Most artists spend a lifetime trying to find both success and passion with their art. Tracy Lee Stum, known on Flickr as Tracy Stum, has definitely found both of them in her career. She makes a living by traveling the world to create interactive 3D street art — beautiful chalk masterpieces on sidewalks and other public walkways.
“I love what I do because I get to take a piece of pavement and transform it into this amazing, imaginary world,” Tracy says in the accompanying video. “And the great thing about it is people can actually step into and be a part of it!”
Tracy says she was born an artist who loved drawing and painting as a child. She studied art in school and became a successful mural painter. Her discovery of street art, however, was a total accident. In 1998, she happened upon a street-painting festival in Santa Barbara, CA, and was immediately drawn to it.
“I went over there and thought, ‘Oh my god! Here are hundreds of people, down on the pavement making these amazing masterpieces with chalk pastel.’ It was incredible,” Stacy says. “I mean this was museum-quality work! I thought to myself, ‘I have to do this.’ This is my tribe. This is my people. I want to join up!”
When Tracy first started, it wasn’t easy. Being a successful muralist she applied the same technique to the pavement, but quickly realized the environment was much different. Right away she became aware there was a certain way to sketch a drawing, even a certain way to apply the chalk to the surface — it was all very new. But along the way, she found the street-art community to be very helpful, and they guided her through the process.
One interesting fact about 3D street painting is that it’s meant to be viewed from one spot. All these pieces are designed to be viewed in person or through a fixed camera from the same vantage point. Artists like Tracy have to be mindful of this placement and draw to scale from that specific viewpoint.
“It’s very interesting actually to see the drawing from the backside or the side,” Tracy says, “because it looks like an abstract image and you don’t know what it is. The minute you put your eye where that camera is supposed to be, you definitely have that ‘wow’ moment and understand what it’s all about.”
After a few years, Tracy’s art opened many opportunities, and she soon began a full-time career as a street artist. One of her favorite pieces was a rendition of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” Sony commissioned Tracy to draw the piece at a DVD launch party of “The Da Vinci Code” in New York. Not only was it her most high-profile event, but she also earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
“It was a very beautiful experience for me,” Tracy says. “You know, three weeks into chalking, I worked on the tablecloth alone, and I was ready to kill myself! But in the end, everyone enjoyed it, and I walked away with the Guinness Book of World Record for the largest chalk painting by an individual. It was so surreal.”
Despite the occupational hardships — such as working in 100 degrees heat, adjusting to different time zones, and arching/posturing for different drawing positions — Tracy loves her job. Her favorite part is interacting with the public.
“I’m a natural showman,” Tracy says. “I get out there, and I love it. You get to educate people about the art form. They get so excited because you surprise them with something they never could have imagined, and it adds a little extra life to their day… and mine!”
Looking back, Tracy admits she’s had an amazing journey so far. She’s been working for over 15 years and produces anywhere from 30 to 50 paintings a year.
“I could have never imagined having this ever in my life,” Tracy says. “If someone had come to me years ago and said ‘You’re going to be drawing on the ground, traveling around the world, inspiring people,’ I would have just looked at them and said, ‘What planet are you from?’ I’m just really excited about where it’s all going.”
Visit Tracy’s photostream to see more of her artwork.