By Ashley Claire Simpson
Artists today use more mediums to showcase their talent. There are more ways to create works of art than there were just a decade ago. And, while some forms of art are created with digital technology, many still do require the human hand. Enter: chalk art—typically, illustrations on a chalkboard or similar surface using either actual chalk or chalk pens.
Local artist Alex McDonald, who started his journey with traditional pen and paper, has recently expanded his artistic vision to include chalk art. Chalk art, he discovered, has become quite popular in recent years, especially within retail and dining establishments.
McDonald has been running his painting company, Brand New Painting, since 2012, and only added chalk to his portfolio a couple of years ago when he managed the decoration of Simply Desserts, the Gainesville bakery that his mother, Kimberly McDonald, opened in October 2015.
“I got into chalk art through Simply Desserts and then furthered my learning and technique in Bar Louie and a couple other establishments,” Alex said. “I had a friend do some lettering artwork for Simply Desserts, and the style fascinated me. I watched some videos online and practiced on every piece of paper within reach. That translated into the chalkboards of Simply Desserts and Bar Louie [in Gainesville], as well as [some] in a few homes.”
A Passion Realized Early
Growing up an athletic child in Chantilly, he always excelled in sports—namely, soccer. As many hours as he logged on the field, his true retreat was in crafting all kinds of designs and illustrations on paper.
“I first realized I had a passion for art when I was very young,” he said. “I used to draw on all my notebooks, schoolbooks, walls, rooms and more. Every surface was a canvas to me and that is how it has always been. I never wanted to sit and learn art in school, private classes or anything of that sort. I’ve always approached my work in a way such that if I am interested in it, then I will adopt it and evolve in it as an artist. I see design in everything; it’s a part of me and that will never stop. Because of that alone, I know I have always and will always be an artist.”
Kimberly McDonald will always remember Alex—her middle child—being an artist practically from birth. “Alex has always been creative,” she said. “He was always ‘doodling.’ I always noticed him sketching on pieces of paper since elementary school. He received an honorable mention in the sixth grade for a Reflection [art] Contest. He took an art class in high school, and it seemed to click to everyone that he was actually good. From there, he started drawing different characters that were different and unusual. He really got good, and he kept developing his creativity.”
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, either. “My mother was an artist, and Alex really loved her work,” she said. “He’s always attributed his innate talent to her.”
Taking Care of Business
In just his early 20s, McDonald, whose artist name is BlackPaint due to his appreciation for simple color schemes, launched Brand New Painting LLC. At a time when parents often urge their artist children to find something “practical” to pursue professionally, Alex actually has found a way to turn art into his full-time job.
“With Brand New Painting, I do residential painting for homeowners, small businesses and various art projects,” Alex explained. “I’ve completed [a variety of projects] from painting bedrooms, murals, canvas, shoes and clothes to teaching art classes and designing greeting and other special occasion cards.”
Through Brand New Painting, McDonald has taken on hundreds of projects. Of course, his closest-to-home client has been his mom in the design of Simply Desserts. “I gave Alex complete reign in taking my ideas and then translating them as he executed the design of the store,” she said. “There isn’t a day that goes by when someone doesn’t walk in and compliment the interior design— from the colors to the chalk art to the painting on the walls.”
Chalk It Up to Fate
These days, McDonald is making masterpieces out of chalk—the same utensils children use to play tic-tac-toe or draw hopscotch boundaries on asphalt on warm days. It’s his openness to different projects and opportunities that led him to incorporate chalk art into his business offerings.
“There are no boundaries to what project I will take on,” McDonald said. “If I am asked to do something, and it seems like something I can execute to the standard of perfection I hold myself to, I’ll take it on. That’s partly how I added chalk to my tool chest.”
Despite his development as a multi-medium artist, McDonald’s favorite artistic devices remain the ones with which he began his journey with art. “Pencils and pens have always been my favorite,” he said. “I paint a lot because of my business, but for the most part, I prefer to use black pens and black markers. I’ll try it all, though, and if I like it, I’ll learn more and progress. Less often, I’ll drop it and explore other alternatives.”
Always evolving, McDonald said his artistic goals going forward are quite simple. “My goal is always to do more art,” he said. “I do art all day, every day, and I can’t get enough of new styles I am attracted to. I’m sure I will continue to do chalk art, adapt, and learn more along the way.”
Ashley Claire Simpson ([email protected]) is a corporate communications professional by day, but her real passion is learning more about this community—and world—by writing for publications like Prince William Living. She has been crafting features and human interest articles since her college newspaper days at the University of Virginia.