Artist Chris Cole finds a safe space to create again

Chris Cole

Chris Cole. Photo by Sophia Thomas

Chris Cole is a 37-year-old poet, doodler, and painter. She’s worked as an artist and vendor for Street Sense for two years. Chris discovered the newspaper while living in a women’s shelter and joined with the goal of earning enough money to leave the shelter and stay off the streets. She found housing in April of 2022 and continues to create through Street Sense. Her artwork was featured on an art show on Sept. 29.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


What is your earliest memory of making art?


Being in church with my dad and him trying to keep us quiet, so he would “play draw” little stick figures and try to have us replicate them and draw little funny faces.

What makes your art stand out?


What comes out is how I internalize energy and put it back out. Everybody’s art is one of a kind. When you see what I’ve done, it’s got some polka dots on it, some swirls, it’s got a couple flowers, it’s a little girly, normally there’s some color. I’ve really got this thing with dots.

What inspires your artwork?


A lot of what you’ll see in my doodles is nervous energy or anxiety that would have come out in a different way if I hadn’t had a pen. When I can’t really find the words, it’s sometimes easier to just draw it out. There was one [piece] that I did when Will Smith smacked Chris Rock, where I had come in and expected to write a whole piece but really, I just started drawing and it just flew out on the page. That was really cool. It was the first time at Street Sense where I was like, “Whoa, a picture is worth a thousand words, but an article’s only worth as many words as you make it.” I sold tons of papers that week because I was so proud of my artwork.

Chrisart hr
An illustration by Chris Cole

What is your ideal environment to make art in?


I make my best artwork when there’s a lot going on, when there’s someone speaking and I can kind of just have their voice in my head but I’m focused on the artwork. That’s where the doodling started. In high school, I’d do a lot of doodling while taking notes, and I found that I can memorize most of what the speaker was saying as opposed to taking half-assed notes.
How has your relationship with art changed throughout your life?

It’s always been there, especially as a child, in high school, and in college. There are lots of opportunities for you to use it with posters and projects and things like that. But as you get older, if you’re not doing it for your own personal hobby, there’s less opportunity unless you make time for it. I’m grateful that Street Sense fosters that for us.

Describe a time when art had a profound effect on your life.


When I was in college, I finished my major early, so I got to take all these electives. In my last year, all I did was art classes. I took wheel-thrown pottery for almost two years and got pretty good at it. It was cool because you start with the clay, then you build up to a base, and there’s a whole process, but then at the end, you finally get to paint it. It was all ombre and fading colors. That year really taught me a lot about myself and it was just nice to immerse myself in art and not have to be so rigid in my studies.

Do you still have your old art pieces?


I have some of them. Through homelessness, I’ve lost my storage unit and lost all of my yearbooks and artwork. I had a lifetime of artwork in that storage unit and now it’s gone. Now, creating new art is fun, and it’s cool that Street Sense keeps it safe for you.

If you could impart one message to viewers of your art, what would it be?


Life doesn’t have to be a struggle, just go with the flow. Go with the flow.


Issues |Art|Community|Shelters

Region |Washington DC

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