The Art of Whimsy

I am a fan of unexpected delight, the kind that makes me stop in my tracks, my mouth dropping open, my hand rushing to my chest to keep my heart from leaping out of it, and a laugh erupts, more than a giggle but not the extreme of a guffaw, somewhere in the middle. That’s another of my favourite run-on sentences. And it just so happens, I recently discovered an extraordinary sort of unexpected delight. His name is David Zinn, and he makes the world, or at least his community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a cheerier place, so that many unsuspecting people collide with his creations on any given day. It’s not permanent joy, because the next rainfall washes the treasures away until the next sunny day when he starts all over again.

David Zinn, armed with sidewalk chalk, creates wonderful artistic gems using objects he finds in his path – a bit of grass growing up between the seams of sidewalks becomes a friendly green ogre’s mop of hair or the tutu of an introspective dancing pig who is always at the ready to receive your exalted applause, a mouse emerges from a crumbling brick in a corner wall, a sleepy green dinosaur emerges from a manhole, a street grate becomes a friendly octopus, a burst of white flowered weeds from under the edge of a building becomes a pensive ewe’s woollen coat – to name just a few. These ordinary street objects come to life with his array of characters, some of whom show up regularly. “Sluggo” is the bright green monster who can be counted on to get into mischief. “Philomena” has become a fixture. She is a “phlegmatic flying pig”, says David. I had to look up phlegmatic. Is my vocabulary shrinking? It might be. To put it another way, Philomena is stolidly calm, unemotional, which I am neither, but I think Philomena and I could be friends.

David Zinn’s website claims he has been “sneaking pointless art into the world at large” for more than twenty years. His art is anything but pointless. It is a direct link to spreading joy. I ordered, from his website (, a set of postcards with samples of his creations, so that I might have his artwork in my daily life, to keep the unavoidable matters of being alive in perspective. I flip through the cards at any given moment and always feel better than before I gave them a peek. Sluggo and Philomena inspire smiles without fail, and the wee bear on the end of his rescue balloon emerging from a missing cobblestone on the end of his rescue balloon, rescues me, too.

David’s art isn’t limited to Ann Arbor. It has graced the streets of Manhattan, Sweden, and as far away as Taiwan and I’m willing to bet the list of occurrences of his whimsical wonders is a long one. His work is literally underfoot. He has 2.7 million followers on TikTok, at last count, so his work is not a secret. He is a self-declared “habitual doodler”. As habits go, that’s a good thing. I, on the other hand, am a habitual baker of cinnamon buns which I devour in too short order. Me thinks I would be better served being a habitual doodler, though maybe not as tasty a habit. David Zinn makes his living crafting art of the serious kind for others, but I’m willing to bet it is his whimsical work that gives his life meaning and a sense of greater purpose.

I give you this advice: if you happen to have the good fortune of stumbling upon one of David Zinn’s creations somewhere in the world – enjoy it, take it in, for as his website warns, “it is ephemeral”.