Many of us aspired to perfect a hobby or skill during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic—and gave up after a couple of loaves of sourdough. But Fort Worth mom Jan Riggins, 44, took her talent for chalk art to a new level. Along with her daughter Olivia, 14, Riggins began creating 3D masterpieces on her driveway. Now she’s performing her art in public events. (See much more of her work at janrigginscustomart.com, and check her out on Instagram @janrigginsart and on Facebook to see where you can find her work on display.)
We connected with the uber-talented mom—whose day job is general manager and regional developer representative for a staffing company—to find out how she got started with chalk art and the ways creativity feeds her soul.
One-on-One with Jan Riggins
DFWChild: How long have you been an artist, and how did it evolve into this amazing chalk art?
Jan Riggins: I’ve always dabbled with art. For most of my adult life, I used colored pencils. I had an interest in other forms of art but never knew how to get started. About six years ago, I inherited my grandmother’s art supplies, and that sent me down the road of exploring new mediums.
Around that time, Fort Worth started a chalk art festival on West 7th Street. I attended and was hooked! I participated in the amateur division the first two years and then was invited back as a professional artist. Before COVID, I had participated in six or seven chalk art festivals, which means I chalked a grand total of six or seven times. Olivia actually participated in her first chalk art festival in 2019.
In 2020, my goal was to participate in six chalk art festivals. I started applying and being accepted, but then everything was cancelled. I was really disappointed, but one weekend I thought, I have a driveway—I can just chalk at home. One Sunday I chalked a couple of koi fish swimming down my sidewalk and a tarantula walking behind them. My daughter thought it looked fun, and we chalked a giant butterfly in the driveway.
Soon we had a lot of families walking by to check it out. Then we just didn’t stop. We chalked constantly in our driveway and started taking requests around the neighborhood for birthdays or graduations or other special occasions. Eventually we started getting asked to chalk at companies and for the City of Grapevine. I eventually started researching and talking to other chalk artists online to learn how to do 3D, anamorphic art.
C: Besides your obvious talent, what’s your secret? When we use sidewalk chalk with our kids, the colors don’t look anywhere near as vivid.
JR: We are actually using soft chalk pastels. These provide very beautiful colors, but don’t wash away with just the rain or a hose. They need to be washed off with a pressure washer.
C: You also do amazing body painting. How did you get started with that?
JR: Sometime during all of this, my daughter was asked to paint faces at a children’s birthday party. I bought an inexpensive set online, but right before the party she had a cold and decided it was safer to stay home. I saw that little face painting set sitting on our table for weeks, and one night I said, “Let’s paint our hands!” So we pulled out the set and painted little fun pieces on our hands. And then I was hooked on that! I started painting anything that I could find that would fit in the palm of my hand, and then I decided to start painting my hand and my daughter’s hands into things that I found around the house.
I liked the illusion of body painting just like I like the illusion of 3D art. And what I enjoy immensely about both art forms is that they wash away. I don’t stress out about making something perfect; I just enjoy the process, and if I don’t like it, I wash it off.
C: When did Olivia get started with art?
JR: Olivia’s always been really skilled with drawing. She has a good eye for detail. We never really did any collaborative art before we started doing chalk art together last year. When she first started chalking with me, I thought she would need a lot of direction. But boy, I was wrong. We both work pretty independently. We’ll look at our subject and just pick the parts that we each want to work on.
C: How has your joint artwork shaped your relationship?
JR: We definitely had to learn how to work together. At first we kept trying to provide suggestions to each other. I would think she didn’t have her color quite right, or she would think I didn’t have enough contrast. We would give “suggestions” to the other person, then get defensive. The system we developed is that we’re not allowed to criticize or make suggestions until the other person is finished. But what always happens is that any criticism we have is no longer valid because the other person nailed it. Our processes are different, but the end results always work.
C: How important is creativity is for a child?
JR: I think kids are already naturally creative, and as adults, we just need to provide opportunities for the child to explore. I’m a big believer that everyone can find something they love and enjoy and that they excel at doing.
C: What is the value of artmaking, even for those who aren’t talented like you and Olivia?
JR: I think that even if no one saw what we were doing, we would still do it. There is something about the act of creating something that I find deeply therapeutic—and not just because I happen to be good at it. I think what happens to your mental state as you create art is extremely important. Your brain is able to relax, and you’re able to let the stresses of life wash away.
Photos courtesy of Jan Riggins