Happily ever after? Artist reimagines fairy tale characters living in the time of Covid-19

Casey Drake began making her sidewalk chalk art in early April and it has gained widespread attention since

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What would Rapunzel, Winnie the Pooh, Ariel or Batman say about the coronavirus crisis? An artist in Florida has created funny, imaginative works to answer just that.

For the last month, Casey Drake has been reimagining beloved children's fictional characters through sidewalk chalk art, updating them to reflect the new reality caused by the pandemic. Princess Aurora from the Sleeping Beauty dons a face mask and Baloo the bear from The Jungle Book stocks up on toilet paper, and characters from animation film Inside Out take us through the "Five Stages of Quarantine".

I'm thrilled that so many people are finding some joy from something I drew on my sidewalk

The mother-of-two shares photographs of her creations on her Instagram page, which currently boasts more than 28,000 followers. Compare that to her pre-chalk art figures, when she had only 88 followers, Drake says she did not expect them to attract such a sizeable following.

When she drew her first work on the sidewalk in early April, it was simply on a whim. "I originally was expecting to make a few people on my block chuckle when they went on their walk," she tells The National.

“I was sitting outside with my daughter getting some fresh air after being stuck inside for so long. I drew Olaf from Frozen for her and she loved it. Several neighbours commented on it, so it started becoming a daily tradition. I never dreamt it would reach so many people.”

Artist Casey Drake with her daughter. Courtesy Casey Drake

It was her Joe Exotic drawing that truly sparked social media attention. Someone from her neighbourhood snapped a photo and posted it on Facebook, where it was shared 24,000 times. Since then, her work has been gaining popularity, being featured on American news networks such as NPR, CBS, E News and, soon, on ABC’s Live with Kelly and Ryan.

The artist tries to complete a new drawing every day – provided it does not rain in Orlando, where she lives. From her sidewalk and via Instagram, her works are spanning the globe. Just this week, Drake says, a follower from Ireland sent a message: “My daughter was asking what time you were posting your picture.” Users are also reposting her images with translations into Spanish and Portuguese.

Drake says: “It still does not seem real. I’m thrilled that so many people are finding some joy from something I drew on my sidewalk.”

Though Drake always had a penchant for drawing and painting, she is new to using chalk. A former biology and environmental science teacher, she decided to become a stay-at-home mother two years ago. With the newfound attention towards her art, she sees the chance of becoming a full-time artist for the first time.

“I thought this was just 15 minutes of fame, but it could potentially turn into more than that. I did not really consider that a possibility until now. That is the dream, to be able to do what I love for a living,” she says. Drake now has plans to launch a YouTube channel, where she can show the drawing process.

Casey Drake creates chalk drawings of childhood characters on the sidewalk of her residential neighbourhood in Orlando, Florida. Courtesy Casey Drake

Her choice of subjects has much to do with where she lives – Orlando is only 20 minutes away from Walt Disney World – but also because she plays on people’s familiarity with these cartoons to craft her jokes. Take Rapunzel, for example, a young girl imprisoned by a sorceress in a tower for years. In Drake’s version, the character peeks out of from her window with a sardonic glance: “Oh, you are tired of social distancing? That’s cute.”

She says the neighbours have shared their ideas for jokes, too. Some have also used her sidewalk art to remind their children about social distancing. As a parent, Drake faces the same concerns. “Even to my two and a half year old, it’s hard to explain why she cannot hug her grandparents. So anything I can do to make it funny or with characters that she is familiar with, it helps a little bit.”

While her sidewalk art may brighten up her neighbours’ daily walks, it has also given the artist respite from the anxieties around the outbreak. “I was really struggling when I started with the drawings. I was staying up at night worrying about it like a lot of people are, and that is why I started drawing as a coping mechanism for myself,” says Drake.

“Now at night when I fall asleep, I think about what I’m drawing the next day and not worry too much. It’s hard. I know we are all struggling with the same thing right now.”

Drake also awaits for her mother – who has recently recovered from Covid-19 – to join her family in their home. For the future, Drake says, she hopes to invent her own characters. In the meantime, she will continue to create her sidewalk pieces, share videos and host live sessions on social media.

Though her recent popularity still feels “surreal”, Drake's work continues to bring cheer. “I hope that people will stop for a moment and smile. We are all dealing with a very sudden isolation on top of the fear around the virus. Anything that reminds us that we are in this together has value right now.”