In the middle of a rocky path as light begins to break, Nicole Cox curls over the park pavement on a steamy July day, tracing out white lines as she squints into her phone as a guide.
She’s geared up with a headband, mask, kneepads and a custom shirt her sister made for her new hobby of chalk drawing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reclosable plastic bags full of supplies surround her like a fortress. A melted, half-finished Dutch Bros iced coffee sits near her as a source of energy in the Nevada sun.
It’s a far cry from her work as a marine biologist/aquarist at Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef, but it’s something Cox has found meaningful.
“If we didn’t have a quarantine, I don’t think I ever, ever would have started it,” she said. “I’m like, you know what? If you can’t laugh about this, like ridiculous time that we’re in, then you know what, what can you do?”
Pedestrians on their morning walk or run at Nevada Trails Park in southwest Las Vegas wonder what she’s up to — often doing double-takes or stopping to ask her what the final product will be.
“Everybody thanks me … for kind of making their walk or their run a little more magical … so it’s really a lot of positivity and encouragement, and they just, they make me feel really loved and welcome,” Cox said.
On this day, she draws the characters Jasmine and Aladdin in chalk next to hand sanitizer and masks captioned “A whole new world.”
The 34-year-old Las Vegas resident said she started drawing the chalk cartoons in public places in May during the COVID-19 pandemic. Often, she’d caption them with something related to COVID-19 to cheer up people.
Her first drawing was for her niece’s birthday because they couldn’t see each other because of the quarantine. Everyone in the neighborhood loved it so much, she decided to start doing them in public parks around Las Vegas.
Cox said she didn’t grow up pursuing art. But she had practice through hundreds of Disney cartoon love letters she once made for her husband, Anthony. If she runs out of inspiration for her chalk, Cox said, she can always turn to them.
Those drawings started out of a mutual love for Disney. Everything about Disney, from the sights, the sounds and the smells, brings the couple joy, she said.
One day, she had an idea to take an index card and scribble a Mickey Mouse on it to slip in his lunchbox. The next day he came back and asked her, “Where’s my Mickey Mouse?” Every day for the next two years she drew him a Disney cartoon picture.
Usually, they were accompanied by a witty saying. One had Sebastian the crab from “The Little Mermaid” and it said, “Life is de bubbles with you!” Another had Flynn Rider from “Tangled” and it read, “No one is ready for your smolder!”
Cox jokes she’s “trophy wife material” because she would prepare them sometimes on the night before while he would watch TV. She’d scribble away, at times frustrated as she tried to come up with new ideas for the drawings.
She started to pull from obscure side characters such as the ruffians and thugs from “Tangled” just to see if he could guess them. He always did.
Before COVID-19, when normal life was still in motion, he saved every picture and hung them around his office. He ended up bringing home 600 to 700 drawings she did over two years.
Now, they’re laminated in an “adventure book” inspired by the movie “Up.” The couple hopes to show them to their kids one day.
Making chalk drawings started because of the quarantine, but Cox said she enjoys interacting with people through her creations and wants to keep doing them.
In what can be difficult and scary time, Cox said she hopes her hobby brightens people’s days and brings magic to the community.
Mackenzie Behm, a 2020 graduate of the University of Florida, is a summer videography intern for the Review-Journal.