At Threadfellows we help entrepreneurs make their mark remarkable. Having this as our purpose connects us with interesting businesses all over the country. We Talk Chalk is one of those businesses, and we wanted to take some time to share their story with our Threadfellows community.
For Melanie Stimmell-Van Latum of We Talk Chalk, tightropes, giant cookies, and man-eating sharks are all in a day’s work as the world’s most sought-after street painter and creator of giant 3D scenes that invite the viewer to jump in and become part of the art. To see what we mean, view their portfolio!
We caught up with Melanie in an airport on her way to Daytona, Florida. There, her team installed a giant billboard and ground painting image which will draw attention from more than 250,000 fans who attend the Daytona 500 the end of February.
“The image will look as if you’re walking across a canyon on a tightrope with a waterfall between two Toyota cars,” said Melanie. “When Toyota came to us, they wanted something outdoorsy, since it’s a sponsorship of the Daytona Speedway “nest” by Toyota and BassPro Shops,” Melanie said. 3D images were printed and will be installed on site.
The monumental size and illusionary aspects of 3D street paintings offer a unique vehicle for any message, as well as serving as built-in photo opportunities. Melanie’s clients invite audiences to become part of the imagery and actively engage with their brand.
Stimmell herself is a gold medal-winning artist and the only woman to ever hold the title “Maestra Madonna” in two countries. We asked her how she got started in what sure looks to be a dream job.
She actually left what many would call a dream job to paint full-time. Before We Talk Chalk, Melanie was a technical director on South Park, the Emmy-award-winning adult animated sitcom created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone and developed by Brian Graden for the television network, Comedy Central.
“I started at South Park the same year I started street painting 19 years ago. A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to try painting at a festival in Florida. I fell in love with it from the start. It was different from working alone in my studio at an easel. You’re interacting with people as you create the artwork,” said Melanie. She worked as technical director on South Park, while street painting and doing murals on her own for about 8 years.
Melanie’s husband (and WTC’s co-owner) Remco Van Latum had a vision that went beyond being a solo artist. “My husband had his own business in Holland and he has a business mind. At the time I was pregnant with our son. I had all these projects coming my way that I couldn’t do because I was really pregnant. I was handing them to fellow street painters. Remco urged me to look at the business a different way,” Melanie said.
Remco and Melanie formed We Talk Chalk. Their first month in business, they landed a marketing campaign with Coors Light involving paintings in six different cities.
Beyond conception and creating the artwork, We Talk Chalk drives engagement through social media, press releases, contests, and other high-impact marketing channels. On-location, they provide live performances and opportunities for the audience to help complete pieces alongside their world-famous artists.
The Walk Talk Chalk team includes Melanie as creative director and Remco as managing director of the business. They also have three artists who work with them on a regular basis and two studio assistants. They bring in other team members as needed.
They’ve done work all over the country, as well as in Thailand, Colombia, China, Italy, Holland, Turkey and even the Republic of Georgia. They do about 100 paintings a year, with about 30% done live versus digitally ahead of with installation done on site. Sometimes they’ll start a canvas in the studio and finish it on site.
Even though it all sounds glamorous, Melanie says, the main entrepreneur’s challenges are pragmatic and real. “The biggest challenge is keeping our artists working and earning a steady income flow for my husband and me. This is what we do full-time. Others depend upon us. It’s important for us to work when there’s work, even if it means things are really crazy for a while.”
Melanie and Remco balance each other well, “My husband is more on the business side of things. I stay on the creative side. We hear all the time, ‘How can you guys work together?’ For us that’s easy. We’re in it together every day. We know what has to be done. We’re there for each other. It’s different than if he were just someone I hired. He really understands me and what I need in order to be as creative as I can be. We know how to work together to move a project forward.”
Another entrepreneurial challenge they’ve encountered is creating healthy boundaries between home and work. Says Melanie, “At first we had our office at home. I doing most of the work at home with a baby. Everything was blurred. I was holding the baby while I was doing a sketch. We had to make it a 9-5 job as much as possible to stay sane. We rented a studio. That was a big risk because it costs money, but it was important for creating space and balance. Also, we’re not constrained to doing just one project at a time because that’s all that will fit in my driveway. We can have multiple projects going at once. Having dedicated space specific to your work is a huge benefit.”
While taking the leap from artist to entrepreneur was a big step, Melanie says, “You just have to go for it. I don’t regret anything about how things took shape with me and my business. At that time, I had a really well-paying, very stable job with insurance and a steady income. I had all that. I just wasn’t feeling it. So I took the leap, which was a gigantic risk. You know, we had a child. I had a mortgage. But I just had to see if it would work. And I’m so glad I did.”
And we sure are, too, so we can enjoy the eye-grabbing, smile-inducing artwork created by Melanie Stimmell-Van Latum and the team at We Talk Chalk. See more at www.wetalkchalk.com!