It was the color that caught Dave Goodhand’s eye. Walking along the Mississippi River around the St. Anthony Main area, he glanced down at the pavement and, almost subconsciously, heeded the instructions written in red chalk.
Hours earlier, Taylor Tinkham knelt in the same spot — a cement square of sidewalk in Water Power Park, which stretches onto Hennepin Island — drawing shapes and etching words.
“Take a deep breath,” she wrote. And: “What made you laugh today?”
Tinkham dusted off her hands, jumped to her feet and stood in the open blue circle she’d just chalked out. She closed her eyes. She exhaled.
“I always pause in my own CeMental Break,” she said.
That’s what Tinkham has dubbed the creations she’s sketching around Minneapolis to promote mindful living and mental health. Since April, a couple hundred CeMental Breaks have popped up throughout the city encouraging passersby to stop and take a moment for themselves.
With her bag of chalk (containing 16 colors, thanks to Amazon’s variety pack) tied around her waist, Tinkham walked farther down the riverside path. She halted for a second to consider a splotch of ground — potential canvas. She thought better of it and kept moving.
“I’ve become a bit of a pavement connoisseur,” Tinkham joked. (See a video at startribune.com/variety/inspired).
The formula for a CeMental Break is simple. Each starts with an open circle and the command to pause. Then there’s a call to breathe and reflect — and usually a few doodles to add pops of color to the dull concrete or asphalt.
“My hope is that if someone’s in that place where they’re not feeling great — they’re down, they’re stressed, they’re frustrated, whatever it is — I can at least give them a moment in their day,” Tinkham said.
Tinkham was already tuned in to such healing practices, having turned to meditation and mindfulness exercises about three years ago when she was dealing with stress and chronic pain. Since then, the 29-year-old — who earned her undergraduate degree in studio art at Macalester College — started working toward her master’s degree in holistic health studies at St. Catherine University.
The idea for CeMental Breaks, which combines her two academic areas of study, came to Tinkham during an April blizzard. By the time the snow melted a few weeks later, she was ready to bring the concept to life on the city’s streets and sidewalks.
“Why can’t adults play with chalk?” she said. “It can be almost therapeutic, and you feel like you’re doing something good for your community.”
Though so far she has done most of the drawing herself, Tinkham has taken to Instagram to recruit an army of artists to brighten pavement around the world. Already, replicas of her signature doodle have appeared in Iowa, Oregon and Wisconsin.
The long-term goal is to spark a sidewalk chalk movement focused on “making mental health public and seen.” Both the acts of drawing the CeMental Breaks and pausing in them can help people live mindfully, Tinkham said.
The beauty of the chalk is that it washes away with the rain, so the CeMental Breaks are impermanent. “People stop seeing things when they pass them every day,” Tinkham said.
The CeMental Break design also contains deeper symbolism. The circles Tinkham draws are always open, which she says has a double meaning. They’re supposed to be inviting, welcoming people to stand in them. But the open circle is also a Japanese symbol, enso, which Tinkham said represents “our awesome imperfection — like how beautiful it is that none of us are perfect.”
Tinkham tailors her designs and prompts to her mood and surroundings. She’s drawn little teeth around a CeMental Break outside her dentist’s office, encouraging people to pause and relax their jaws. A rosy ring chalked out next to a peony bush asked those walking by to stop and find their favorite shade of pink.
A few weeks ago, the day Tinkham drew the CeMental Break at St. Anthony Main, a man wearing striped red pants, no shirt and a giant balloon animal hat strode down the street. She chuckled to herself and started drawing.
Goodhand, who paused at that same spot near the river later that day, was visiting Minneapolis from London. As soon as he saw the vibrant chalk query asking what made him laugh, he cracked a smile.
Goodhand stopped for a photo, and a few onlookers pointed at the friendly prompt. It was a sunny August afternoon, and the walkways of St. Anthony Main started to liven as people began to get off work.
“Anything that can slow down most people’s 100 mph lives,” Goodhand said, “is always good.”