Chalk-Talkin' Pictures

Chalk Talks were (and might still be) a form of entertainment in which an artist conversed with a live audience through the impromptu use of images, some rendered in chalk on a blackboard, others with crayon or pen on sheets of paper. Before movies and TV, Chalk Talks were all the rage—a splendid way to laugh away the hours during a vaudeville show or church social. Sometimes bawdy but all times witty, the Chalk Talk was interactive theater at its most innocent. In between predetermined compositions conceived by the artist, the audience would routinely call out words, like “duck,” “pipe,” or “girl,” which the artist would draw in a comical manner, often in concert with something else. What to do with a simple circle? Make it into a huge backside, of course. Here’s what every Chalk Talker needed know:

As Harlan Tarbell further noted in his book How to Chalk Talk (from which the above was excerpted), “The field of chalk talk is unlimited.” Not just mere entertainment, it can be made into a “far-reaching service in business and professional life—for salesmanship, education and religious work.” Chalk Talking came about during the golden years of illustration, and Tarbell wrote, the reason for the reliance on pictures was simple: “Vision is one of the primary mental processes.” He adds that anyone can do it because it is “not necessarily a gift.” Chalk Talking is an accomplishment “and a fair ability . . . may be acquired by a person who is not naturally gifted as an artist, just as surely as a fair ability at piano playing may be acquired by a person who is not naturally musical.”

So, for those of you who are not naturally visual (or naturally musical), here are some pages showing just how easy it is to draw for the Chalk Talk stage.

2 thoughts on “Chalk-Talkin' Pictures

  1. Kerry Kistler

    Thanks! It’s nice to see a new digital reminder of this old analog art form. We have a regular column about trick cartooning chalk talks in the free e-zine Chalk Illustrated. Stop by for a look at ChalkIllustrated.com
    Thanks for the article,
    Kerry Kistler, publisher

  2. Tyler

    I loved reading about this.  Is there anyone doing a digital equivalent of a chalk talk today?  I know there are the Cut and Paste tournaments around the world, but that’s about the closest I can think of to this.

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