In the art world there’s many mediums in which to express yourself. For Jane Labowitch her tool of choice is the Etch A Sketch. Toy-Lines recently interviewed Jane about her creations on this iconic childhood toy.
Toy Lines – Why Etch A Sketch?
Jane Labowitch – I started playing with an Etch A Sketch when I was about 4. It was just another toy in the house and I really enjoyed making pictures on it and erasing it after. I played with it a ton growing up and haven’t got bored with the toy yet!
TL – How long have you been creating art with one? When did you first start?
JL – I first started playing with an Etch A Sketch when I was 4, and I started taking it more seriously when I was around 16.
TL – How long did it take for you to master the device for doing this?
JL – I got used to the mechanics of an Etch A Sketch when I was young–I can’t recall the precise moment that I got good at doing more difficult things such as curves and diagonals. I think it just naturally happened from playing with the toy a lot in my youth. After I got to the point to where I didn’t have to think about which knob made the stylus move which direction, my skills on an Etch A Sketch developed with my drawing skills.
TL – How did you become known as “Princess Etch A Sketch”?
JL – When I first started posting my Etch A Sketch art online, I noticed that other Etch A Sketch artists had monikers of their own, so I decided at first to be “The Etch A Sketch Girl” but I eventually got bored of that name so I chose to become “Princess Etch A Sketch”.
TL – Have you ever seen how an Etch A Sketch works, and does that help you with creating?
JL – I have seen videos and photos online showing how the interior of an Etch A Sketch works but I did not see them until I had already been making art on an Etch A Sketch for a few years. It’s interesting to me, but I don’t think it’s been helpful for me creating art on one as I already had a basic understanding of how an Etch A Sketch works.
TL – Has Ohio Art ever contacted you for how you create pieces with one of their toys?
JL – I have been in contact with Ohio Art but we have not broached that subject. But they are mystified by my art!
TL – What were your thoughts when they contacted you?
JL – It felt really validating when the company has reached out to me. The first time I officially reached out to them (outside of an email or two) is when they had a booth at the Chicago Toy and Game fair a few years back. I introduced myself and showed them a portfolio of my work. One of the Ohio Art employees looking at my portfolio recognized my work!
Lately Ohio Art has been paying better attention to the artists who use their product and I am really excited. If there’s anyone who can showcase what an Etch A Sketch can do, it’s the artists who are already die-hard knob turners. I’m optimistic that I will be continuing to stay in touch with Ohio Art and hope that there will be collaborative Etch A Sketch projects in the future.
TL – Have you ever been invited to Toy Fair in New York City as a guest to show what is possible with an Etch A Sketch?
JL – No, but that sounds like fun! But I was invited to show my work at a fashion trade show Who’s Next in Paris this last January. Though a seemingly unlikely place to show my Etch A Sketch art, the theme of the show that year was toy and Etch A Sketch was invented in France!
TL – What was it like to go to Paris all because of an Etch A Sketch? I would say that is something most people can’t say is the reason why they went.
JL – Sometimes I feel like my life is a movie–this was definitely one of those times. Looking back on my whirlwind trip, it’s still hard for me to believe it actually happened! My week in Paris was a dream come true. The craziest part for me was seeing this GIANT Etch A Sketch sign hanging over my booth at the trade show upon my arrival. To think that this was all happening because I picked up Etch A Sketch as a kid…it just feels unreal. Never did I think this toy would be so pivotal in my life.
TL – Is every piece of art created with just one line?
JL – Yup!
TL – I’m stunned you do this all with one line. How long did it take you to get to the point of using one line to do this? Also, trying to figure out how you do this, when creating a character, say Frozen for instance, how do you the face without having unnecessary lines?
JL – The big trick with only having one line to work with is becoming an expert at re-tracing lines you already made. A style that I also personally execute is having thick outlines around parts of a piece, which requires going over certain lines many times. It took me a long time to have the dexterity and control to keep my lines as smooth as they are now.
When it comes to making sure I don’t have unnecessary lines, I do my best to plan beforehand and figure out where connecting lines (such as lines that connect the eyes to the side of Elsa’s head) would be least noticeable. I also do what I can to make the connecting lines less pronounced than other details around it so the eye is not as drawn to them. It’s tough and something I am still working at becoming better at!
TL – How long does it take to create something or does it depend on what you’re creating?
JL – It definitely depends. For pieces on a small Etch A Sketch, depending on the subject matter and degree of detail it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to over 4 hours.On a medium Etch A Sketch it can range from about 1-7 hours and on a classic size usually between 3-25 hours.
TL – How did Disney contact you to create the Etch A Sketch Cinderella & Sleeping Beauty Castles?
JL – I was contacted by a staff member at DeviantArt (where I actively post my Etch A Sketch art) with an opportunity to be interviewed by the Huffington Post for their teen section. After the interview was published, I was contacted by Gary Buchanan who works in PR at Disney World and read the article about my art, and was interested in having custom Etch A Sketch art made for the Disney Parks blog. The rest is history.
Here’s a link to the article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/31/etch-a-sketch-art-amazing_n_1724379.html
TL – What was it like hearing from them?
JL – It was so exciting! I remember my eyes lit up and I could hardly believe it. I called my mom and exclaimed the news to her over the phone. Getting that kind of email from Disney was definitely a dream come true–I never thought I’d have the chance to make art for a company that meant so much to me!
TL – What was it like when they contact you to do the Frozen piece of Anna & Elsa? Are you a Frozen fan?
JL – I couldn’t believe it–my first thought was, I get to work for Disney again! I was stoked to do video work with Disney as it’s something I’ve wanted pursue myself. And yes I’m a big Frozen fan…it’s embarrassing how times I’ve listed to “Let it Go”.
TL – How many pieces of Etch A Sketch art do you think you have made?
JL – If I could give a rough ballpark estimate I’d say around 300 pieces. I’ve lost track over the years. Many have been erased, some of which I never even photographed.
TL – Do you buy a new Etch A Sketch for every piece of art, or just use one, take a picture of it, then erase?
JL – For the most part that’s what I do now. I used to just take a photo and make something new. But I now preserve my Etch A Sketch art by removing the powder from the inside of the unit and gluing the knobs down. It’s a messy process but definitely worth it. Because of this, I have A LOT of Etch A Sketches!
TL – Can you tell us a bit about the ones you sell on your site? Do you take requests?
JL – I sell a lot of personal work on etsy but most of my sales are custom orders.
TL – How did you figure out the preserving of your art? Did someone tell you or did you figure it out on your own?
JL – I understood that it was the powder inside of the Etch A Sketch re-coating the screen that caused the image to erase, but didn’t know a good way to remove it from the Etch A Sketch. I worked for a summer with a fellow Etch A Sketch artist Christoph Brown in Los Angeles, and assisted with his preservation process. I’ve done a lot of experimenting since then, and have developed my own process for preserving and cleaning an Etch A Sketch.
TL – It’s true you might have a lot of Etch A Sketches now, but the toy does make a cool custom frame for the art.
JL – It really does! One cool thing about Etch A Sketch is that Ohio Art has made the toy in a lot of cool colors and patterns and shapes (such as a heart) over the years. I love collecting them but love the iconic red most.
TL – I really like the Yoda one in your gallery. How long did it take to create that?
JL – That was probably my first Etch A Sketch piece I dedicated legitimate time to. It took about 6 hours to make, and a few years later I noticed that the lines have faded so I spent another 2 hours or so retouching parts of the piece, which gave Yoda more depth.
TL – Do you use other mediums to create art? Paint? Draw? Sculpt?
JL – Yes! I have a BFA in Illustration, and during my 4 years in art school I only did Etch A Sketch art in my spare time. I also paint with watercolors, draw with pencil/ink pen and do digital work on Photoshop and Illustrator.
TL – Which is your favorite Etch A Sketch piece of art you’ve made
JL – That’s a tough question! Sometimes my favorite changes. Today my favorite is one I created of a world from my imagination:
Nothing at all was planned for this piece and I am really happy with the final product. It was sold in Paris!
TL – Do you prefer working on a regular size Etch A Sketch or the pocket ones?
JL – I prefer the pocket size because it consistently has the best mechanics. But lately I have been leaning more toward the regular (Classic) size because it gives me more space to work with.
TL – Do you always have one with you in case inspiration hits?
JL – Yup! I always keep a pocket Etch A Sketch in my purse. I often ride the public transit in Chicago and find that it’s fun to etch people’s portraits without them knowing.
TL – What has your family & friends reactions been to what you can do with an Etch A Sketch?
JL – They are all very supportive and cannot understand how I do it! My family shows my work off to their friends and think it’s awesome. I’m thankful my friends and family have been so encouraging and enthusiastic about my work!
TL – Has any family or friends requested Etch A Sketch art for a birthday or Christmas present?
JL – A few friends have, and my sister Liz has been nagging me to do her portrait for years (I swear I’ll do it eventually! haha) but my family more often requests art done in other media such as watercolors. But every year my number one present request is Etch A Sketches!
TL – Has your website helped bring more focus on your talent?
JL – My website has helped me in that I finally have a place for all of my social media accounts to funnel to. So in that sense, yes! It’s helped me to have a centralized location that has a primary purpose of showcasing my work. If I meet someone who is interested in my work, I send them to my website first so they can see what I consider to be my best work.
TL – What have people’s reactions been like when they view your site?
JL – Peoples’ reactions have been very positive! My favorite response is actually nostalgia because it’s such a nostalgic toy for me, too, and I like to relate that with others.
TL – Do you ever go to a cafe or park & just sit with your Etch A Sketch creating something & do people come up to you to watch?
JL – As mentioned before, sometimes I etch while on the transit. Every now and then the person sitting next to me will make a comment, and I’ve had some great conversations with people about my art while riding the train. Once I went to Millennium Park to etch the bean and met so many great people who were so kind and complimented me on my work. Maybe I should go back and etch the bean again!
TL – Do you always plan on using an Etch A Sketch as a way to create?
JL – Definitely! It’s my favorite artistic medium.
TL – Do you have any words of encouragement for those who would like to try this?
JL – Have fun! It takes a while to get used to the mechanics of an Etch A Sketch. But there is so much you can make even with boxes and stairs. And just like everything else art-wise, you’ll improve with practice. I started with stairs just like everyone else, so I wasn’t gifted with magical Etch A Sketch powers. If you stick with it, you can get good at Etch A Sketch too!
TL – Jane, thank you for the interview. We here are Toy-Lines wish you the best of success with your art.
JL – Thank you!
To see Jane’s work please visit her websites:
The Toy-Lines Crew