It's just after Noon on a weekday at Central City Tap House. The lunchtime crowd is eating and drinking, servers are sashaying past chairs, and the speakers are playing rock tunes from the 70's and 80's. No one's really paying attention to the young woman in the center, holding a piece of chalk in one hand, and a copy of the logo for Alaskan Brewing Company in the other hand.
"A lot of people come to the Tap House and a lot of people know the chalkboards, and so when I start drawing them they go 'Oh, it's you that does this! I get in a conversation - usually we'll have a table of six sitting here just chatting with me the whole time," says the woman.
She's Alyssa Prince, and she's working on a chalkboard sign that is going to be a welcome and promotional message for Alaskan Brewing Company, who is sending down representatives later this month.
She originally started out as a waitress and bartender, but now wears a lot of hats.
"..when I started doing the chalkboards, I was missing out on some tables and they were like 'Okay, well we'll just start paying you to do them so you aren't losing out on money either way,' so they basically made this job for me," she says. "And then offered me the graphic designer position when their graphic designer left. So I do that two days a week, and do the chalkboards twice a month at each location, and do the serving and bartending still.”
The WMU art school alum didn't get in to chalk art until a few years ago, when she was asked to create a simple sign at her old job at Old Chicago in Portage.
“...they have a giant board, and I did it for Christmas with like a Santa - it was up for some Christmas promo thing and it's over by their bathroom. So I got to hang out in the corner and drink a beer and draw it. But I ended up spending five hours on it and making it this giant mural and got super obsessed with it. And they were like 'Okay, really Alyssa? We just needed something quick!'" she remembers.
In addition to the chalk boards she draws at Central City in Kalamazoo and Portage and at The Union, Prince also does live art demonstrations around town. Her chalk art method is simple:
"This is just sidewalk chalk. I do all the outlining first and then I go through and color it in and make sure it looks as realistic as I want it to or as cartoony as I want it to," she says.
"I actually got a commission one time from doing this too for a family who lives across the street. They come in here all the time and they just happened to see me drawing these a few times and called me over and said 'Could you please paint us a painting of our daughters?' I asked her about it the other day, how they were liking it, and she's like 'Actually I had to give it to my mother in law because she fell in love with it and was obsessed with it, and she moved away, so we had to give it to her as a going-away present."
Prince is thinking that grad school might be a good possibility for the future, but for now she's enjoying her job - and hopes that other do, too.
"I love doing this. It's better than serving, better than bartending. I'd much rather be doing something that I went to school for, and this is pretty close to it."
Prince will be doing chalk art live during August's Art Hop at Cupcake Zoo.