by Sandra Mizumoto Posey

When I arrived on the first day of Absolut Chalk (sponsored by the Lightbringer Project and the vodka company with all those nifty bottle designs), there was chalk everywhere: Asphalt walkways and concrete sidewalks were all covered with elaborate murals. Artists were sprawled out on the ground drawing, rubbing, and grinding their pastels into gritty, mundane surfaces -- transforming them into everything from mandalas to take-out plates.

More than anywhere else, though, there was chalk on Heather Martinez. From head to toe, she was green and not with envy. From the giddy grin on her face, it was plain to see that the world offered her nothing to be jealous of. Heather Martinez had it all. In front of her, Jack was getting away with the goose that laid golden eggs. As she sat in that aluminum and nylon strap folding chair, I was beginning to suspect Heather was nesting on golden eggs herself. But then her fortunes had changed for the better ever since the first time she participated in this festival two years ago.

Heather is part of a centuries-old tradition. Absolut Vodka might bestow its blessing on the event this year, but for hundreds of years street painters in Europe had eked out a living collecting coins for such works without the benefit of corporate sponsorship. The history of the art form is tied to the lives of the itinerant Madonnaros who paid homage to the Madonna on what might be called the humblest of canvasses. Later, the religious nature of the paintings gave way to reproductions of master works and today they invoke an array of influences, from spirituality to whimsy.

Heather's images often bring storybook characters to life, like her Jack now springing out of an asphalt sky. A twenty year old alumna of the Orange County High School of the Performing Arts, she's been plugging away at her craft since she was a kid. In the last five years, she discovered that her love of stories and illustration could come together in animation. She takes classes at Saddleback Community College, a local occupational program, and at the Animator's Union. Her portfolio waits patiently to be seen at a few studios. "I'm just trying to get a job right now," she says. In the meantime, Jack manages to seem very animate even on the motionless ground, but at the moment Heather isn't looking at Jack bounding toward her. From the opposite direction, her husband of less than a year ambles down the walkway toward us.

Juanito Martinez is also an artist. They met at the chalk festival two years ago. "I was working on my piece," he tells me. "A couple spaces away from me I saw a cute little redhead working on [drawing of] a fox. . . I thought she was really cute. I was with a couple friends and I approached her." Heather jumps into the story, just as Jack might. "You didn't approach me!" she exclaims gleefully. "He kept walking by me and saying ‘Hey fox, hey fox.'" By the next day they were all but inseparable. Today they still are, with Heather covered in green chalk. "I kind of roll in it," she explains, betraying a philosophy of life as much as art. I look one last time at Jack; this time it's life that imitates art.

(Drawing of Jack and the Beanstalk by Heather Martinez. Other works by various artists.)

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