Maybe chalk makes you think of your elementary school days or summer evenings drawing on the sidewalk. Either way, we’d wager it’s somehow associated with childhood — because how many adults spend any time thinking about chalk? Now, artist Nikolas Bentel is looking to change all that. His goal is for everyone to enjoy working and playing creatively with chalk, regardless of age. To help make that happen, he has designed and produced three innovative drawing tools made completely from chalk.
If you’re based in New York City, you can see an art installation by Bentel at the New Museum (he is currently a resident at the museum’s NEW INC satellite, an art and design incubator) and pick up your own set in the gift shop afterwards.
We caught up with Bentel and asked him why he’s so (ahem) drawn to chalk and how he navigated the design process that resulted in these cool drawing tools.
Dornob: Why do you like chalk as a creative medium?
Bentel: Chalk is a universal material that has been in use since the beginning of recorded history. It is found in almost every culture as either a writing instrument, a drawing tool, or a building material. This means that originality is hard to come by in terms of chalk. After spending many hours 3D-printing iteration upon iteration of unique forms, I landed on these three shapes.
I come from a family of architects, so I grew up in an environment of repurposed materials and original shapes. The chalk toys are an imaginative take on architectural drawing and sidewalk chalk.
How did you decide on these three styles? Any plans to add other tools or different colors to the collection?
The toys are intended to create the three fundamental shapes of drawing: dots, circles, and straight lines. And yes! I am going to add a colored chalk version and a entirely different shape in crayon!
The line-drawing tool can draw the five lines of the music staff — why was that important to you?
I grew up playing music, so especially after sitting through many music theory classes where you needed to draw a musical staff on a chalkboard, I realized that there was a need for something like this. The design is based on a quinary system: this means that the chalk toys can be used as accurate drawing instruments for any system of five at multiple widths.
Are these designed for adult hands? If so, do you have plans to make them for children?
These writing tools are designed for both adults and children, and there is no exact way to use them. I want the users to reimagine how we draw. Every person using the toys will start out as a beginner. Since they are so new, no one can consider themselves an expert using these tools yet.
Can you give us a sneak peek at any new projects you’re working on?
Yes, I have a more general art practice, and I recently sold my first art piece, “The Erased Rauschenberg.” You can find more of my art and design work on my website.