Cinthia Santos and Benjamin Levy come from artistic backgrounds, but the young Miami-based mural artists and founders of Chalk & Brush didn’t always know where life would lead them. A former fashion student, Cinthia spent her days sketching and drawing on campus. One day someone suggested she try drawing on a chalkboard; this triggered an a-ha moment for the girl who grew up in Cuba surrounded by artists and sign painters.
“This was back in 2013 before the trend of mason jars and chalkboards had really caught on,” says Cinthia. “I gave it a shot, and a few local vendors loved it and gave me a chance. That’s how it all began.”
She later met Ben, a then pediatric trauma nurse who grew up doing graffiti in Miami. At the time, Ben would work 12-hour shifts for six consecutive days and then join Cinthia to help paint for the next eight days. This went on for a few years. The day he left nursing; their business began to boom. The demand for chalkboards was increasing across Miami, and Chalk & Brush started to fabricate them as well. Then later, the murals began to take over.
“Larger murals were always the goal, but we weren’t getting that work back then because we didn’t have a portfolio to show,” says Ben. “dBakers Sweet Studio was the first mural we ever did together.”
Then the calls just started coming in. The duo began receiving inquiries from some of their favorite local eateries, and that’s when they knew they were on to something. They did work for Pincho, Night Owl Cookies, Lokal, and one day they got a call from Starbucks. The global brand’s southeast office is located near one of the restaurants Cinthia and Ben were commissioned to paint. A Starbucks Creative Director came across their work one day and fell in love. Chalk & Brush now does custom artwork for Starbucks locations across the southeast.
“We first started with Starbucks in 2016, and now they trust us with full creative freedom,” says Ben. “Starbucks has stringent guidelines for painting their mermaid, and we were asked to create a custom siren for them. We went one step further and created a large installation with several open Moby Dick books, and then Cinthia hand-painted on the installation. It turned out amazing. Only a hand full of artists across the country are lucky enough to do something like that for them. It was an honor.”
But Starbucks isn’t the only major brand that wants to work with the talented artists. They’ve just been commissioned to do custom artwork for Spotify, as well as several 100 x 28-foot art pieces at a West Palm Beach hotel. An even bigger commission, the team has been selected to curate five city blocks for The Related Group in West Palm Beach as well.
Chalk & Brush’s work has been sprinkled throughout Miami’s windows and walls from Westchester to Wynwood to Miami Beach. Their murals are colorful, joyful, make you feel proud to live in Miami – and take a selfie. But chances are you’ll never know the work is theirs.
“I think people really enjoy working with us because we create artwork that’s truly for them,” says Cinthia. “Every client is different, so everything we create is custom for their aesthetic and their brand. We can scale it up or scale it down, but it will never be duplicated. We look at their demographics, their location, their concept, and a lot of times less is more.”
Social media has definitely driven the success of Chalk & Brush and the “Instagramable” murals they create around town. The creative company receives 75% of its work from connections formed through the popular social platform.
One of Chalk & Brush’s unique selling points is the ability to know what the general public wants to see and photograph. The tech-savvy team offers clients social metric analytics to demonstrate the reach their business can achieve by adding custom Chalk & Brush artwork to their walls.
With a constant flow of hospitality venues opening throughout Miami’s vibrant neighborhoods, it seems Chalk & Brush will continue to succeed in the market.
“People are embracing kitschy and weird and want to represent their city and their origin, says Cinthia. “We’ve met so many entrepreneurs opening up small businesses, and as a small business ourselves, we love to see that and help elevate their brand.”
But not everyone can afford to hire Chalk & Brush. To pay it forward to small businesses like the one they started from their living room, the team has begun crowdsourcing campaigns. By providing artwork to local businesses in underprivileged neighborhoods, Chalk & Brush wants even the lesser-known mom and pop shops to be part of the conversation with new signage and eye-catching murals.
Chalk & Brush will also be hosting apprenticeship seminars at their new studio in the future, focusing on the art of sign painting. They intend to offer hospitality industry members a chance to change out their menus and chalkboards from time to time to reduce costs. They’ve also begun offering vinyl options for clients who can’t afford to fly the team out to paint a mural.
“We want to make art accessible for everyone,” says Cinthia. “From mom and pop coffee shops in Hialeah to Ford Motors.”
Chalk & Brush has been leaving their footprint all over South Florida for years, but if you visit Tennessee, North Carolina, NYC, Chicago, and Las Vegas, you’ll likely spot some of their work as well.
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