NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – North Salem High School graduate Bryan Lee Madden found his calling when he casually picked up an Etch A Sketch about three years ago and “started fooling around,” he said. He constructed a facsimile of Yankee Stadium in the top left corner. One line led to another, until he had created an entire cityscape.
You are rare if you have never seen an Etch A Sketch. It is a mechanical drawing toy, consisting of a flat screen and two knobs, which send the line vertically or horizontally. To erase the picture, give it a shake and the aluminum powder inside the box erases the lines. It was introduced to America in1960 and continues to be on sale in toy departments everywhere.
“I played with an Etch A Sketch as a kid,” Madden said. “I remember doing a sketch of the A&P in Goldens Bridge.” Once he revived his skills, he expanded his drawings of cities, then began to do portraits of friends for their Facebook profiles.
Madden also posted some of his cityscapes on the Internet. “The response was overwhelming,” he said. “It was amazing. I was getting requests from people all over the place to do sketches of their cities.”
Today’s Etch A Sketch produces a finer line than the early ones, Madden said. “You can get a lot more detail. I like doing cityscapes most of all, because they’re so complex and I’m very detail-oriented.”
To preserve the artwork when it is finished, he has a method of removing the interior aluminum powder. “It’s a messy procedure,” he said. “I wear a face mask and gloves, even though the powder’s not toxic.”
“It’s such a unique medium,” he continued. “There are millions of painters and sculptors, but there are less than five Etch A Sketch artists in the world. The best one is in Cleveland.”
Madden finds he can work effectively for only about an hour a day, because his eyes get tired as he creates minute details. It takes from 12 to 24 hours to complete one picture. The drawing of Times Square illustrated on his blog took six months.
To supplement his income from commissions, Madden does gigs at parties and events, drawing guest portraits, for example, on small, individual Etch A Sketches, which guests can then take home.
Three dozen of Madden’s unique works will be on display at the Somers Library throughout February. An artist’s reception will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Feb. 16.
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