“Are you the Chalkoholic?” is a question that Tonia Crawford gets asked in public now. What started as a fun Instagram handle for her to showcase her artwork (and a play on her love of chocolate) is now the official name of her business.
When Crawford was younger, she was always called to art, but her experience with using chalk for artistic expression came later. She ventured into using it as a medium in 2001, first at Brewer’s Alley in Frederick, Maryland. Now, chalk is Crawford’s most used — as in over a thousand chalkboard designs — and favorite art medium, and her work has been embraced by Northern Virginian businesses and people alike.
If you’ve been in a NoVA brewpub and noticed some chalk art, whether it’s a depiction of a pint of beer or a cartoon character, don’t be surprised if it was the Chalkoholic. That’s how she gets business — people see her art in person or online, and word of mouth turns out in her favor.
“I can’t even begin to describe how thankful I am for everyone’s support. Just to be contacted, and almost be overwhelmed with work, is just a dream. Because this is what I wanted to do all my life, and I didn’t really get to do it until I was in my 40s. It is really exciting, and the community has been so incredible,” she says. If you’re watching the Chalkoholic at work, she makes it look easy, but that doesn’t mean creating layers upon layers of shapes and details isn’t demanding.
“It is a lot of work,” Crawford says. “When I’m done doing a project, I am physically and mentally drained — in a really good way.” What’s it like having work that, due to its medium, is inherently erasable? Well, it depends. There’s something inspiring about knowing there’s certain work she’ll eventually have to erase and replace, but Crawford does have a hard time parting with certain works, particularly her depiction of Frankenstein’s monster and his bride. (She recognizes the Halloween-themed pieces aren’t necessarily welcome year-round.) Still, chalk is sturdier than you might imagine, even without a great protective sealant.
“I have clients that have murals that have been up for seven, eight years, that are fine … it stays on there,” Crawford says.
Her drawing of Napoleon Dynamite even achieved some notability, thanks to actor Efren Ramirez, who played Pedro in the 2004 film, showing support for the piece on her Instagram.
“That was the first drawing I did where I got a celebrity response on my Instagram,” she says. She doesn’t keep many of her creations — most go to the shops and people she works with, as business is booming. But she hasn’t lost her commitment to her art.
“It just gives [a piece] an extra layer of what you’re good at, when you’re just allowed a little bit of creative freedom,” she says.
This story originally ran in our July issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.