MENIFEE, Calif.—For more than a year, Gayle DuRivage had been drifting between creative calm and artistic doldrums.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. During the darkest days of the quarantine, relentless rains made dreary days seem even longer. But, now and then, sunbursts and rainbows prevailed as if to promise this pandemic too shall pass.
One day, while on her usual four-mile morning walk around her neighborhood in Menifee, Calif., DuRivage heard the whispers of the muses.
“All of a sudden, I got inspired to start drawing on the street with chalk,” she said.
Like an old friend, the colors had returned, and she felt a sense of relief and renewal.
DuRivage, 60, has created elaborate street paintings before, but the idea of doing street art spontaneously for the enjoyment of her neighbors was new.
In the past, she’s won at several street-painting festivals in Old Town Temecula, a touristy area south of Menifee.
“I have chalk from doing the festivals that I accumulated, and I decided on my daily walks that I would put a little pack of chalk in my exercise belt that I wear. I would just stop and draw some quick little doodles along my walking path.
“I did that for a couple days and started immediately getting a pretty amazing response from people who really loved them—the sights and the colors,” she said.
“The whole point was I wanted to spread some positivity, put some positive messages out there—some encouragement, some bright colors and happy little visual things that people would come across unexpectedly that would surprise them and make them feel happy.”
She does her drawing early in the morning when it’s cool and few people are around, so the appearance of her work has been a neighborhood mystery—but when people do catch her in the act, they say, “Oh, are you the one who’s been doing the drawings?”
Many have told her the chalk art is the highlight of their walks and bike rides. “To get those types of comments from people is just awesome. … It’s encouraging.”
It’s helped her mojo return.
DuRivage long worked as a freelance artist alongside her work as a school teacher. She has created glass art and jewelry, painted on canvas, created wall murals in personal residences and other buildings, and competed in street-painting festivals.
Then about a year ago, it all stopped.
“I hit sort of a slump where I just didn’t have the incentive to create my art,” she said. “I had been really busy making things and selling at craft shows and putting lots of time and energy and effort into that.”
The attendance at shows had dropped and sales were way down. And then, on the way home from a weekend show with her husband, Dan, things took a turn for the worse.
“We were coming home on Sunday and we got in a car accident on the freeway and wrecked the van,” she said.
“It was kind of like, OK maybe that’s an omen that we don’t need to be doing this right now or something,” she said. “I just didn’t do anything for a year and just didn’t feel inspired and motivated. I actually haven’t been painting or doing anything.”
The desire to uplift others with art put creative wind back in her sail—so the art has uplifted her as much as it has any of her neighbors.
The chalk art is temporary, fading away in several days or a month depending on the conditions.
But DuRivage loves the medium; she loves using the textures of chalk on rough asphalt and the pop of color on the black canvas. And it’s ephemeral, yet lasting, the way any act of kindness is.
After a friend of hers posted her recent work on Facebook, DuRivage has had a barrage of requests for personalized drawings on people’s driveways.
For example, a friend of hers asked her to create a cheerful driveway mural for her mother, who was feeling down about being separated from family.
When she was done, her friend called her mother to come out of her house to see the surprise—a drawing of a colorful owl with her baby, and the words “Love you, forever.”
“She was crying,” DuRivage said. “It was so cool. It made me cry.”
DuRivage has drawn a driveway mural of Kobe Bryant for an 8-year-old’s birthday. She has drawn a jaguar, the mascot for a local high school, for a senior student who won’t be able to enjoy senior year activities with the school closed.
“Colorful imagery has a lot of power. It has that energy to evoke emotion,” DuRivage said.
“It makes me feel good because it has renewed my interest in creating art, so it has been therapeutic for me. And, I’m really enjoying it out there, doing something that I know is going to make somebody else happy.”
For more about DuRivage’s art, see her Facebook page.