Using chalk to enhance business

Posted Dec. 19, 2012, at 9:37 a.m.

Jill Gardner’s artistic leanings can be chalked up to artistic family genes and a simple love of creating. She takes that love and translates it into art with the stroke of chalk on chalkboards.

Gardner is the owner of Bangor-based Chalk Art Creations. While the business is still in its early years, she’s made a name for herself in the local community and throughout Maine with her chalk creations.

Gardner, a left-handed artist, credits her family with passing on the creative gene. At age 60 her grandmother, also lefty, decided to start exploring art and painting. Her grandfather worked at Bacon Printing in Bangor. There she gained an appreciation for the printing industry and using type to create beautiful designs. The gift of a calligraphy set from an aunt unlocked an outlet to learn to creatively design type for art. And her mother allowed her to express herself with art.

“Mom would let me paint whatever wanted,” she said. “And I liked the quiet time all to myself. It felt like no time was passing at all.”

Gardner started her artistic journey with acrylic paints, but discovered her niche in pastels and chalk. That was all it took to develop the passion for a unique outlet. She is a trained teacher and taught elementary school. However, when she decided to leave teaching, art called.

That’s when she started working at Starbucks in Bangor. With a constantly changing menu of seasonal drinks and specials, working with chalkboards was a no-brainer. As she worked on the boards, she began taking pictures of the designs.

Over the past three years she has begun building a client base that includes Giacomo’s, Anthony John’s Day Spa, Pepinos, Moe’s Original Bar B Que, Seamus’ Deli, Mount Hope Variety, Coach House Restaurant, and Sweetest Thing Weddings. This past summer, Gardner was tapped to be one of the sidewalk artists for L.L. Bean’s 100th anniversary celebration.

Amber Small, one of the owners of Sweetest Thing Weddings in Bangor, first knew Gardner as a tenant. Now she knows her as a valuable business associate.

“I watched her start working with her art medium,” Small said. “She was always in the apartment making things and creating things. I saw her work at Starbucks because I have coffee addiction. That’s when we started subcontracting a lot of our work with her and pushed her to go further and further with her art.”

Now, Gardner handles all of Sweetest Thing Weddings chalkboards and many custom designed pieces.

“She makes really strong pieces that are aesthetically pronounced and crucial to our design,” Small said. “Recently, she did a board for [Morna’s] 85th birthday that is in a huge frame, ‘The 85 Things We Love About Morna,’ that is now displayed in her home forever.”

When the chalk dust has settled, Gardner anticipates continuing to grow her business with an eye to helping business owners and individuals show off their unique voice.