Imagine creating an elaborate etched image without ever lifting the stylus from the surface. This is exactly what three Etch A Sketch artists from Portland, Oregon do. Rather than adding material to a surface to make a drawing, etchings are made by taking material away, requiring artists to think in terms of negative space.
I wonder if the toy’s inventor, André Cassagnes of France, ever imagined that artists would use it to create collectable, fine-art images. The Ohio Art Company, which began producing the Etch A Sketch in the United States in the 1960s, commemorated the mechanical drawing toy’s 50th anniversary in 2010. The toy has remained popular since its inception.
This may account for the interest in artworks created on an Etch A Sketch. By removing the aluminum powder inside the device after an image is made and gluing the control knobs in place, one can preserve the image and protect it from accidental erasure.
Ron Morse remembers drawing on an Etch A Sketch as a boy and being rather adept at it. He took it up again as an adult when he needed a quiet occupation to fill the hours he spent sitting in a hospital room with his sick girlfriend. Morse enjoys the challenge of the medium, especially maneuvers that are notoriously hard on the Etch A Sketch like curves and diagonal lines. His work shows a remarkable ability to achieve three-dimensional perspective on a one-dimensional plane.
Morse’s work can be seen on the Ohio Art Company’s website, in their Etch A Sketch Hall of Fame, as well as on a Flikr group site under the pseudonym “etcha”. He also collaborated with the Active Display Group on a stop motion video of Morse creating one of his images; an effort which took over 60 hours to produce.
As a child, Jeannie Hemming received her first Etch A Sketch as a Christmas present and used it to indulge her passion for drawing. Later in life, she brought an old Etch A Sketch to her daughter’s volleyball games to entertain the kids between matches. After a portrait of two of her daughter’s teammates drew accolades, she learned to preserve the images and began using the Etch A Sketch to create art.
Hemming enjoys the reactions of “delight and disbelief” from people who see her demonstrations at art shows. “Witnessing the shift in perceptions as viewers see what is possible versus what they thought was impossible using this medium is a pleasure for me,” she comments. “It’s a wonderful agent in reinforcing a “can do” mentality; an uplifting reminder that creativity is all about overcoming problems.”
Hemming displays her Etch A Sketch art in Oregon art galleries and on her website, etches-etc.webs.com. She was a National Prize Winner in the 50th Anniversary Etch A Sketch Contest sponsored by Red Robin Restaurants and Ohio Art Company in August 2010.
Jonathan Liu discovered the Etch A Sketch while in college and found he “had a knack for it.” While he majored in math and later became a CAD designer, Liu continued to create with the toy. Now Liu is a stay-at-home Dad who writes for the blog GeekDad on Wired.com and shows his art at the Last Thursday art fair on NW Alberta Street. He enjoys interacting with the crowd and will create impromptu pictures or portraits for their entertainment to earn a little cash.
Liu, who is also a painter and illustrator, finds the Etch A Sketch to be a unique, recognizable and fun medium. Featured in a video segment shown on Oregon Art Beat, a program about art and artists produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting, he commented, “My art is meant to bring joy.”