Q&A with Tomoteru "Tomo" Saito

The Madonnari Festival, Little Italy

Tomoteru "Tomo" Saito was born and raised in Osaka, Japan and now lives and works in Florence, Italy. He studied at the Designer's School in Osaka and worked as an architect in Tokyo before moving to Italy where he is now a "Madonnaro," or street painter. Besides classical 2-D street painting, he also creates anamorphic 3-D street painting. He holds some of the most prestigious awards in street painting, most notably from the Grazie di Curtatone Madonnari Competition in Mantova, Italy, where he was awarded 1st place among "Maestri Madonnari" in 2000 and 2001. He participates in street painting festivals throughout Europe, the U.S., Mexico, Hong Kong, Dubai and more.

Are you a professional artist? How long have you been making art either professionally or as a hobby?

I am a professional artist. I’ve been making art professionally for about 20 years. As I hobby, I’ve been doing art always – since I was a kid.

What is your preferred medium? Is chalk art new to you, or have you worked in that medium many times before?

Pastel is my preferred medium. Unlike oil, acrylic or water color, there is no need to wait for it to dry; it’s quick. Some mediums change color when they dry, but pastel doesn't. The disadvantage is that it's kind of hard to conserve because the color easily comes out.

I've been doing chalk art professionally for 20 years. My first time doing it on the street was in Osaka, Japan in 1989.

In what way(s) is making chalk art different than other types of art? Do you find it to be more challenging? Easier? More exciting?

Chalk art on the street is a performance. You don't work in your studio, but in the public. The challenge is the surface of the street – sometimes the street is too rough or too smooth for drawing with chalk. And of course, the weather – rain, wind, heat or cold – makes it difficult to draw. I do love chalk painting – it’s exciting.

Have you participated in street art festivals before?

Yes. My first festival was in Grazie di Curtatone (Mantova) in Italy in 1997. Then I participated in many festivals throughout Europe, Mexico, Hong Kong, Dubai and more. In the states, I’ve participated in those in Atlantic City (N.J.), Sarasota (Fla.) and San Rafael, Santa Barbara, San Diego and Valencia (Calif.).

What will you be making at Baltimore’s Madonnari Festival this year? What was your inspiration for the piece(s) you will make?

Well, I don't know yet, but I will do something traditional.

What are you most excited for at this year’s festival?

To see the city of Baltimore, which I've never seen.

As a participant, why do you believe people should come out to this event?

Have you ever drawn something on the street with chalk when you were kid? Chalk art always attracts people, especially kids. I couldn't participate last year, but I heard from my artist friends that it was a great festival. I'm sure it's going to be fun this year, too.

Click here to find out more about the Madonnari Festival.


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