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Chalk drawing tips

I love creating artwork with chalk. There’s something about the high contrast look and the texture. Plus you can’t get any more hand drawn and real than this. Executing chalk boards is a nice break from digital screens, although I do still use them to prepare the image and template.

I wanted to take you through my process for creating a chalk image. For this one I’ll be using the board I did for craft beer brewery McAuslan that was displayed at The Badali restaurant on Front Street, Toronto, as an example.

First off I start by chatting with the client, this time it was the restaurant’s Manager. He wanted to feature their seasonal beer selections from McAuslan. I make sure they have all the copy (text) ready for me and send it to me through email so I have it written down. I’ll work the copy into a well designed layout. I also ask whether they expect any kind of imagery or additional details. If they do, I’ll work that into the sketch as well.

I usually provide one or two different options.

When the client picks one I’ll go to a linear drawing. This is basically a tighter rendering of the selected sketch.

I’ll run the linear by the client and if they’re ok with it I’ll scan it into Photoshop if I’m working traditionally. If I’ve been sketching and arranging the elements digitally then I’ll just blow it up to the full sized proportion and turn it into a black and white linear image by using the “outline” tool in Photoshop.

From here I’ll open a new 8.5 x 11” document. I’ll drag the full sized image into that smaller crop. Dragging and printing, making sure that each image overlaps a little bit.

Once I’m finished printing I’ll align and tape all the pieces together. Voila! A template to be used for transferring the sketch to the chalkboard.

Template and reference printed and ready to go


I know other artists will either grid out their design and freehand transfer it or use a projector, but I’ve found this method the best for smaller scale chalkboards.

I rub chalk all over the back of the papers. Then I tape the full sized collage of linework to the board. With a ballpoint pen I trace over the lines. If you’ve chalked the back enough it should make a mark where you’re pressing the pen. Once you’ve drawn over every line, gently pull the paper away and check if any parts didn’t transfer properly. It’s very important to do this before removing the template from the board completely because it’s so tough to get it to line up again if something is missing.

If everything looks good to go, take your template off the board and keep it near by for reference.

Then start drawing!

Teeny detail work with NuPastel Chalk

Adding more colour

If working with colour I like to build it up slowly, making sure it doesn’t overwhelm the text.

HOT TIP: Keep Q-Tips and water handy for cleaning up edges. If you want an even sharper edge to your work get yourself a piece of black chalk.

Once you’re finished you can spray the board with hairspray. I’m allergic to fragrances so I always go for an “unscented” one - which is still pretty stinky. It is hairspray after all. This will set the chalk a little. If there’s any discolouration where you sprayed too much you can go over it with a little more chalk.

Tah dah! Enjoy your new chalk board work!

If the board is being stored out of the way of prying hands I would recommend not spraying it at all. It keeps the look of the chalk without the chance of muddying the colours. I once did some boards for the grocery store Loblaws. They were left in the aisles and they had to call me back in to do touchups. The image had plenty of finger smears through it after a couple days. I think it’s just human nature to touch it to see if it’s actually chalk or a print.


If you did fix your image with hairspray and you want to clean off after a while I hear a can of Coca-Cola removes it better than just water alone. Coke is also great for generally cleaning a chalkboard that has gotten too dusty through use.

Good luck with your next chalk project!

Finished boards in the restaurant

Looking great amongst the bottles

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