All it takes is a few sticks of chalk and a bucket of water to keep this teen’s 1.4 million TikTok followers satisfied.
What’s up with that?
Sam Bowles douses simple sidewalk chalk art to create a runoff of colors that he posts to music.
The 10-second clips get millions of TikTok views worldwide, with one post topping 25 million.
“It’s visually stimulating and satisfying,” said Bowles, 18. “It has taken off because nobody was doing this on TikTok.”
The Henry M. Jackson High School senior uses his social media fame to raise awareness about autism.
“This is something I probably wouldn’t have come up with if I didn’t have it,” he said.
His TikToks are a mesmerizing daily fix for followers.
“I’ve got lots of messages saying, ‘This video calmed so much of my anxiety, thank you so much. This video made me relaxed, I had a stressed day at school.’ Stuff like that,” Bowles said. “People say that I’ve inspired them.”
The art stain stays visible until a good rain comes. Bowles said the drawings can be seen on Google Earth images of his cul-de-sac.
@_sam_bowles Reply to @im_notsure11 ok! #chalkwaterart #chalk #colormixing #satisfying #aesthetic #fyp #xyzbca â¬ Love Story – Disco Lines
Bowles’ mom got him and his sister a big box of sidewalk chalk early in the pandemic as a safe way to spend time outside with friends. At the time he also got on TikTok and made comedy videos that were flops.
One day, while drawing with chalk, he got an idea.
“I told my sister, ‘I’m going to make a chalk rainbow and pour water on it and it’s going to go viral,’” he said. “Obviously, she was like, ‘No way. That’s not going to happen.’”
He said, “We’ll see.”
“It went viral and got 3 million views in a few days,” he said. “And I’m like, ‘Well, what am I going to do now?’”
He tried other content, but returned to chalk.
“I was looking for something that not just English speakers could enjoy, but that everyone could enjoy,” he said.
It took off.
“I started taking fan requests: What character, color combo, logo do you want me to draw? That boosted my career,” Bowles said.
His followers communicate using emojis with color patterns to draw.
Bowles’ 2021 post dousing a green-and-white rectangle got 25.6 million views, 3.6 million likes and 93,703 comments. The milky light-green mixture flows to the curb to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story (Disco Lines Remix).”
“People liked the color change,” he said.
He takes on trends.
“The second-most-popular was me destroying a fictional elephant, Meena, from the movie ‘Sing,’ because people didn’t like the character,” he said.
That post earlier this year got 23.4 million views of the anthropomorphic animal Rolling Stone referred to as the “Most Hated Person on the Internet.”
Another hit is Peppa Pig, but because the cartoon is popular.
Chalk numbers mark milestones of followers, so expect to see “1.5 M” written in chalk soon.
(I told Bowles that I have a total of 54 followers on my TikTok account. “I was there, too,” he said. “Just keep following your dreams.”)
Bowles said his TikToks are a connection for someone on the autism spectrum.
“It’s a good way to express my creativity. It’s a little harder for me to do that socially,” he said.
You wouldn’t know it by meeting him. He’s outgoing and witty, with a droll sense of humor.
“He continues to lift his voice and elevate his story,” said Bethany Stoddard, Jackson High assistant principal. “It has been influential for not only us at the school but also the community, and not only nationally but internationally.”
The TikTok production is a two-person task — one to pour and one to shoot.
Bowles enlists his sister, cousin or neighbors.
“Whoever is available,” he said. “If someone is out in their front yard, I say, ‘Hey can you come dump this bucket of water for me?’ And they say, ‘Oh, sure.’ And they put everything down to help me.”
Assisting with chalk and water on a recent day were 16-year-old neighbors Rhyanna Mercer and Mia Shields.
He gave them drawing directives from fan requests: Blue-green-white-white-white blocks for Rhyanna. Mia did a butterfly emoji.
Every pour has the same cue.
“Three, two, one … dump,” Bowles said, capturing the water flow with his cell phone.
“Oh, pretty,” Mia said.
“It’s so cool to watch him and his platform grow,” Rhyanna said.
At school, Bowles takes AP classes, serves as an office assistant, sings in the choir and acts in theater productions.
He recently directed a 10-minute skit.
“I wrote a play relating to a girl who finds out Pluto isn’t a planet after all this time and goes to NASA to change their minds,” Bowles said. “When I was 7, I had an astronomy phase and I found this horribly shot video about this girl who finds out Pluto isn’t a planet. They were crying, and I didn’t know it was a joke when I was 7, and I actually cried. It made me upset. Now 11 years later I’m writing a story that has a happy ending.”
He heads to Western Washington University in the fall.
Chances are you’ll be hearing more about Sam Bowles.
“To all my viewers, I have some exciting news coming up,” he said, “but I can’t talk about it yet.”