Types & Terms

This page is for those new to pavement art, with a description of typical types of artists and slang terms used to describe them. It’s taken from a British perspective, so if you have any ‘new’ terms or descriptions from your part of the world, then please get in-touch.

PAVEMENT ARTIST

Also known as STREET-ARTISTS. This is an overall term to describe any person creating art on the pavement in a public place. This is not limited to chalking art but can include all art forms. In the late 1800’s, Street Potters, paper cutters and so-called “writers without hands” where also classed as Pavement Artists.

lithography2-1829

SCREEVER

A British slang term for Pavement Artist; this relates to artists working directly on the pavement with chalks. The term harks back to how street art developed in Britain and Ireland, the word SCREEVER (Scrivener/Scribe) is thought to originate in Elizabethan England and is based on the written words and messages that became known as BEGGING LETTERS, the copperplate lettering that artists performed on the street. Eventually the term was used to describe all artists working in chalks on the pavement.

In Henry Mayhews LONDON LABOUR AND THE POOR; 1851 (a Cyclopedia of the Condition and Earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work) Pavement artists where classed in Vol. 1 “The London Street Folk” as: “THE STREET-ARTISTS—as black profile-cutters, blind paper-cutters “screevers,” or draughtsmen in coloured chalk on the pavement, writers without hands, and readers without eyes”

MADONNARI

A term used to describe ITALIAN STREET PAINTERS; following the tradition of pavement artists painting /chalking the Madonna and child on the pavement. The term is thought to date back to the 1500’s but firm evidence of this is not yet proven. It seems the modern tradition of Italian Street Painting began in the mid 1970’s with a number of festivals and events in Italy and the USA. The Madonnari artists use chalks directly on the pavement, manly producing art based upon a Catholic Religious theme.

Italian MADONNARI, Rome 1963.

Italian MADONNARI, Rome 1963.

GOCKER

A local Liverpool/North West England term for a pavement artist. The term is thought to originate in Ireland and is most likely derived from the Victorian slang term Golker (Beggar)

BOARD-MAN

A pavement artist who produces all his works on boards or canvas. A Board Man do not work directly onto the pavement, but onto canvas, boards or paper. This method may be more flexible when it comes to being ‘moved on.’

Sometimes Screevers would bring along pre-prepared drawings and paintings on boards to sell to passers-by. Board Men were not considered REAL pavement artists by traditional screevers, because much of the work produced was done at home, or even by another artist and many board men were looked up on as being “no better than beggars.“

"Boardman" OLDHAM, England Cir.1935

Board-man: OLDHAM, England Cir.1935

CADGER SCREEVERS

An old term for pavement artists who couldn’t really draw, and pretended to be artists. Some CADGERS used to pay REAL ARTISTS to hire out pictures for the day, and beg for money on the pavement without doing any art. This old scam was well known and generally hated by the genuine pavement artist, as it gave everybody a bad name.

If caught begging by the police, a Cadger Screever was often asked to prove his ‘artistry’ before a judge, who would produce a piece of paper and chalks for the defendant to draw on in court. They were soon found out!

STREET-PAINTER

A modern day term to describe a pavement artist; street painters today use a mixture of chalks, pastels and water-based paints or pure pigments to decorate the streets. The term is only very recent (within the last ten years) and originates from the pavement art festivals movement.

Modern day Street-Painter.

Modern day STREET-PAINTER: Liverpool 2011

RANGOLI

Also known as KOLAM: A folk art from India, Rangoli are decorative designs made on living room and courtyard floors during Hindu festivals typically consisting of bright colours. They are meant to be sacred welcoming areas for the Hindu deities. The ancient symbols have been passed down through the ages, from each generation to the next, keeping both the art form and the tradition alive. The patterns are typically created with materials including coloured rice, dry flour, and (coloured) sand or even flower petals.

As a sacred street-art, Rangoli is very popular in India. It is usually drawn by Indian women in front of their doors or gates.

CHALKS

Drawing material used by pavement artists, primarily because they would easily wash away with the rain and not damage the pavements. Pavement art was tolerated in Britain, providing the artist washed away his work at the end of each day. To save money, many artists made their own chalks at home, a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. George Orwell in his 1933 novel, Down and out in Paris & London, describes a chalk recipe made by London pavement artists, as consisting of coloured pigments and condensed milk!

Before chalks, artists would use broken bits of clay smoking pipes to “screeve” messages and artwork on the pavement.

PITCH

This would be a location where a pavement artist would set-up chalking the pavement. Many prime pitches would be highly prized, and often turf wars could arise by opportunist, setting up on a lucrative pitch. Fights were not uncommon. In London, some ‘old timers’ worked the same pitches for over 40 years.

ANAMORPHIC ART

Also known as 3D PAVEMENT ART; dates from around the mid-eighties, with a number of practitioners developing this idea of illusionary 3D art. The art works when viewed from one particular point of view, and works better when photographed. This type of work owes a lot of its success to the development of the internet.

Kurt Wenner 3D pavement art

Anamorphic pavement art: KURT WENNER 2007

INTERACTIVE PAVEMENT ART

A way of involving the casual passer-by in the creative process. Today, my own company UrbanCanvas produce interactive street-art events and happenings across the UK & Europe, designed at getting people to become not just bystanders, but ARTISTS in a public space.

UrbanCanvas workshop in Beacon, South Wale 2012

UrbanCanvas workshop in Brecon, South Wales 2012

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