When Tim Gallenbeck saw an Etch A Sketch at a thrift store for 99 cents in 2013, he picked it up for his daughters. He ended up being the one to play with it, and now he creates intricate art using the ubiquitous toy.
The toy sat in Gallenbeck’s home until 2015, when he found it while moving. He pulled it out and started playing around with it, learning to make more and more intricate designs. In 2016, he found a Facebook group dedicated to Etch A Sketch art and started networking with others online. His involvement with the art form grew from there, and he got really serious about it in 2017, after he moved to Marion from Wisconsin. He promotes his work on Instagram and TikTok as @bearded_border. On TikTok he has garnered more than 52,000 followers, something he still can’t wrap his mind around.
“It’s super wild,” he said. “The social media world with art is so wild.”
Through his online presence, he’s gotten professional commissions to create customs Etch A Sketch designs. He’s now starting to exhibit his art; it is up now until the end of March in the second floor gallery space of the Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE, near the entrance to the skywalk.
He’s made everything from city scapes — which he said are a good thing for beginners to hone their skills with — to detailed portraits to detailed renderings of animals and nature that look like they could have been done with a pencil rather than a clunky children’s toy.
“When people see art at a different level on an Etch A Sketch, I want to inspire them. I want to inspire people to challenge themselves,” he said.
Etch A Sketches, made by the company Spin Art, have been around for 50 years. They use aluminum powder and tiny plastic beads, which the user draws with via a stylus attached to knobs on the front of the plastic casing. Shaking it erases the image so users can create a new drawing.
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After Gallenbeck creates an image on an Etch A Sketch, he carefully saws off the back of the frame — being careful not to shake out the drawing — and drains out the aluminum powder. That makes the image permanent. He then adds a black felt background and mounts the Etch A Sketch frame in a shadow box. He works with both tiny Etch A Sketches — only a few inches long — and the bigger, classic sizes.
Each drawing takes two or more hours — the longest one he worked on took 20 hours.
A sign and graphics installer at Rapids Reproductions, he also teaches yoga, and said creating Etch A Sketch art is a form of mindfulness for him.
“My brain is super ADD, and I’m all over the place. Using an Etch A Sketch, I kind of just zone out. It puts me in the present moment. It’s right brain and left brain, I’m right in it,” he said.
He said he hopes more people — especially kids — will pick up an Etch A Sketch and start creating. He’s hoping to organize “Sip and Sketch” nights to teach adults the technique and to hold workshops for children as well.
“It’s been fun seeing people’s reactions to it,” he said. “And I love seeing other people Etch A Sketch.”
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