Stark County Artist Profile: Jeffrey Keirn

Each week in January and February we will be featuring a different Stark County artist. Get to know the amazing talent in our community.

By Laurie Fife Harbert

Jeffrey Keirn, a Louisville, Ohio native now residing in Canton, is a chalk pastel street artist. Chalk pastels, high-end chalk sticks saturated with intense color, are his medium, asphalt and concrete are his canvases, and the elements are his adversary … or not, as that depends one’s point of view. He has embraced this artistic tradition, which can be traced back to Renaissance Italy, perhaps because of its temporary nature.

An Art Institute of Pittsburgh graduate and graphic designer by trade, Keirn utilizes his background to delve into outdoor large-scale fine art, with the twist being that his work is fleeting. Done outside and in chalk, the lifespan of his artwork varies greatly depending on weather conditions. Many times, shortly after hours of work, the only evidence of his labor is photographs and possibly faded outlines of his efforts. With much time and talent put into conception, planning, and on-the-street execution of his pieces, does being at the whim of Mother Nature bother the artist? On the contrary, he embraces the short-lived aspect of his art form. “The temporary nature of the media impresses me, as it easily washes off for a fresh image to be created periodically,” he states.

In addition to the highly physical nature of actually applying the chalk (kneepads, gloves, and ladders are at the top of any chalk-artist’s gear list), there is much artistic prep work done before Keirn arrives at the chalking location. Upon coming up with an idea for the subject matter, Jeffrey creates an original image via computer, printouts of which will be used for reference during the on-site application. The size of the actual space is kept in mind during this process in order to achieve correct proportions. On site, outlines are put down through projection, graph scale (gridding), or free-hand. A base of color is then laid down, upon which further layers of color are added. It is the knowledge of and skills in layering, color mixing, blending, shading, perspective, depth, and shadows which separate the men from the boys in the chalking game. Jeff has incredible mastery over all of these aspects.

Keirn is very aware of the performance art element to his chosen art form. He works well in front of an audience, enjoys meeting people while working on his murals, and often stops to answer questions about his work. He regularly brings other artists on board for projects, from friends in the local art community, a group he has affectionately dubbed the Canton Chalk Monkeys, to past classmates from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Considering it takes hours of work to complete most projects, it is no surprise that he welcomes the comradery and talents of other artists. “I find the collaborative works with two to four artists more rewarding as a shared creative process, as compared to grinding out a solo piece for several hours,” Keirn said.

Recently, the artist has broadened his horizons to include a bit more permanence in his work. He paints large plywood boards with chalkboard paint and then applies the pastels to it. While the procedure of creating the image is much the same, the boards can be preserved with high-quality pastel fixatives, and are, of course, moveable, unlike his street pieces.

Keirn first began doing chalk art in the 1990s, crafting sports and holiday themed pieces outside a local pub. He has participated in numerous chalking festivals and competitions, often winning awards. Since its inception in 2009, he has been a regular at ArtsinStark’s Chalk the Walk event. Though he has chalked in exotic locales such as Bora Bora, Canton is his most prolific venue and he looks forward to doing further local projects. “So far it’s been an incredible experience to be actively involved in the Canton Arts District movement and I’m proud to be associated with all who bring a creative vibe to Stark County,” he remarked. Jeff does chalk art commissions for arts organizations, businesses, and private event commemorations, such as weddings. He may be contacted via email at kiernj@yahoo.com.

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Laurie Fife Harbert is a writer, a Canton native, an ailurophile, a visual artist, a bibliophile, a mother of two, and an oenophile—not necessarily in that order.