Monday, July 20, 2009

Inspirational Etch-A-Sketch® Art

The classic Etch-A-Sketch
The Etch-A-Sketch® dates back a little over 50 years ago. A little research shows that the Etch-A-Sketch®, unlike what Wikipedia says (needs to be corrected to match another page they have), was invented by Arthur Granjean (also seen spelled as Grandjean) under US patent #3,055,113. Granjean displayed his prototype, which he had built in his basement and called "L'Ecran Magique" ("The Magic Screen"), at the 1959 International Toy Exhibition in Nuremburg, Germany. There, executives of the Ohio Art Company saw the potential of the device, and acquired the rights to develop and produce it.

In one year of research and development, the Etch-A-Sketch® achieved its now classic name and shape (US patent #3,760,505). The red frame holds a glass screen, the back of which is coated with a mixture of aluminum powder and tiny plastic beads. Two knobs control the movement of a single stylus horizontally and vertically through the aluminum powder. As the stylus moves, it leaves behind a black trail on the screen. Shaking the device remixes the powder, thus clearing the screen.

Today, there are Etch-A-Sketch® models of various types, some with color and sound effects; but the original model, an overnight sensation in the Christmas season of 1960, has withstood the test of time to remain a classic.

There are a few practicing artists who use the Etch-A-Sketch® to produce professional lineographic work. Most artists make their work permanent by removing the aluminum powder. This is done either by drilling holes in the bottom of the toy or by removing the entire plastic backing. It is then resealed as a semi-permanent, shake-resistant piece of art.

A self-portrait by Jeff Gagliardi
Among such artists is Jeff Gagliardi. He turned the Etch-A-Sketch® into an art form. Over the last 35+ years, Mr. Gagliardi reproduced masterpieces by Van Gogh, Dali and Leonardo da Vinci.

Father-of-three, Mr. Gagliardi first picked up an Etch-A-Sketch®, which belonged to his nephew, when he was a college student at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

I did a drawing of the Taj Mahal complete with reflecting pools. Quite frankly, I didn't think it was a big deal, but my family wouldn't let me erase it, Mr. Gagliardi said.

The Taj Mahal

From that point on it became apparent that I had some sort of gift for drawing on this silly little toy.

People would walk past the serious work I was doing as a painter and want to see the Etch-A-Sketches.

"We're off to see the wizard"

In his bio, Mr. Gagliardi describes the art as "a quintessential American art form, where the medium truly is the message."

I love creating works that you wouldn’t expect to see — like a reproduction of a Renaissance master’s work, or the corner of a five dollar bill. It’s a totally familiar subject, but it now has an element of disbelief.

An Etch-A-Sketch reproduction of the corner of a five dollar bill
An Etch-A-Sketch reproduction of the corner of a five dollar bill.

Salvador Dali: "The Persistence of Memory"

Part of Mr. Gagliardi skill is to create works that hang vertically despite having to sketch sideways and producing lines which seem to have no connections. His art has been displayed at the Denver Art Museum and the Berkshire Museum in Massachusetts, as well as galleries around the country.

Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa"

Pitchfork farmers in Grant Wood's "American Gothic"

A deck of cards' king of hearts.

There are other artists like Mr. Gagliardi. A quick search revealed Etcha's Flickr page and all that he does. A Google Images search for "etch a sketch" reveals many pictures of absolute wonderful masterpieces done with the toy.

Turning such a classic toy into a true art form is simply amazing, transpiring inspiration for many of us. If you have or know of any similar great work, on an Etch-A-Sketch or something similar to the Ghost in the Machine, then please share it with us in the comments below or send me an email of it. ▣

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