The art is underfoot in Pasadena

It might be expected that a voluptuous woman in a white bikini lying on a sidewalk would attract a fair number of gawkers. But they also crowded around the eyeball with fish fins and admired the ship whose red sails had blossomed into a crimson rose.

It was Sunday at the 18th annual Pasadena Chalk Festival, a weekend event at the Paseo Colorado shopping mall that featured about 600 professional and amateur artists who used the city's pavements — and 38,000 sticks of pastel chalk — to create amazing works of art.

The festival began Saturday and attracted an estimated 100,000 visitors who were entertained by live music as they meandered through the plaza. Artists busily drew images of colorful dragons, children's faces, embracing lovers, flowers, classics from Old World masters, magicians and other whimsical fantasies and cartoon characters, including a scene from the animated film "Up."

In one humorous mural, a small black funnel cloud that has swept up a cow looks pleadingly at a larger black funnel and asks: "Can I keep it?"

Anne Marie Darrach estimated that she had spent 14 hours over the weekend completing the tanned bikini-clad woman sitting on the sand, raising a hand to her head and possibly contemplating the large green pelican that stands near her feet.

The original painting from which Darrach sketched is by one of her favorite artists, Gil Elvgren: an influential painter of pinup girls who worked primarily from the 1930s to the 1970s. Many male passersby whipped out cameras, and Darrach said women liked the drawing too.

"I like the summery theme," said Darrach, 43, a stay-at-home mom from Valencia who was participating in her sixth chalk festival. "Somebody said I should have put oil on the beach and made it a political piece."

Thuan Ly, a computer engineer visiting from San Jose, marveled at the likeness to the original.

"She's just using chalk to picture the image, and the resemblance is pretty amazing," Ly said.

As the artists sprawled on the hot pavement under the warm sun, Darrach said chalk drawing can be grueling: "It's like a marathon. It requires a lot of physical effort. You don't get bored but you get fatigued," she said.

Nearby, artist Brandy Langie was completing a mural depicting large eyeballs attached with yellow and blue fish fins. They're swimming underwater in a blue ocean, amid orange coral, green seaweed and large round bubbles.

Langie said that eyeballs are a recent obsession. She thought they would be a fitting subject for her first appearance as an artist at the chalk festival.

"This was the only way to get my dad to come," said Langie, 25, from Compton. "I brought him out last year and he said he wasn't coming back until I was a participant. So here I am."

The Pasadena event bills itself as the world's largest street painting festival and this year it is attempting to establish the Guinness World Record for the Largest Display of Chalk Pavement Art. The Pasadena organizers asked Guinness to establish the category and were told they had to meet a threshold of 151 murals. The festival is expected to yield 185 murals, so should easily qualify, said Tom Coston, president of the Light Bringer Project, a non-profit arts organization in Pasadena that co-produces the event.

"Our objective is to introduce this as a legitimate art form, even though it goes away after two days," Coston said. "Artists do this for the experience and exposure, but they also come together with fellow artists to create a museum without walls. It's part of our mission to create a cultural opportunity for everybody. It's art for the people."

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