Chalk it up to talent

It’s a Tuesday evening in Balfour-Hood Center. There is a quiet hum of students meeting in the cafe, and music drifts up from the dance studio downstairs. In front of the chalkboard near the entrance of the building, Emerald Bresnahan ’15 starts to set up her laptop and a few plastic buckets of big colored chalks. She carefully sorts through the colors, looking for just the right one, and then stands on a chair and lightly grids out the board in white.

Glancing at reference images on her computer, Bresnahan begins to draw. Sometimes she stands on her toes to reach all of areas of the chalkboard. Her marks are big. They have to be—they need to cover a board that is nearly six feet tall and captures an entire week of campus activities in words and images.

Emerald Bresnahan '15 (foreground) and Lily Allen '17
Emerald Bresnahan ’15 (foreground) and Lily Allen ’17

She is a work/study art intern in the Office of Student Activities, Involvement and Leadership (SAIL) this year, along with Lily Allen ’17.

Each week, the two artists receive a list of campus happenings and each student designs one of the campus event chalkboards in the Balfour-Hood and the Diana Davis ’60 Spencer Café. Sometimes they spend up to six hours to complete their temporary creations.

The results are striking, and, if you take a closer look, often surprisingly detailed.

“On one of my board’s, there was a musical staff connecting two music events that contained excerpts from Debussy’s piano piece ‘Rêverie,’” Bresnahan says,

The large size of the boards presents both a challenge and freedom, encouraging the artists to really develop their drawing technique and sense of composition.

“I really like that I have room to work big,” Allen says. “It’s hard at first to adjust to the size of the chalkboard because you need to step back a lot and check how things actually look when they’re not right in front of your face.”

She explains that the medium itself can also present a challenge: drawing with light colors on a dark background is the opposite of drawing with graphite on light paper. The artists must carefully consider how to use the positive and negative space to create shadows and highlights.

Allen, a studio art major and Russian literature minor, has been drawing for as long as she can remember, and plans to pursue a career as an artist.

Bresnahan, a physics major with minors in astronomy and math, is always jotting down ideas for artful creations inspired by the sciences. As she’s working on the chalkboard, friends walking by stop to chat every now and then. Seeing the reactions of passers-by is a big part of what makes the work satisfying for her.

“What I enjoy most about this job is that others get to enjoy my work,” she says, ”and the fact that the events of different groups at Wheaton are celebrated and promoted.”—Elizabeth Meyer ’14

Photos by Charles Wang ’15