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For three years I have wondered who has been drawing the 6 feet long phantasmagorical chalk creatures on the path near Las Vegas Park in the Dicken School area.  I run through that park weekly in the warmer months.   The creatures have captions like “joint eater” and “spooky floating human/vampire hybrid,” but the artwork is never signed.

Last month I finally had an incentive to find the artist and write about him.  I had a deadline!

joint eater

joint eater

spooky floating human vampire hybrid

spooky floating human vampire hybrid

Here’s how it all happened:  In March, Kathy Robenalt, director of the Ann Arbor Book Festival Writer’s Conference, asked me to speak at a session at conference on May 15.  Also speaking:  John Hilton, Editor of the Ann Arbor Observer.   I had suggested his name to Kathy– I always found him to be such a precise and helpful editor, ever since he published my first Observer story ( “The Fish Doctor”) in 1994.

Soon I received an email from John asking me if he could interview me about how he helps writers select a focus for a story. Of course, I said, and brought with me an example to work with–the chalk drawing idea to pitch, with photos.

John studied the pictures, and googled their captions to hypothesize about the artist.  Where did he (or she) get his inspiration, John wondered.  Was he into video games?  Could he explain his art as well as he creates it?  John and I discussed where such a story might go in the issue.  My Town seemed the best alternative, so that I could use a more personal voice in the writing, but John had a stack of My Town stories waiting to be published.  Inside Ann Arbor seemed like the most likely place in the magazine.

John encouraged me to write the story, saying it seemed like a good possibility for the May issue. That was all I needed to hear.

The next day was sunny and warm, perfect for a chalk artist to be outside.  I drove over to the park and taped a note on the path asking the artist to call me.  Then I had another idea.  I asked a neighbor hanging outside near the park with her son if they knew the artist, and they did.  “It’s Duncan,” they said.  They pointed to his house down the street.  I knocked on the door,  Duncan’s  mother Melissa came out, and welcomed me to stay and interview Duncan on their porch.  It was as though she had been waiting for me.  And in a sense she had.  She told me she and her husband had asked someone two years ago to write about Duncan’s art!

Duncan came out two minutes later, with a 20 piece box of unused Meijers chalk under his arm.

Duncan at work

Duncan at picnic table

Duncan at picnic table

His mother says she buys  him 10 boxes at a time. In some way Duncan was exceptionally poised and genteel even by adult standards,  pointing to two wooden chairs on the porch, and saying ‘please sit down, I’ll sit in the uncomfortable one”.

His inspiration comes from mythology (he just bought A Wizard’s  Bestiary at Crazy Wisdom) and animatronics that he sees on Youtube or in Halloween stores.  What’s an animatronic?  “It’s something they use in haunted houses—a robot they make to look like a monster.  They move stiffly, so most people don’t care about them. “ To clarify, Duncan acted out the stiff movement, his face frozen in a silent shriek, moving his arms up and down like a robotic monster animal, with herky-jerky repetitive movements.

Don’t mistake his characters as being inspired by the gaming world.  “I despise video games,” said Duncan.  “If someone brings a video game to my house, I ask them sternly to turn it off and make something better with their time,” he said.

Each creature emerges from Duncan’s chalk-covered left hand in about five minutes, without sketches or erasure.   He moves through a mental list of undrawn creatures that have caught his fancy.

Check out the drawings! Here is the location:


Read the published story about Duncan and his chalk drawings.

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