Ottawa

Meet one of Ottawa's most prolific chalk artists

Armed with coloured chalk, a metre stick, and a few damp cloths, Andy Brown spends hours each week designing art for chalkboards at bars across Ottawa — as he’s done for over three decades.

Andy Brown has spent 30 years designing chalkboards at bars around the city

Andy Brown, 62, has spent the last three decades designing art for chalkboards at bars across Ottawa. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

Every Friday morning, you'll find 62-year-old Andy Brown at the Royal Oak at Bank and MacLaren streets.

Armed with coloured chalk — Crayola only — a metre stick, and a few damp cloths, Brown spends hours designing art for the large black chalkboard at the front of the bar, as he's done for over three decades.

It all started in the early 1980s.

From free beer to actual career, Andy Brown first started drawing with chalk in the early 80s. He now designs boards at bars across Ottawa. 1:39

After watching the servers at his favourite bar struggle to write the specials down neatly, Brown began volunteering to do it himself.

"I wrote better than the waitresses, so I got free beer for it," he said. Other bars in the area started taking notice, he said, and demand for his work snowballed.

"The next thing I knew, I was doing it for a living."

Brown only uses Crayola chalk because of the vibrancy of the colours, he says. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

Today, Brown decorates the chalkboards at establishments across Ottawa, from the Elgin Street Diner to the bars at the Canadian Tire Centre.

Most of his ideas, he said, come from news stories mulled over on his daily drive into the city.

Usually, his ideas are uncontroversial. But a few have been shot down by bar management, Brown said, including some risque ideas involving Easter designs.

The bar bought a large chalkboard especially for Andy Brown to draw on in the mid 1980s. 1:32

Thanks to the temporary nature of chalk, there have been times when hours' worth of work have been smudged or erased from his boards completely.

"Once, a cleaner happily cleaned my entire board just to try to help out the staff. It happens, it's chalk," he said, taking everything in stride.

"If it doesn't get erased, I don't have a job."

He's not sure who will take over for him when he decides to put the chalk away, though he said his young grandson has shown an interest.

For now, he's happy scrawling tongue-in-cheek art on boards around the city, receiving high praise from onlookers — and the occasional free pint of Guinness.

"I never thought I would pay the bills by playing with chalk," he said. "I don't make a lot of money, but I have fun working at it."

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