Infamous Hermosa Beach chalk bandit tells all
Hermosa Beach resident K.P. freely hands out prescriptions around the South Bay area.
“Here, have a prescription for happiness,” she says when she hands out the orange pill bottle to both strangers and friends. Inside the bottle are an assortment of plastic mermaids and often a handful of googly plastic 3-D eyes. She encourages her patients not to keep the trinkets, but to spread them throughout the community, a practice she’s dubbed “toy tagging.”
“I think it’s pretty harmless,” said K.P., who encourages people to stick the eyes on fire hydrants and place the mermaids randomly around town. “Sometimes people need to be reminded to be nice and have fun.”
Not only does the 46-year-old woman, who asked Easy Reader to withhold her identity, hand out mermaids and eyeballs, she is also the infamous Funism chalk bandit who paints the downtown and Hermosa Beach Strand with colorful chalk murals featuring her own ‘heart-hug’ character.
“I try to write about joy,” she said. “I liked the idea of the heart with its arms wide open spreading love.”
K.P. has been drawing chalk murals since she was a child, and began seriously drawing pictures and phrases when she lived near an ugly blank wall and wanted to add some color to the neighborhood. She wasn’t sure what her neighbors thought of her creations, but since beginning her wall-transforming projects, she hasn’t stopped. She describes herself as a big kid at heart.
“It’s kind of disarming,” K.P. said about the murals. “If you’re walking down the Strand and you see some writing on the wall and you expect it to be a tag and you look at it and it’s this pleasant thing, it just sticks with people. I just hope maybe it can change my immediate environment by reminding people to be nicer to each to each other.”
The heart with eyes, legs and open arms often accompanies a feel-good phrase, including “Joy is the core of existence,” “Chalk can’t hurt you,” “How many smiles does it take to change the world?” or her favorite, “Hug your people.” She keeps a notebook with her at all times that’s filled with phrases she has picked up over the past 20 years.
She originally came up with the “Hug your people” phrase on Mother’s Day in honor of her mother who passed away when she was 25.
“I wanted to write ‘Hug your mothers,’” K.P. recalled, “but I thought maybe it would be sad for people who didn’t have moms, like me. If I was walking down the Strand having a good day and I saw that it would probably made me sad.”
One day, a woman approached her as she was drawing one of her phrases on the Strand wall outside a restaurant.
“She was so excited and said, ‘I’m so happy to see you, I have all your messages on my phone and use them as my screen saver, they make me so happy!’ I said, ‘Cool, I do it just for you,’ and gave her a big hug,” said K.P. “Then she said, ‘Hug your people!’ And it was so weird, she quoted me to me. It’s taken on a whole bigger thing.”
“I absolutely adore the Funisms on the Strand,” local fan Dianne Stevens said. “My friends and I love finding new quotes appear and I’ll always take pictures and post them. They’re uplifting and fun and I think it’s great that they’ll show up and you’ll never see her writing them. …Anyone who is against the Funism Bandit clearly needs Funism in their life the most.”
One trend she has noticed is that children notice the mermaids, eyeballs and phrases more often than adults. She hypothesizes that it’s because they experience the world in much more focused and minute detail.
“She’s my daughter’s hero,” said Terra Swan, mother of 6-year-old Astrid. “It brought her so much joy when we were walking down the street and she saw a big heart hug. Of course I walked over it and didn’t notice it, but she was overjoyed and thrilled by the sight of it.” Now, Terra said, Astrid chalks her own murals at home.
Because of the legal ramifications and some negative encounters she’s had, when K.P. draws one of her phrases around town, her husband stands to the side and keeps an eye out for any trouble.
“I usually just stand by to make sure nobody gets angry,” said her husband Duke. “There are two reactions – they either love it or hate it and some people feel it’s their duty to be very vocal about how much they hate it.”
He estimates that four out of every five people’s reactions are positive.
“Most people have been seeing it for while and when they watch her doing it they’re very pleased to finally see her,” Duke said. “She’s developed such a following; it’s fun to watch how it brightens up her day and cheers people up.”
K.P. likens chalking the town to Prozac, only cheaper.
“If you see someone without a smile, I just try to give them one of mine,” she said. She also encourages people to find their own form of Funism and spread it around. “Go out and do something good for no good reason.”
Brian Cooley, the co-owner of the shop Wicked + in downtown Hermosa Beach has been watching K.P. since she began chalking in front of his shop three years ago.
“Everything I’ve ever seen that she’s done has been a positive message,” said Cooley. “I personally share it and I always get a lot of ‘likes.’ It almost reminds me of what my mom would write on the kitchen fridge.”
K.P. added that the landlord of a section of downtown businesses near Wicked + always washes her murals off the sidewalk with a hose.
“He [the landlord] even referred to it as a ‘gateway to graffiti,’” said K.P., adding she only draws on public areas because they belong to the public. One time she even spent the afternoon circling gum that was stuck to the sidewalk with chalk flowers to make a gum garden. “I can’t tell you how many people said, ‘Hey that’s graffiti!’ and I’m like, ‘You’re really going to talk to me about my chalk that will be gone in 72 hours due to foot traffic instead of gum that’s going to be there for five years?’”
Hermosa Beach Police Officer Mick Gaglia said that he has never seen any crime reports about the so-called chalk bandit.
“It may be annoying to some, but it’s not a permanent marking,” said Gaglia, who added that he’s never personally seen any chalk pictures. “It’s not permanent, it’s just good intensions I guess.” He also said that chalking public property is a gray area when it comes to vandalism laws.
“I don’t think we’ve ever addressed it,” said HBPD Captain Steve Johnson. “I wouldn’t consider it graffiti because it’s chalk and can be rinsed off, and nobody’s ever come fourth with any concerns that I know of.”
K.P. gravitates towards drawing mostly with bright yellow and white, because they show up best on the dark sidewalk. Dark blue is her all-time favorite, but she said blues hues take the longest to wash off.
“I’m not trying to piss people off,” she said. “I just want to change the world through smiles and cheer people up.”
Oftentimes when a mural fades away K.P. said she will wash the phrase off the sidewalk herself and replace it with something new. She estimates that she writes two to three new phrases a week and goes through a pack of 144 pieces of chalk every three months. She also has a following of people who have homes on the Strand and donate chalk to her happiness-spreading cause.
“I always have chalk with me,” K.P. said. “I often give my chalk away to kids, that’s why you’ll sometimes see another little drawing next to mine.”
Since she is a local, she knows many of the residents and houses in Hermosa Beach. Often when she knows a friend is having a bad day, or someone she knows is celebrating a special event, she’ll enlist her 14-year-old son in her cause and they’ll draw a personalized chalk mural near their homes.
“Usually when I draw with a partner I don’t get yelled at as much,” said K.P. “It’s interesting, when you’re eight, you can draw a hop scotch, but when you’re 15 you can’t draw a heart hug. Is there an age cutoff for chalk? I wonder what it is…”
Duke said that her son Chris looks up to his mom and appreciates her child-like whimsy.
“It would be nice if we all played more,” said K.P. “Life is too [darn] short.”
Visit “The Fun Zone- Center for the Study of Funism,” on Facebook or #Funism on Instagram to see images of her murals. The anonymous artist’s images will be featured at Java Man at 157 Pier Ave from mid-October to mid-November. ER