The handwriting is on the truck
Jason Phillips’ truck isn’t just a chalkboard on wheels or a temporary work of art that changes every time it rains.
It’s also a social experiment, one designed to get people out of their comfort zones and into a little self-expression.
“We don’t like random people walking up and touching our things,” Phillips said. “I thought, ‘What would happen if I relinquished all control and let people do whatever they want?’”
Phillips decided to cover his truck with chalkboard paint and encourage anyone who was so moved to draw on it.
Almost everyone he told about his idea fretted that strangers would coat his 1999 Dodge Dakota with phrases and images he’d rather not see.
That hasn’t been the case.
“Not one bad word” has ever been scrawled in chalk. “For whatever reason, I haven’t had any trouble with it.”
Phillips is a 30-year-old engineer and physicist who works in research and development. He lives in Bowling Green with his wife, Christine.
He didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to turn his vehicle into a canvas.
A deer bolted into the driver’s side of the truck one night in late spring. Phillips found out it would cost more to fix the dent than the truck was worth.
He came up with the idea of a traveling chalkboard.
He banged out the dent in the front panel, sanded the body and bought a quart of chalkboard paint and a small roller.
Two coats and three or four hours later, he was done. He shares one hint to others considering the same path: Don’t work in direct sunlight. The paint dries too quickly and doesn’t spread evenly.
Whenever Phillips goes to the grocery store or for frozen yogurt, to a class or out to dinner, he gets his art studio ready.
On the tailgate, he writes in big and bold chalky letters, “DRAW ON ME!”
Beneath that, in smaller print, he writes, “Yes, you! Really!”
He leaves out sticks of white chalk and chunky pieces of colored sidewalk chalk.
He goes about his business and waits to see where the creative mood will lead people. He never approaches people and asks them to draw; he leaves the decision to the individual artist.
As expected, kids are much more likely to take chalk in hand and go to town—after they’ve confirmed with their parents that it’s OK to mark on someone else’s truck.
That’s exactly what Ciara Gentry, 9, and Caleb Burke, 6, did when they walked out of the sweetFrog frozen yogurt store in Massaponax one day recently.
They paused at the truck, looked around to see if it was OK, and picked up chalk.
“I think it’s an awesome idea,” said Ciara’s mother, Melissa Gentry of Spotsylvania County. “That is so cool.”
Phillips has photographed lots of artwork that people created on his truck. The photos are displayed on Flickr, an online gallery. (Go to flickr.com/photos/124481984@N03/page1/)
They show cats and frogs, regular turtles and Teenage Mutant Ninja ones, a dragon and Wile E. Coyote, beach scenes and rising suns.
Adults tend to leave inspirational messages such as “Carpe diem,” “Inspire,” “Give back” or “Live Long and Prosper.”
Kids, on the other hand, are almost predisposed to doodling. There seems to be some innate—and almost forbidden—pleasure in taking a piece of chalk and running it down the entire length of a truck.
Phillips also has noticed that people are more willing to be creative when they’re doing fun things, like eating out or having an ice cream.
No one has ever drawn on his truck at work.
Phillips plans to drive the Dakota as long as it’s willing. When he has to buy a another vehicle, he’s considering giving it the chalkboard treatment, too.
“Every time I go into a store and come out, there’s something new on it. It’s always changing, it’s not permanent,” he said.
“Even if I have a beautiful piece of work or a giant mess, it’s all going to come off when it rains.”
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425