As COVID-19 shut the world down and forced many to stay close to home last spring, everyone began to adapt to this new way of life. For some, it meant regearing their daily routine to work from home. Others saw the lockdown as an opportunity to finally get to that project they’ve always wanted to do but never had the time. Some picked up or perfected new skills or hobbies to stay occupied. For Avon Lake based artist Monica Kimmell, it was a mix of all three.

Kimmell, who has degrees in fine art, photography and graphic design from Columbus College of Art and Design, spent most of her pre-pandemic days photographing weddings and family portraits. Like so many others, when lockdowns began, her business came to a screeching halt. She turned to one of her favorite media, chalk drawing, to help pass the time.

“I always do sidewalk chalk drawings in the driveway whenever we have guests over to welcome them,” Kimmell said. “I was so bored when COVID hit March, so I started drawing up and down the neighborhood. I’d post pictures of the drawings to groups on Facebook, with different hashtags like, ‘go for a walk, check out my chalk,’ encouraging them to take the family, go for a walk, get some exercise, get some sunshine, look for my drawings, take a snapshot, just get out and have a little fun.”

She started doing the chalk drawings at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown as a way to connect with her new neighbors who moved in across the street.

“I saw that they had two little girls and was like, ‘Oh, they might like this’. So I went over to their driveway, did one in front of their house and then did a couple down the block. I could see the girls from my window and they were so excited to see these drawings that made me feel good. If it can make other people feel happy and good, especially during such a difficult time.”

From March to November of 2020, Kimmel continued to spread joy through her chalk drawings.

As her work began to get more attention on social media, she started to get requests for specific drawings. Each day the sidewalks of Avon Lake came alive with Disney characters, superheroes, Star Wars characters, holiday-themed scenes, wild animals, flowers and beautiful scenery. On average, she would do five to 10 drawings every week (if there was minimal rain in the forecast) with the more elaborate ones taking up to four hours to complete. About six months into her chalk adventures, her pandemic boredom buster started to blossom into a business.

“A gentleman in Avon Lake contacted me like, ‘Hey is there any way that I can pay you to do a chalk drawing at my niece's house for her sixth birthday.’” Kimmell explained. “So I did that and he paid me then he posted it to the Parents of Avon Lake Facebook page saying ‘if anybody needs a custom chalk drawing, Monica is doing these just direct message her!’ So all of a sudden I had a little business for these custom celebration drawings. I had to lay down prices and how much time I needed to do them and it just took off.”

Since her first commissioned chalk drawing, Kimmell has done drawings for graduation parties, anniversaries, first communions and birthdays. As she continued to post her works of art on social media the opportunities kept flowing in. Towards the end of the summer 2020 a fellow Avon Lake resident reached out to her about illustrating a children’s book she was writing.

“I was beyond excited, because I’ve always wanted to do that,” Kimmell said. “The two of us had never done this before. She'd never written a book and I'd never illustrated a book. So it, between the two of us it was a learning process but we made it work.”

Author Roxana Siles created the story for the book with her son when they ran out of books to read at bedtime. The book “Charlie the Turtle and the Muddy Birthday Cake” was recently published on Amazon. Kimmell and Siles will be doing a book signing tomorrow (May 6) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Creative Space in Avon. Kimmell loved bringing the story to life with her illustrations in the book and also adding some personal meaning to the characters.

“There's a page in the book where all the little friends come to the birthday party and she [Siles] requested that I make it a party with a bunch of different animals, not just turtles. So I drew a picture of my dog, a squirrel because my sister likes squirrels, a fox because my other sister likes foxes. So I have like all these little characters with hidden meetings; that are special to me or my family.”

Kimmell is currently working on illustrations for another book after connecting with a publisher based in Canada through a Zoom workshop. She hopes to continue illustrating children’s books and plans to collaborate with several other local authors in the coming months who wrote books during the pandemic.

When she’s not photographing weddings or family portraits, illustrating children’s books or creating chalk art, Kimmell also enjoys educating younger artists. She began teaching weekly art classes to her nephew via Zoom during the pandemic to help him explore his own love for fine art. Yet another foreshadowing of her future projects, this one-on-one class helped prepare her for this upcoming summer.

“The owner of Creative Space contacted me about teaching kids chalk art in a class called ‘Art Ala Carte,’” she said. “So I put together a syllabus for that, and we’re ready to start in June. The class will be outside, COVID safe of course. I will have an easel where I've done the chalk drawing, I’ll then be explaining techniques and different styles and as we recreate the drawing on the ground.”

The class will be two weeks in June and July and is open to two age groups: third- through fifth-graders and sixth- through eighth-graders.

What started as just a fun way to pass the time and bring some joy to the lives of her neighbors has turned into a multi-faceted business for Kimmell in a little more than a year’s time. Operating through Monique Studios, Monica can be reached with inquiries about any of her services through her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/moniquestudios1.

As her art continues to gain popularity across Avon Lake and beyond, Kimmell is hopeful and excited for her future endeavors.

“It’s been a whirlwind, but such an awesome experience,” she explained. “I like having my hands in all these different avenues. It’s really special and fun. And it's been a learning process for me too. I'm still taking classes, lots of continuing education, just to hone skills and keep them going.”

“I just want to do my part to help people to stay positive and focus on being happy, focus on other things than COVID,” she continued. “I know it’s been hard and some people are going through depression. I love using my art to help them to get up, get out and find something that makes them smile.”

Contact this reporter at mbole@chagrinvalleytimes.com

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