Merrin Straw is leaving her mark on Lodi—and it’s written in chalk. The Lodi resident, artist, and owner of Chalk Talk is decorating the town one a-frame and menu board at a time.
“I’ve always been an artist so whatever job I’ve had I’ve always jumped on the chance to use my art,” Merrin says. “If there’s a chalkboard or whiteboard involved I was always the first one to volunteer to draw or write something.”
While art has always been a part of Merrin’s life, her venture into creating custom chalk art for local businesses, weddings, and more started in 2009 when she began writing the menu boards at Oh My Yogurt where she worked. Then, working for the Chamber of Commerce, Merrin started decorating the a-frames for Lodi’s favorite events including farmers markets, street fairs, and wine strolls.
Before too long, people were asking Merrin for custom orders—and paying for her work.
“I found myself getting more jobs so I decided to run with it and I haven’t stopped since,” she says.
In addition to custom pieces made for people’s homes and events, Merrin has a lot of artwork up in the community. She consistently creates works of chalk art for Scotto’s Wine & Cider, where her colorful farmers market piece is currently on display, and has also contributed to Mokelumne Brewhouse, 20 North, and Klinker Brick Winery—to name a few.
“Inspiration for my art comes from wanting people to feel good in whatever space they take up,” Merrin says. “My goal is to create an atmosphere that feels whole and intentional.”
As an artist, Merrin’s motto is “just say yes.” She believes that having a comfort zone kills creativity, so when the opportunity to push her boundaries comes up, she’s jumping—for joy—at the chance.
“I love to create and I love to make people happy. This is a passion for me, so I always get really excited to work with people who are also passionate,” Merrin says.
While creating for others the client often dictates the colors, fonts, and themes of the piece, but when Merrin is allowed creative freedom, she’s eager to work with bright hues and challenge herself with realism. At Scotto’s, Merrin is often left to her own devices, and that turns out some of her favorite all-time pieces.
“Each year I get to do something different, I get to push myself, and they give me a lot of freedom to do what I want,” Merrin says.
Merrin’s work covers quite a range. Some days her commissioned pieces are pretty fonts. Other projects require colorful images with no words. In every instance, Merrin is working with the client to create something that meets their individual needs, while bringing her own creative flair to the table—or a-frame, menu board, or wall.
“The creative process begins with understanding what the piece will be used for,” Merrin explains. “Then it’s designing the piece and creating a mock-up.”
Typically Merrin is using chalk and chalk pens to create, but sometimes a job with a more permanent need calls for paint. The key is taking it slow and understanding the best medium to work in, from the pencils she uses to sketch the initial design to the graphic design software that helps her scale it.
When Merrin isn’t painting the town rainbow, she’s practicing art at home or contributing to the community in other ways. She refers to herself as a “multiprenuer.” In addition to owning her own design company—Chalk Talk—Merrin also works as a caregiver, one-on-one mentor, offers bookkeeping services, and runs an online company to help law enforcement officials.
“I gave up the idea of having one job full-time job because it didn’t allow me the flexibility and variety I was looking for,” Merrin says. “By having multiple jobs I can do a little bit of everything I love.”
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