Local Barista Creates Chalkboard Masterpieces

Design Student Builds Up Following for Artwork

During her six years as a barista, design student Kjersten Niskanen has built up a reputation as a master of chalk.

Every day, customers who glance at the chalkboards in Biggby Coffee are treated to meticulously drawn letters detailing the daily specials or posing a trivia question, and a few skillful drawings.

“I just started experimenting with it,” said Niskanen of getting started. “It kind of took off from there.”

Niskanen has a special passion for typography and is one year away from finishing a bachelor’s in graphic design from UW-Stevens Point, a degree which has helped her take the chalkboard creations to the next level.

“It’s a lot of practice, practice, practice,” she said. “I started experimenting with it and playing with it a little more, and I’ve noticed an improvement in the boards that I’ve been doing. It just makes it that much more fun to do.”

Her artwork has built up a following by customers who look forward to the next board. “It gets me so excited when people get excited,” Niskanen said. “It makes me want to find something more extravagant. I know a couple regulars come in and they’re like, ‘what are you going to do next?’”

A lover of pastels and charcoal, Niskanen enjoys using chalk as well. “It’s definitely more forgiving, thank goodness, and it can help you add dimension to the typefaces and the typography that you pick, because you can add shadows, highlight and accent, and layer.”

When deciding what to draw on the chalkboard, she likes to pay attention to national days or anything special going on. During the April snowstorm, she wanted to emphasize positivity and so drew up a trivia question asking the coldest recorded temperature in Wisconsin (The answer: -55) in warm colors.

For a class project, Niskanen designed the typeface “Iron Quarry” by drawing it out on paper, scanning it, and tracing over the lines in Adobe Illustrator. To mirror the great depths of Wazee Lake, she played with different strokes and layers.

The daily specials are also a consideration when choosing her color scheme and fonts. “For smoothies, I would want to pick something that’s more tropical,” she said. The font would have to be “fun and open,” while a drink like an Earl Grey tea latte would need something fancier, like script.

Niskanen’s passion for typography and courses at UWSP have helped her learn the many different ways that type can be used to convey a message.

“Every single day we take in all of this information through text, and to help emphasize the message that you’re getting, you can change those shapes,” she said. “A lot of people view text as just text, but when you actually break it down and you look at it as a shape, there’s so much more that you can play with.”

Kjersten Niskanen poses by the “Dragon’s Breath” board.

She applies the rule of thirds when laying out the board in order to give it some structure. For the elaborate “Dragon’s Breath” board, which features a colorful dragon and bold type, the text is placed in accordance with this rule. The board took about two hours and a little pre-planning to complete.

“I wanted to do a little bit of everything to make it pop,” Niskanen said.

As she finishes her studies, Niskanen is busy applying for a summer internship while also helping design logos and branding for a friend’s new company, PureInvo. She’s considering testing her talents at Wausau’s annual Chalkfest this summer.

For those who want to get into chalk art but are intimidated, Niskanen has a few words of words of advice.

“Sketch it out, plan to make sure you give yourself enough room. Pick a color theme first: it’ll make things a lot easier,” she said. “Follow your gut. Originally I was not this good. As long as you have patience and you take your time and just have fun with it, you never know where it can take you.”



Kaylin S
Author: Kaylin S

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