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creative:impact - Chance encounters of the 3D kind

"Chance Encounters" by David Zinn
David Zinn
"Chance Encounters" by David Zinn

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Deb Polich
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.



David Zinn
Misty Bergeron
David Zinn

David Zinn is a self-taught artist from Ann Arbor, Michigan. After working for more
than twenty years as a freelance illustrator drawing posters for operas and trash for
city recycling programs, he picked up a box of sidewalk chalk as an excuse to “work”
outdoors on a nice day, and now his temporary works of art are enjoyed by thousands of people every day.

David has drawn all over the United States and on the streets of Taiwan, Sweden, Germany, France, and Holland. His chalk art has been featured in magazines and news
outlets all over the world, he has well over three million followers on social media, and
yet the majority of his underfoot creatures have come to life within walking
distance of his house. (This may be why he considers it a good thing that his art
washes away in the rain to make room for new creations.)

In his books, workshops, and conversations with people he meets on the sidewalk,
David Zinn hopes to encourage more people to pick up chalk (or paint, or clay, or cake
frosting) and create whatever kind of art makes them happiest.


  • 2022 Golden Paintbrush Award for “Laughing at Clouds” mural, Ann Arbor Public Art Commission
  • 2015 Readers’ Choice Artist of the Year, Current Magazine
  • 2014 Readers’ Choice Artist of the Year, Current Magazine
  • 2012 Golden Paintbrush Award, Ann Arbor Public Art Commission


  • 2019-21 Artist-in-Residence, City of Laguna Beach CA
  • 2019 Featured Artist, Grensloos Kunstroute Verkennen, De Wijk / IJhorst, Netherlands
  • 2019 Featured Artist, Kunstraum/Artspace 2019 Die Alte Bürger, Bremerhaven, Germany
  • 2019 Featured Artist, Craie Art Villefranche, Villefranche-sur-Mer, France
  • 2019 Featured Artist, International Figuren Theater Festival, Fürth, Germany
  • 2018 Visiting Artist at Onset Street Painting Festival, Onset Bay MA
  • 2017-18 Invited Artist, Mill Race Center, Columbus IN
  • 2017 Workshop Artist at the Well at Queen Anne United Methodist Church, Seattle WA
  • 2017-19 Featured Artist at Detroit Zoological Society, Royal Oak MI
  • 2017-22 Featured Artist at Artisphere, Greenville SC
  • 2016 Exhibiting Artist, POP-X Community Arts Initiative, Ann Arbor MI
  • 2016 Invited Artist at Arts Festival of Carrollton, Carrollton GA
  • 2016 “Concrete Ephemera” Exhibition for Gifts of Art, U-M Health System, Ann Arbor MI
  • 2016 Invited Artist at Weiwuying Center for the Arts, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  • 2016 “Pen Pal” traffic box vinyl wrap artwork for Power Art! Phase II
  • 2015 Invited Artist at No Limit Festival, Boräs, Sweden
  • 2015 “Selfie Monster” traffic box vinyl wrap artwork for Power Art! Phase I
  • 2014 “Laughing at Clouds” Mural at Library Lane Parking Structure, Ann Arbor MI
  • 2014 Artist-In-Residence for Honeywell Foundation, Wabash IN
  • 2014 Visiting Artist, Detroit Connections program, U-M Penny Stamps School of Art & Design
  • 2012-19 Featured Street Artist at Ann Arbor Summer Festival, Ann Arbor MI


  • 2022 “Artist David Zinn Brings Charming Chalk Drawings to City Streets...” - CBS News
  • 2022 “Street Artist Turns Entire City Into His Personal Canvas” - My Modern Met
  • 2022 “Street Artist Creates Delightful 3D Scenes In Walls and Walkways...” - Upworthy
  • 2020 “David Zinn: Street art that washes away in the rain” - BBC News
  • 2016 “Quirky New Chalk Characters on the Streets of Ann Arbor by David Zinn”
  • - Colossal: Art, Design and Visual Culture
  • 2016 “Straenkreide auf Instagram: Bitte nicht auf den Drachen treten” - Der Spiegel
  • 2015 “Dessins dans la rue par David Zinn” - Le Journal du Design
  • 2014 “Revealing New Worlds Beneath the Sidewalk with @davidzinn” - Instagram.com
  • 2014 “A Street Artist in Michigan Creates Whimsical Charcoal Cartoons that Rival Banksy”
  • - Business Insider
  • 2014 “Animal Magic in the Urban Jungle” - The Guardian
  • 2014 “Topolini, conigli e alieni: il marciapiede una favola” - La Repubblica
  • Temporary Preserves: Chalk Art by David Zinn
  • Underfoot Menagerie: More Street Art by David Zinn
  • The Chalk Art Handbook
  • The Untold Tales of Nadine
  • Chance Encounters: Temporary Street Art by David Zinn


  • 2020 “Avoiding blank canvases: street art and the Earless Mickey” - TEDxUofM


David Zinn Official Site

David Zinn on Facebook

David Zinn on Twitter

David Zinn on Instagram

David Zinn on TikTok


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. Thanks for tuning in every Tuesday as we meet creative guests with roots in Washtenaw County and explore how their creative businesses, products, programs, and services impact and add to our local quality of life, place, and economy. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. You know, we like to introduce our listeners to the variety of jobs in the arts and creative industries. Today, we meet an ephemeral anamorphic pareidolicist. Say what? You may not know what their means, but I bet many of you will know our artist. Welcome to creative:impact, David Zinn.

David Zinn: Thank you very much. I'm delighted to be here.

Deb Polich: So, you know, there's an internal joke in the arts that instead of high salaries, we get fancy titles. You get the win for ephemeral anamorphic pareidolicist, if I said that right.

David Zinn: You did.

Deb Polich: Good. Thanks. So, absent of having a thesaurus on hand, would you rephrase your title or what you do in more simple terms?

David Zinn: Well, it addresses the very important aspects of the way I make art, which are unusual. The simplest one that most people probably know is the ephemeral part because it is art, which does not persist, which actually is fairly common. People don't think about it, but, you know, the people who make very fancy cakes are ephemeral artists.

Deb Polich: Sure.

David Zinn: If you tell them why you make this cake, when someone's going to eat it, they'll tell you, "That's why I'm making the cake, so it will be eaten." So, it's ephemeral by design, which has lots of advantages we can talk about. The anamorphic part is the fancy, but legitimate scientific term for the 3D trick. It's been around for hundreds of years. Painters have used it over the years to stretch a flat image, so that it looks three-dimensional. And a lot of street artists use this. I think because street art can get so big, especially chalk art, that you can't actually look at it from a perpendicular angle. It's on the ground, so you'd have to stand on it to be standing directly across from it. And, as a result, it's going to stretch because of perspective, whether you like it or not. And so, they've naturally taken up this trick of using that stretching to their advantage to create the illusion.

Deb Polich: There's a fair amount of math and geometry in it, it seems.

David Zinn: You would think, and thank goodness it's not required. I'm terrible at math. Although it has helped me understand that although I used to think I was terrible at math and didn't like math, I have now realized what I didn't like was numbers.

Deb Polich: OK.

David Zinn: Because this is a case of math without numbers. It's a conceptual concept that you don't need to plug. You just know, like, it needs to be bigger and smaller, and that's all you need to know. So, that was a great revelation in that. And the pareidolicst, I have adapted, I confess. I don't think anyone else in the world to call themselves a pareidolicist because this is such a weird thing to do. But it's based on the term "pareidolia," which is the name for a fairly universal brain phenomenon where human beings tend to see patterns in random stuff.

Deb Polich: So, like seeing faces in a cloud or the man in the moon?

David Zinn: Exactly.

Deb Polich: OK.

Deb Polich: Yeah. Yeah, the man in the moon, clouds that look like bunnies, things like that. It's clearly something we have been doing, probably since we were living in caves and looking up at stars and thinking, "Oh, those stars look like a Big Dipper!"

Deb Polich: That visual aspect of our innate personalities. And so, you know, the patterns you see and turn into art are concrete, if not permanent. What prompted you to turn these cracks in the sidewalk into art?

David Zinn: Well, to be completely honest, I was playing hooky.

Deb Polich: Oh.

David Zinn: I was self-employed for many years as a freelance commercial artist, did a lot of projects I enjoyed for the city of Ann Arbor and other clients. But it was work done indoors, even on beautiful days, on a computer. And being your own boss can be tricky that way, because there's no one to tell you you can't go outside on a nice day. And, in Michigan, we have such a set number of really nice days. It seems kind of a shame not to take advantage of them.

Deb Polich: That's an experience. Working at home has affected a lot of people already, right? Since the pandemic.

David Zinn: Yeah, exactly. So, I think a lot more people understand the struggle now since the pandemic than they did back then. So, I rationalized that, you know, I couldn't just not do my job, but my job was making art. So, if I went outside, and I was making some art somewhere, maybe I could get away with it as being sort of brainstorming exercise instead of just being lazy.

Deb Polich: So, you know, we talked about the business of arts here on creative:impact. So, do you mind if I ask you how one makes a living when the art you create is designed to self-destruct?

Deb Polich: Well, that's actually a very well-timed question, because the book that is coming out in March is exactly the answer to that problem. It's an interesting yin-yang because the original art cannot be preserved, which is actually one of the best things about making it. It takes away a lot of the anxiety and the stress that comes with making permanent art. But the photographs are what you get to keep. And the photographs you can put into books like "Chance Encounters." I've put them into calendars that are available in my own store and in stores around town, and I even just sell prints of them to people all over the world just to hold on to the memory of that event, rather than trying to monetize the event itself. I almost feel like I'm cheating because the the actual art still gets to be a very personal and almost private experience between me and the drawing and the maybe dozen people who saw it before the rain washed it away.

Deb Polich: 891 WEMU's creative:impact continues. I'm Deb Polich and I'm talking with David Zinn, Ann Arbor's ubiquitous and most famous 3D chalk artist. You know, so photography is also in your talent wheelhouse, right? It must be, because I can't imagine that you have a photographer that follows you around everywhere. Does is it ease the loss of the disappearance of the original work for you?

David Zinn: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it's kind of like, you know, I assume, it's similar to how you can't keep your kids from growing up and should not try to keep your kids.

Deb Polich: Sure.

Deb Polich: But it's advisable to take pictures of them when they're small, because that's what you get to keep. And there have been only one or the only time I get anxious if I've completed a drawing and I haven't taken a picture yet and it starts to rain, because if I don't get a photograph, it's going to be hard to even be sure it ever happened. And I kind of need that one crutch of something I can hold onto after it's done.

Deb Polich: So many things to think about. So, "Chance Encounters: Temporary Street Art" by David Zinn is, what, your fourth or fifth book?

David Zinn: It's my, I think it's the fifth currently existing book. It is the first widely available, published collection of my pictures.

Deb Polich: And what should we know about it?

A page from David Zinn's new book, "Chance Encounters."
David Zinn
A page from David Zinn's new book, "Chance Encounters."

David Zinn: Well, it's pretty exciting because, for one thing, since is being published by Prestel Verlag, which is a German publisher, it's going to be released simultaneously in German and English, which should be nice for the people who follow my work in Germany. Although it was challenging for the captions, because a lot of the language I use, as we demonstrated at the top of this feature, is hard to translate into other languages, or sometimes even English. But they were great about the project. It has all of the one-sentence short stories that go with these photographs when they're posted online. And they also requested an essay. So, there is actually a full explanation--probably the first complete explanation of how I came to be doing this.

Deb Polich: Yeah, I read that. It's great.

David Zinn: Oh, thanks.

Deb Polich: And, you know, I mean, it's really interesting, and I really appreciated it. You know, in it, you note that as a child, you liked to draw, but then you discovered that your drawings, as you describe them, were wobbly and vague, compared to your brother's drawings. Can you share that sense of frustration behind that discovery and, you know, how you eventually became a confident child artist?

David Zinn: Well, I think that's a very important frustration to talk about because I have a lot of conversations with random strangers on the streets, since that's where my studio is. And I frequently hear about people who used to like to draw, but then they stopped enjoying it. And I think there is a fairly common reason why, which is we start--well, we start out--not caring what people think. That's both the greatest and most terrifying thing about toddlers. They are always right, and there's nothing you can do about that. But, as we get older and we get more mature, we start to actually notice other people and care about their opinions. And that's when we stop joyfully scribbling whatever makes us happy, because we're worried that we shouldn't be happy about it. Maybe we should be embarrassed by it. And I went through that. And it's very lucky that I made it out the other side because I think most of us don't.

A page from David Zinn's new book, "Chance Encounters."
David Zinn
A page from David Zinn's new book, "Chance Encounters."

Deb Polich: Well, speaking of those people that don't make it to the other side, do you have any involvement with people in their older years who want to rediscover that joy of creating?

David Zinn: Oh, absolutely. I had a wonderful experiment in Indiana a few years back where I was invited to do the Exact Doodle Battle workshop that I describe in the essay in this book with, as it turned out, every age group that exists in the town of Columbus, Indiana. So, I worked with kindergarten children all the way up to the people who lived in the rest home in town. And it was astounding to see how you can take someone who had lived for a long time and probably had even forgotten that there used to be this kid who loved to draw on any blank surface, even if it got them in trouble and reconnect them with that child that still lives somewhere in their brain by just having that joy without any consequences, which is again what ephemeral art is very much about.

Deb Polich: It is a wonderful rediscovery, and thank goodness you're doing that work. "Chance Encounters" is being published on March 29th. Where can your fans find the book?

David Zinn: It will be available, I believe, in all the local bookstores. We're hoping to have an official signing with Nicola's Books at some point and it'll also be, I assume, in downtown Ann Arbor and hopefully in Ypsi and everywhere else in Michigan if all goes well.

Deb Polich: Well, David, we'll have that information on our creative:impact web site, and I want to just thank you for giving us a glimpse into your creative world.

David Zinn: It's a great pleasure. Thanks.

Deb Polich: That's David Zinn, Ann Arbor's preeminent 3D chalk artist. Find out more about David and his new book, "Chance Encounters," at WEMU dot org. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. Join me next week when we meet another creative Washtenaw guest. This is your community NPR Radio Station, 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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