Chloe Smith – An Artist Blooms

“Urban Gardens of Rochester,” mural at Fruition Seeds in Naples, acrylic.
by Nancy E. McCarthy

Rochester artist Chloe Smith was getting professional commissions even as an illustration student at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). After her 2014 RIT graduation, she established a freelancing art career initially subsidized by a variety of non-artistic side jobs. It didn’t take very long to build up her reputation and client base.

        Just a couple of years out of college, after apprenticing on an multi-panel historic mural in Brockport, Smith was selected to collaborate with four other artists to paint a massive public mural on a downtown Canandaigua building. “Step Back in Time” featured vignettes of the iconic people and places that shaped Canandaigua’s history. Amy Colburn, the project’s artistic director, was immediately impressed with Smith. “Chloe’s style is so unique and she was a shoe-in from the beginning of that project,” said Colburn, also a muralist. “She is an amazing artist.”

        Smith has now created innumerable outdoor and indoor murals. She’s well-known as a chalk artist, an accomplished portraitist of both human and pet subjects, a landscape painter, and illustrator of album art, posters and logo designs. Smith also founded 490 Farmers in 2017, now a thriving nonprofit community garden in the city of Rochester. She designed the organization’s website and logo, painted all the signage and her art decorates two on-site garden sheds.

        Aside from a partiality to working large, Smith doesn’t have a favorite focus because, to her, they all mesh together. “I see art as a public service to create beauty in our environment. Murals, chalk, installations and community gardens all enhance our urban landscape, bring people joy and foster widespread curiosity and inspiration,” she said.

        Smith’s own curiosity with all things art was cultivated at an early age.


Budding artist

        Smith grew up in Scottsville, one of four siblings. Her father was an RIT engineering program director who dabbled in watercolor painting. He encouraged his young daughter’s artistic inclinations with art projects at home and they took watercolor classes together at the Memorial Art Gallery.

          Smith’s art explorations in middle school through high school included oil and acrylic mediums, drawing, collage and black and white photography. In 2013, while pursuing her BFA in illustration, Smith participated in a study abroad program in Cortona, Italy during her junior year at RIT. Coursework included painting, art history and art education. Her love affair with Italy was further enhanced by a blossoming romance with an Italian boyfriend. Over the next seven years she returned many times to work, paint and spend time with him.

       After graduation, Smith moved to Italy for nearly a year. While there in 2015, she discovered Bolognese street artists, known as “madonnari,” busking for tips by replicating masterworks on sidewalks with chalk. Smith began creating chalk art in Bologna and back home, too. She has done live chalk painting at numerous local festivals here including Corn Hill Arts Festival, Canandaigua Wine Walk, Park Avenue Festival, Roc the Riverway Weekend and many more.

        During 2018-19, Smith took an opportunity to teach art full-time at Saint Kateri School in Irondequoit. She enjoyed interacting with the children and drawing up creative lesson plans, but Smith missed the flexibility of a freelance schedule and working on her own art projects.

        So Smith returned to her freelancing career. As a sideline, she’s a substitute art teacher at her former school, T.J. Connor Elementary School in Scottsville. Smith was also commissioned to paint a unity-themed mural in the school’s front hallway, highlighting some of the school’s core values of diversity, equity and inclusion. Smith’s murals are scattered all over the region at churches, libraries, businesses and private residences.


Collaborations and Cortona

        Smith first met artist Kaitlin Roney-Blaine in 2017 during a Rochester art event. When they discovered that they both painted murals, the two artists decided to team up on a project. “We connected easily and found that our painting styles were similar and flow together well,” said Roney. She and her husband own Art Center of Rochester, a community learning hub and gallery in Irondequoit.

        It was the beginning of a special friendship and much artistic collaboration followed. In 2019, their work was featured in “Nothing Ethereal About Her” – an Art Center duo exhibition of their individual paintings which included a large-scale piece portraying the nine muses from Greek mythology that they painted together.

        In January 2020, Smith, Roney and Rochester writer Taylor Solano converged in Cortona for a two-week residency working with Italian fifth grade students on a personal narrative project. “We explored different perspectives, language barriers and how art can transcend cultural and geographical boundaries,” said Roney. It concluded with a mini classroom exhibit.

        The following year the three women worked on their own shared exhibit, showcasing the art and poetry they created during their Cortona residency. “Tre Prospettive” (Three Perspectives) opened on April 2, 2021 at Hart Gallery27 (formerly Old Church Gallery) in Brockport.

        The pandemic brought the art world to a halt for a while, but Smith eventually hit her stride again. This past winter, she was busy with pet portrait commissions and a few indoor murals. She is currently working on a series of mixed media portraits depicting friends in her community garden. Titled “The Human Garden,” these large paintings will be the linchpin of a future exhibition. Plus, the growing season is in full bloom so Smith is back in her happy place: 490 Farmers.


Art, Gardens and Community

I see the space at 490 Farmers partly as an art installation, transforming the blank space of a vacant lot into something vibrant and thriving.

“The drive to start that came from the same place as the desire to create murals, and has often led to a synthesis of the two (I paint many garden sheds and garden themed murals). I am most inspired by the living potential of empty or forgotten spaces, and the wide-open possibility of creating something new out of the existing. I think all good public art does this, incorporating rather than replacing or covering up.

“Lots of spaces in Rochester could use the loving artist’s touch, rather than the developer’s chainsaw. Public art and land use initiatives should enhance without taking anything away.” Chloe Smith, 490 Farmers founder and board member.

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Creating a Chalk Mural

First, Smith selects her imagery and good reference photos. Next, she chooses her color palette. Bright blues, greens, pinks and reds work better than muted hues on a gray pavement.  

It’s hard to see in full sunlight, so a partially shaded area is preferred. She draws boundaries and puts traffic cones around it. A reference sketch or photo on an easel shows bystanders what she is drawing; Smith also sets business cards and tip bucket out if she is busking. 

Art supplies include chalk pastels, black charcoal sticks, regular sidewalk chalk (for filling in large areas) or chalk paint (a powder mixed with water applied with a roller to fill in a large background quickly). Other items: tight-fitting gardening gloves for easier blending and hand protection, a clipboard for reference images, pillow to sit on, sunscreen, hat and drinking water.

Smith sketches the entire piece with a light color, then paints or colors in the background. She sits down to color the foreground, working top to bottom to avoid smears. When completed, Smith takes lots of photos but doesn’t get too attached to it. “Chalk drawing is not about the finished piece, it’s about the performance aspect and giving others a chance to watch artwork in progress. I’m always so happy to be finished after sitting on the pavement in the sun that I don’t care much what happens to it!” she laughed.

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