive – it’s fun to see them go from concept to finished piece,” Robertson, a Davenport North alumnus, says of his love for art. “It’s fun to see its progress.”
In 2015, he won the best of show in Quad City Arts’ High School Art Show, a self-portrait in blue Bic pen. It was probably 20 hours of work and earned him a $900 scholarship. Chalk pastel is his favorite medium – which all Q-C residents are encouraged to participate in this month, during the fourth-annual virtual art competition.
“It’s the one I think I’ve learned to utilize the most control, and it’s the one I’m most able to play with the colors,” Robertson says of chalk. For that first two-day fest, he won 1st Place and People’s Choice for a six-foot-by-eight-foot portrait of a musician, with color pouring down his face, based off a lyric from a song, “Black and White.”
Last year, when the festival was held in downtown Bettendorf as part of the “Be Downtown” event, he won People’s Choice again for an 8-foot-by-10-foot portrait of a lion in half color and half black and white. It was based on a colored-pencil drawing he was commissioned to do from a fellow Davenport North grad who also studied with his art teacher.
Robertson was partly inspired to greatness by the public nature of the chalk art event, which will be done in private this month.
“I think just being kind of being in a public space, being able to display my art, having crowds of people watching,” he says. “There’s definitely a lot of pressure; I’ll get into my own head space to do it. I can zone it out and focus. There are things you don’t want to make mistakes. I want to show my ability, to individuals who never knew or seen my stuff.”
Last year, the event was held in the parking lot of Ascentra Credit Union’s headquarters.
“People were more in close quarters. I liked being in the parking lot, being closed off, it felt better,” Robertson, who works at Davenport’s Michaels art store, says.
This month, he’s going to create a chalk art piece on a friend’s driveway, and having more time to complete it will be good. “Especially with it being virtual and being at home, it’s a little less pressure that way,” Robertson says. “I took vacation off work, so I can spend a lot of time working on it.”
The Quad City Arts event will take place from Aug. 15 to 28, and chalk artists can create their work safely at home, on their driveway, sidewalk, porch or balcony.
Snap a photo of your masterpiece and send to Quad City Arts (via website or e-mail) by Aug. 28 at 3 p.m., and be eligible for over $1,500 in cash prizes, including a youth category (for ages 12-17) award and people’s choice award. There are no limitations to your work, and it can be in any size or shape and created with any type of chalk. People’s Choice Award will be open for voting on Quad City Arts’ Facebook Page, Saturday, August 29th through Sunday, August 30th at 3pm.
Artists who tag @quadcityarts on Facebook or Instagram or use the
hashtag #chalkartfestqc and #quadcityarts will have the photos and videos of their installations shared throughout the weekend, as well as be entered to win one of several $25 gift cards to downtown Bettendorf retail and restaurant businesses.
“Chalk Art Fest was part of Bettendorf’s Be Downtown event and part of that goal was to highlight the businesses that are operating in downtown Bettendorf,” says Quad City Arts’ executive director, Kevin Maynard. “Since the event was cancelled, we wanted to still highlight those businesses.”
Since they can’t host the in-person event, Quad City Arts is partnering with the Downtown Bettendorf Organization to give away gift cards to these businesses as a way to continue supporting them, Quad City Arts marketing director Karie Gilson says.
Ten gift cards will be available to businesses including Sports Fans, QC Fuel, Riverside Grill, Stacks Pancake House, and Keller’s American Grill/Isle Casino.
There were over 100 artists who participated in last year’s chalk art fest. Previously held on 2nd Street downtown Davenport, last year’s fest was June 8-9 at Ascentra Credit Union’s headquarters, on State Street between 20th and 21st streets.
Be Downtown, which had planned to be part of the regional Alternating Currents festival (Aug. 27-30), was also canceled recently due to Covid-19 concerns.
Last year’s Chalk Art Fest winners were:
The prizes for the festival are:
Complimentary 48-count boxes of pastel chalk (courtesy of Blick Art Materials) will be available at Quad City Arts’ Rock Island Gallery (1715 2nd Ave.) during normal business hours until supplies run out. Entrance is via arts alley on the side of the building and masks are required.
The fest is sponsored by the city of Bettendorf, Morency Family Foundation, and Blick Art Materials. For more information, visit quadcityarts.com/chalk-art-fest.
Robertson said his focus is on realistic portraits, but he has always enjoyed stepping out of his comfort zone when it comes to style, size, and mediums. One of his biggest challenges was illustrating a children's book called “Pete's Grand Plan,” an anti-bullying book from the Pete the Purple Bull program. You can find a gallery of his works at austinrobertsonarts.weebly.com.
Why should others join the chalk art contest?
“It’s fun,” Robertson says. “Yes, it is a competition, you can win prizes, but even to just have a fun time. It’s fun to play with chalk pastels in general. It’s about having fun, and you get to be outside, which is nice.”