Secrets Behind the Sidewalk: How 3D Sidewalk Art is Made

Sidewalk art has the ability to turn pavement into a canvas. In fact, some of the greatest pieces of art of our generation are not only right under our eyes, but also, under our feet. So how can a flat surface make our mind see a tower of superheroes, a fishing hole or a snowman in July? It’s not as hard as it looks.

For starters, seeing actually means believing.

When trying to understand the science behind 3D sidewalk art, it’s best to look at the image using only one eye. If you use both eyes to look at the picture, your brain will be able to tell where the light is coming from, thus debunking the illusion mindset. And if you use no eyes, well, you won’t be seeing much.

But with only one eye open, the illusion theory uses light and your perception to trick your mind into seeing the image you think you’re seeing. This video explains how it all works in a little more detail.

It doesn’t take a professional. Anyone can do it.

Don’t believe us? According to Part II of the above video, all you need to get started is a piece of paper, a pencil, a 3D ruler (one that can stand perpendicular to your paper) and a camera.

Transforming a 2D drawing into a 3D image isn’t as complicated as it sounds once you incorporate color and shading, but when that image needs to be created on a larger scale, it can pose more of a challenge.

Anamorphosis, a Renaissance-era artistic concept, is a way to create a deformed image that appears in its true shape when viewed in some “unconventional” way. It was originally used to create the spectacular cathedral ceilings we know and adore, but over the last 30 or so years, contemporary artists like Kurt Wenner and Julian Beever have utilized the logic behind it to transform flat surfaces, like sidewalks, into three-dimensional masterpieces.

But the final product is all based on your perspective. The dimensions of a flat, large-scale image can shift and change dramatically when drawn using anamorphosis. This series of photos shows the importance perception plays when creating images using these techniques. If you’re standing in the wrong spot, as shown in the video below, you may only see a jumbled mess of colorful sidewalk squiggles.

Where the sidewalk ends and the art begins.

Due to the inherent nature of outdoor chalk drawings, this type of art is temporary. Whether washed away by rain, or grounded into the pavement by foot traffic, 3D sidewalk art doesn’t last long outside, which is why it’s important to capture these images with pictures and video.

Some of my favorites include this collection of 25 sidewalk art pieces that will make any commute an enjoyable one, as well as this compilation of images that trick even those with 20/20 vision into believing that the drawings have come to life.

Creating beautiful 3D chalk pieces doesn’t require a hidden secret. It simply requires planning, patience and an imagination.  And of course, a spectacular sidewalk!

Featured image via 3dchalkartwork.com

Rachel Kaufman is a Houston-born, University of Missouri educated and Dallas-based freelance writer. Connect with Rachel on LinkedIn.

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