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Bridging the Gap Between Toys and Art
Local artist uses Etch A Sketch to create one-of-a-kind pieces
An Etch A Sketch portrait by Pauline Graziano is seen on her workbench at her Kalispell home. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
When Pauline Graziano hangs her art in a gallery, some of the first questions from viewers are, “Is that real?” and “Will it erase if I shake it?”

The artist has learned to take these inquiries in stride. Yes, her Etch A Sketch creations are made using the toy’s traditional two knobs and no, the professional portraits or figure renderings will not disappear with the swish of the toy’s red frame.

For the past 50 years, the Etch A Sketch has entertained children and adults alike with its simple construction. It consists of a glass panel, a red plastic box, an aluminum-mixture dust and a stylus controlled by two white wheels on the outside. The fine silver dust coats the glass and the moving stylus scrapes it off, revealing the toy’s black background. When shaken, the dust re-coats the dark lines and makes the drawing disappear.

This means all drawings and designs must be created with one continuous line, a characteristic that can frustrate budding artists. But Graziano doesn’t seem to have any trouble with the patient process of retracing her artistic steps.

Many of her creations hang on the walls of her cozy basement art studio. There are portraits of people and one of a dog, along with the traditional art subject of human figures. The drawings are incredibly intricate and realistic; the portraits are complete with tiny details in the subject’s irises and shadows on their faces.

These pieces take 20 to 30 hours each to complete, Graziano said. An original etching or a commissioned piece costs about $750 and the works are also available as prints.

Graziano said she wasn’t an artist before finding the Etch A Sketch. She had drawing experience from two years of architecture school and her mother was an artist, but her pursuits were mainly recreational.

“I’m a hell of a doodler,” Graziano said.

She began using her unconventional medium of choice on a whim in 2000 when she decided to see if she could use it to draw a cartoon.

“It came out pretty good,” Graziano said. “Every time I wanted to draw something I would draw it on the Etch A Sketch.”

This seemed like a good idea until her creations started getting shaken or tampered with at art shows. People are drawn to the art when it’s on display, usually to see if anything will happen if they turn one of the white knobs – an impulse that Graziano understands all too well. With this in mind, Graziano began drilling into the base of the toy’s box to remove the excess powder, but that still caused problems.

Finally, Graziano contacted Ohio Art Company, the Etch A Sketch’s parent company. They sent her a deconstructed version of the toy that allowed her to sketch a drawing onto the glass of one toy, remove it and place it on another frame without dust or a stylus.

When Graziano mailed them a finished piece, Ohio Art decided to sponsor her art and have since put her in the Etch A Sketch hall of fame.

“It’s a toy that she’s made into an art form,” said Graziano’s husband Roy Grillo, who is also an artist.

Graziano’s sketches have been featured in galleries in California and, after moving to Kalispell a year ago, they can also be found in local coffee shops and at the Hockaday Museum of Art. She also designed commissioned pieces, with three waiting to be finished.

But Graziano has even bigger plans for next year. Over the course of 52 weeks, she will finish 50 Etch A Sketches and write a blog about the process, an idea inspired by the recent movie “Julie and Julia.”

The project will also benefit “Hanna’s Dream,” a local charity that helps provide art supplies to children worldwide.

But such an undertaking will also take a lot of time, Graziano acknowledged. With two young children, she currently sketches when the kids are with grandma or a babysitter or, as a unique way to wind down, in the middle of the night.

“It’s not exactly the same as doing the crossword puzzle,” Graziano said.

For more information or to contact Pauline Graziano, visit her Web site at http://etchorama.com or email info@paulinegraziano.com.
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