Gospel Chalk Art: For Such a Time as This?
- James H. Pence Blogger, See the Light
- Updated Feb 15, 2022
“One picture is worth a thousand words.” So goes the old proverb.
While that adage may not always be true, it certainly highlights the power of visual communication. In 2012, we live in a culture dominated by visual media. If you don’t believe that, try an experiment. Take a walk down any city street or visit a public place and count how many seconds you have to wait before you see someone using a smart phone, tablet, or laptop.
You won’t have to wait long.
Our society is increasingly visually oriented, which may be why an “old” art form, Gospel chalk artistry, is making a comeback.
I’m glad about that. I’ve been a gospel chalk artist going on thirty-four years, and I’ve found it to be an amazingly powerful way to communicate the truths of God’s Word.
Gospel chalk art, also called chalk talk, chalking, performance chalk art, and chalk drawing, is an art form that has been around for a long time. In the late 1800s and early 1900s it often took the form of cleverly drawn line pictures. An artist would draw a picture and tell a story at the same time. Often, at the conclusion of the drawing there would be a “surprise.” Through clever manipulation of the lines, the artist could “transform” the picture into something totally different. This generally was the application or “punch line” for the artist/speaker’s message.
As the years passed, a greater range of colors became available and, ultimately, fluorescent chalks and black lights were added to chalk artists’ toolbox. Now it was possible for artists to create “invisible” pictures that remained hidden until a black light was turned on. Chalk art evangelists such as Karl Steele, Phil Saint, Esther Frye, George Sweeting, Ding Teuling, and a host of others used chalk art to touch many lives for Jesus Christ.
Chalk art ministry reached its zenith in the 1940s and 50s, but during the latter half of the twentieth century, materials became more and more difficult to obtain. This was largely because lecturer’s chalk and bogus paper, the chalk artist’s primary tools, were expensive to produce and had a very limited market. Companies stopped manufacturing the chalk, and it became almost impossible to purchase the paper in the large dimensions that chalk artists use. Even black lights became scarce after the psychedelic fad of the 60s and early 70s faded.
In the 1980s, when people asked me about the state of chalk artistry as an art form and ministry tool, I told them it was a dying art. Artists such as Ding Teuling, and later Matt Bowman, had stepped up to the plate and had begun hand-making regular and fluorescent chalk and selling paper, but because none of these items was sold in art supply stores, it was all but impossible to get supplies unless you already knew a chalk artist.
Enter the Internet.
The arrival of the Internet in the nineties was a game-changer for chalk artists. Because it was possible to network online and find suppliers with a simple Web search, chalk art began to make a comeback. Now with the advent of DVD-based instruction, more and more people are discovering chalk art as a potent means for sharing the Gospel.
How powerful? Consider this.
I spoke at a camp in the summer of 2010. The last time I’d been there was in the summer of 2000. At that particular camp, several teens who were now seniors came up to me and told me that they remembered me being the speaker when they were first- and second-graders. But what really impressed me was that they remembered specific details about the pictures I had drawn.
Another time I received an email from a young lady who is now an adult, working with the young people in her church. She told me that she had come to faith in Christ through a picture I had drawn at a summer camp. She also remembered the picture I’d drawn and said in her email, “I saw Christ through you.”
What’s the point?
It’s not that I was a particularly great speaker or even a great artist. To be honest, back in those days my pictures were pretty rough, technically speaking.
The point is that there’s something about seeing a picture unfold before your eyes that cements it in your memory. When that picture is combined with Scripture, a dramatic black light effect, and a Gospel presentation, the effect is even more striking. The combination of the senses of sight and hearing makes an impression on those who are watching. Indeed, it can even cause the most unwilling to pause and take notice.
A year or so ago I went into a prison in North Texas to do a chalk art program. The back rows of the chapel were filled with gang members who had come, not for the service, but because it was the only time they could get together to conduct their gang business. When I’m drawing, I’m so focused that I rarely have any idea of what’s going on in the audience. So, after the service, I asked one of the correctional officers if the gang-bangers had been disruptive during the service. He shook his head and said: “Nope. They were all watching you.”
These hardened gang members will rarely pay attention during a sermon, but they sat attentively during my chalk art program. That’s no credit to me. It merely highlights the fact that, for whatever reason, chalk art can be so captivating that it quiets people down and focuses them on the message. Hopefully it does so long enough for the Holy Spirit to speak to their hearts.
It has never been easier to become a chalk artist.
As you plan your homeschool curriculum, if you have a child who is artistically oriented, I would encourage you to seriously consider including Gospel chalk artistry in his or her educational plan. In today’s media-dominated society, I can’t help but believe that chalk art has come along “for such a time as this.”
James H. (Jim) Pence is a man of many talents. He is a former homeschooling dad, a published author, an accomplished singer and speaker, a performance chalk artist, and in his spare time he teaches karate, writing, and art to homeschooled children. You can learn more about Jim at his Website: jamespence.com. James also represents and blogs for See the Light. Watch Jim draw Jesus the Pilot here (scroll down and click on the video link).
Sources for Chalk Art Supplies and Curriculum
1. Eternity Arts – www.eternityarts.com (chalk, paper, equipment, DVD tutorials, live classes and more)
2. Chalk Illustrated – www.chalkillustrated.com (quarterly chalk art e-zine)
3. See the Light – www.seethelightshine.com (art instruction and chalk art DVDs, video blog)
4. Golden Chalk Classics – goldenchalkclassics.blogspot.com (chalk art history)
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com com or read it on the go and download the free TOS apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your Kindle Fire or Apple or Android devices.
Publication date: November 29, 2013
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/dimarik