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Artist brings life to city’s sidewalks

Until last fall, Aaron McCune hadn’t touched a piece of chalk since the fourth grade. Now, the 35-year-old’s artwork has everyone in Fergus Falls looking down at the sidewalks for his chalk art creations.

Aaron McCune, of Fergus Falls, draws a picture-perfect picture of Benjamin Franklin on a sidewalk in Fergus Falls. Photo by Carol Stender.

Using his artistic flair, McCune drew Peanuts’ Schroeder playing the piano as Snoopy the beagle dances. He drew the scene at the shared entrance to the dance and piano studio. In front of a dentist’s office he drew a cartoon tooth, and at Christmas, he drew a chalk art fireplace complete with Christmas stockings.

He’s been drawing for almost 30 years but has been doing chalk art since last year. It’s something, he said he hadn’t really planned.

His sister wanted him to draw a turkey and fall scene on a chalk paint wall surrounding her electric box. As McCune researched art possibilities for the family project, he looked at 3-D street art.

“I became fascinated by it,” he said. “I did some research and got some Crayola chalk and made a drawing.”

He drew a picture on the sidewalk outside his home, and someone took a picture. It went viral on Facebook

“It was well received,” he said. “My sister said I should chalk bomb the city.”

And he did.

A birthday greeting written on the sidewalk here and a rope bridge illusion there and a funny face at another spot and soon people were coming downtown not only to shop, but to check out the art.

Humpty Dumpty in chalk. Contributed photo

“I did small ones here and there and stuck with it,” he said. “I have been doing this now for about eight months.”

And he shows no signs of slowing down. He is as enamored with the art process as people are enthused to see the pieces.

He cautions people who might walk behind him

“I tell people if they see me walk down the street slowly, I am inspecting the sidewalk for angles and cracks,” he said. “I envision how it will look and what shapes I can make. Things will come to me, like a group of weeds becoming Bert and Ernie’s hair.”

“I like the surprise aspect of it,” he said of the artwork.

He hails from a talented family. His mother showed her creativity through crafts. His father designs and sells T-shirts in Berkley, Calif., and his grandfather was a gunsmith who created artistic pistol grips. The grandfather and grandson worked on some projects together, McCune said. The elder encouraged the younger, and when McCune’s mother died when he was 7, it was his grandfather who mentored him and helped raise McCune and his siblings.

When his grandfather couldn’t care for his young charges anymore, an uncle raised them. The family moved from Fargo to southeastern Minnesota. McCune moved to California to be with his father and joined the Marines. He was stationed in the Golden state. After his discharge, he moved to Pittsburgh.

Life was not easy for McCune. He became a drug addict and abused alcohol. His sisters encouraged him to move from Pennsylvania to Fergus Falls where they had relocated. One offered him a place to stay, but there was one stipulation. He had to be “clean.”

McCune comes up with some designs using what is already there. Contributed photo

McCune, who had battled heroin and alcohol addiction since his early teens, admitted he had to think about leaving Pittsburgh.

“I would be leaving my source, but I had family here,” McCune said.

He says he is 99 percent sure he won’t be using opiates again because the withdrawals were tough. McCune said he has had bouts of sobriety, but, in the back of his mind, he would think about the next drink. Now, with his art, he hasn’t been thinking about it.

“As long as I keep doing the art and staying busy, that’s what I focus on,” he said.

He has been off drugs for the last three years and has been sober for around a year. And his art is benefitting.

“When I was using, I was so lethargic, and I had shaky hands,” he said. “I lost all of my creative juices. But after I got clean, I got my interest back. I am drawing pictures for people and playing my guitar.”

Pinocchio in chalk by McCune. Contributed photo

He also works at a tattoo business.

While he continues to use a number of artistic mediums, it’s the chalk art that fascinates him and has prompted a creative burst from the artist. McCune is trying techniques that add a different flair to his pieces.

“I have developed my own technique,” he said. “It’s not right or wrong. I just use water and a brush to paint the chalk. Normally, the wind might take the chalk, but using this method has the chalk going into the pores of the cement. You can paint different colors on it.”

Still, chalk art is 100 percent moveable, he said. It’s temporary.

Eye art by McCune. Contributed photo

He likes it, though, and is using pastel colors in more of his artwork.

“I am trying new things,” he said. “I want to master every medium. I have decided that I know what I want to do when I grow up.”

McCune enjoys the creativity of the art form. He said it’s a bonus to have people appreciate it.

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