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Folsom preschool teacher beautifying Sacramento's sidewalks with chalk art

Michelle Ramirez, who uses the parking lot of Joy of Children in Folsom as her canvas, recently opened a chalk art business.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Some neighborhoods in the Sacramento region are getting more colorful, and they can chalk it up to one creative preschool teacher. 

Michelle Ramirez brings a unique touch to her job at Joy of Children preschool in Folsom, working day-to-day with young children amid the coronavirus. The school was closed for a time, but reopened, and has stayed open, since May 18. 

Splashing the concrete with color, Ramirez uses the sidewalk as her creative canvas for chalk art. Disney characters, nostalgic figures and modern cartoons are the highlights of her gallery. 

"Drawing is a way of expressing myself since I don't talk about my problems or feelings," Ramirez said. "When people say they love my art, that really lifts my spirits because I put my heart into my art for other people to enjoy and to brighten up their day.

In the time her school was closed, Ramirez started a new business, Shaded Fingers, which is built around commissioned chalk art and allows people to request a celebratory drawing while still staying socially distant. She says she is learning every day, developing her drawing, shading, and chalking skills. 

"I'm just doing this for fun," Ramirez said. "Obviously…I put a lot of my heart into my art. My drawings take from three hours to almost four hours, depending on how big it is. I only use my fingers, and they definitely do get cut up from this, but I like putting my blood, sweat, and sometimes tears when I'm at home icing my fingers."

Ramirez's new business may have been born out of stay-at home orders, but she began creating chalk art months before the coronavirus pandemic. 

In November 2019, Ramirez's boyfriend was in the hospital recovering from surgery. Though the two could walk around outside a bit and play fetch with the dog, it was a similar situation to the COVID-19 stay-at-home order — limited activities. 

"From then, I'm like, I need something to do to make me happy, because staying in a hospital you get depressed after a while," Ramirez said. "Got a box of chalk, starting drawing then."

Credit: Michelle Ramirez

That artistry naturally carried into social distancing and the stay-at-home order.

"When the first COVID stuff happened, you become trapped inside your home," Ramirez said. "You're like, 'What do I do? I'm going insane.'"

The chalk art became a creative outlet and a much needed chance to get outdoors.

"This is something that I have a lot of joy in," Ramirez said. 

Ramirez says she got a lot of enthusiastic feedback from neighbors who enjoyed seeing a nostalgic cartoon or pop culture icon on a walk around the block. With the positive response, Ramirez started drawing older cartoons, like Tweedy and Popeye, in front of a senior assisted living home. Reactions to her pieces are "just a lot of love and support."

"I was really amazed at that, that people really admired my art enough to be like, 'that brightened my day,''' Ramirez said

She even received her first super fan, a young boy from her neighborhood.

"He would always come out and say 'mommy, mommy what is she drawing now? The girl's drawing!' and that just definitely made me a lot happier, so I'm like, 'I'm gonna draw for that kid,'" Ramirez said. 

That neighbor became her first customer for Shaded Fingers, receiving a ferocious chalk dinosaur on his birthday.

Going back to the preschool on May 18, Ramirez lost a good chunk of time for making chalk art for fun, until her boss offered the parking lot as a gigantic chalk board. Now, she gets to surprise the Joy of Children families with new pieces of art when they arrive for school in the morning.

Getting to see her preschoolers again makes up for weeks of distance learning and Zoom calls, Ramirez said. When in session, she cooks three days a week and when teaching, makes her own worksheets by hand, mixing her creative side with her work, just like with Shaded Fingers.

"It just sucked not being able to see my kids, and when we reopened the school, that was my reward. I don't have kids, but I treat my preschoolers like they would be, those are my babies, you know? That is why I love my job."

Shaded Fingers' rates of chalk art pieces start at $35 for smaller pieces, like a cartoon face. Full-sized characters and other large pieces are priced at $55. The business is currently only servicing the Sacramento area.

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