"Patience is the most important aspect of what I do," says artist Bryan Madden. When your canvas of choice is an Etch A Sketch, patience is a virtue one cannot do without.
You’ll remember the Etch A Sketch from Toy Story, music videos, and your childhood as the red rectangle with white knobs you used to draw grainy pictures. Turning each knob led an internal stylus up a rigid x- or y-axis to create rudimentary art. Of course, it’s also possible to make art that is less rudimentary with the device, too. For the past several years, Madden has been keeping a blog of his Etch A Sketch drawings, producing lavishly detailed landscapes of New York, San Francisco, and the like, and also pop culture detritus, such as album covers. Sometimes he even draws his Facebook fans. Despite stemming from a child’s toy, the artist’s work is worlds away from the stuff of Show and Tell.
"How far can you take it? How good can you get? That’s what I’m interested in now," Madden says. "I’m very interested in detail work, so I spend a lot of time working in a very small area. A cityscape usually takes me about 25 hours to complete, and even that, I feel, is rushing it. My most involved work—Times Square—likely took over 50 hours and was half a year in the making."
Madden’s drawings go against the inherent disposability of the Etch A Sketch. Children playing with the toy would eventually—and sometimes very quickly—shake it up and erase whatever was on display. When sinking a substantial amount of time and creative energy into making something that transcends the Etch A Sketch’s intended skill level, though, you’ll want to keep it around for a while.
"To preserve the art, I drill holes into it before I do the picture, which I cover with tape," Madden says. "Once I’m satisfied with the art, I remove the tape and sift the aluminum powder-dust out into the trash, so that way the image can no longer be shaken or erased. I’ve shipped them cross-country without incident."
As Etch A Sketches give way to iPads for the next generation of bored children learning to draw stuff, the future of the device is unknown. Madden remains optimistic about the toy remaining in the repertoire, though.
"There were a few other creativity-based toys I liked as a kid," he says. "There was the Lite Brite, Magna Doodle, Wooly Willy. Nothing had the kind of impact or lasting appeal that Etch A Sketch did have and will continue to have, though. I hope my art can help play a part in that."
Have a look at more Etch A Sketch art in the slides above.