If you eat, drink, work out or get your teeth cleaned in Vancouver, chances are you have seen artwork by Heather Anderson (aka Heather the Chalkboard Artist).
Like many of the great careers your high school guidance counselor didn’t mention (mushroom foraging instructor, “Star Wars” re-enactor and beer blogger), becoming a chalkboard artist is something that just happens.
Eight years ago, when Anderson moved to Vancouver from Whitefish, Mont., she got a job at Thatcher’s Coffee. The cafe had a chalkboard artist who wrote a small quote on the large chalkboard at the back of the coffee shop. After six months, Anderson got tired of looking at the same undersized quote every day.
“Quotes are hard, because people read them once and they’re done with them,” Anderson said. “It was driving me crazy.”
When her boss, Jamie Erdman, went on vacation, she took decisive action.
“It was really hard, because it’s huge,” Anderson said of the board. “Then she got back and asked if I wanted to try it again.”
Anderson’s first drawings were small pictures of coffee. She has since moved on to larger works on Thatcher’s chalkboard with inspirational quotes picked by Erdman.
The owners of Lapellah (next door to Thatcher’s) noticed Anderson’s work and hired her to write on their boards. Recently, she chalked the boards at the newly opened Maryhill Winery tasting room at The Waterfront Vancouver while the space was under construction.
Anderson said she enjoys seeing a new business come together. It requires intuition and a lot of questions to figure out how the owners will decorate the space and choose chalkboard art that will fit their vision.
“I ask them about themselves and how they got into a business, that helps. I also ask how they plan to decorate,” she said. When chalking menus, Anderson encourages business owners to be brief when writing menus on the board — too much text can be confusing.
“Nobody reads anymore,” she said. “They want pictures, not words.”
After talking to clients, she sends them a sketch of what she plans to draw. Even though she can draw brilliantly on a chalkboard, it’s challenging to sketch on paper.
“I always warn them that I sketch like 3-year-old,” she said. “I can do it on the wall, but I can’t do anything on paper.”
Anderson works full time as a senior library assistant and does her chalkboard art at night. “I’m a super workaholic,” she said. She tries to limit herself to one to two chalkboard jobs a week. She prefers to work when businesses are closed so she can spend as much time as she needs without customers watching her. She charges by the hour, but keeps her fee reasonable so locally owned businesses with limited budgets can hire her.
The tools required for her work are chalk, tape and a level. Anderson also has a sturdy and flexible ladder. She prefers Crayola chalk to chalk markers, because most chalk markers drip. She goes through a lot of chalk, but not as much as you might guess. Chalk allows the artist to fill in spaces by blending.
In addition to being a chalkboard artist, Anderson (a proud autodidact) has learned to ride a motorcycle, roast coffee, teach driving to high school students, play the violin and knit. She explained her philosophy, “I’ve always thought if you want to work hard, you can do whatever people will let you do.”
You can follow Anderson on Instagram @heatherandersonchalkwork.
Rachel Pinsky can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Facebook and Instagram @couveeats.