Every artist in their own way is trying to find a niche, something to define them and help them stand out from other brilliants artists. Finding that niche can be difficult, but once you latch onto it, wondrous things happen. Take, for example, Sketchy Britt, a local artist who has painstakingly worked to create pop-culture-centric and geeky art using only an Etch-A-Sketch. Anyone who has operated one knows how problematic it can be just to draw a square house, but Britt West has honed her craft to create intricate designs that are masterful works of art. Today we chat with West about her career and her artwork, along with examples of her most popular creations. (All photos provided courtesy of Sketchy Britt.
Gavin: Hey Britt! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am an Etch-A-Sketch artist born and raised here in Salt Lake City. I am a single mom of a three-year-old daughter, working two jobs, and create art in my spare time when possible. I have developed a unique way to preserve each piece, making it possible to display and cherish each one. I am relatively new to the field of Etch-A-Sketch art, having done events like Salt Lake Comic Con and various art markets, and am one of only a small number of artists known worldwide to work with this medium.
What first got you interested in art and what inspired you most as you grew up?
I had a difficult time being interested in art as a whole,
because I had very little artistic ability growing up. Therefore, I also didn’t have much inspiration. I tried my hand at multiple mediums and wasn’t pleased in much of anything that I had produced, so my interest in art had never piqued until recent years. It wasn’t until I discovered my talent on the Etch-A-Sketch that I became interested in art.
What kind of styles did you like working in as you were honing your craft?
I etch a broad array of subjects, but my main emphasis is on pop culture cartoons. I have done a few “silhouette” type portraits as well as various realism pieces, but I typically stick to doing pop culture pieces because that is more within my artistic abilities, and I get most excited about sketching subjects that I, myself, am passionate about. When I am not working on commissioned pieces and sketching just for fun, I can usually be found etch-a-sketching anything Star Wars
When did you first come upon an Etch A Sketch, and what was it like learning how to use it?
I first discovered the Etch-A-Sketch in my mid-teens. For me, there was no learning curve, no real point of difficulty picking it up. Learning how to use an Etch-A-Sketch came to me rather naturally as opposed to the obstacles I had faced trying to learn other art mediums.
At what point in time did you realize you could create more intricate designs? What were some of your first really extensive pieces like?
It wasn’t until roughly three years ago that I picked it up and started creating art on it more aggressively. I had some time to kill while in the waiting room of a hospital while my sister was having a minor surgery. I pulled out my Etch-A-Sketch and sketched up a quick octopus. Upon putting it online, I got an overwhelming amount of positive feedback, and I started receiving all sorts of requests so I began etching anything anyone requested. My talent quickly progressed, and my art became more and more intricate and extensive with each request I completed. Some of my more extensive pieces that truly made me realize my artistic abilities were of Mario/Luigi (which was the first request I had received upon uploading my octopus sketch, therefore dubbed my first most intricate piece), Walter White of Breaking Bad
, and a Homer Simpson/Bender crossover.
How did the idea come about to start making art exclusively on an Etch-A-Sketch as your medium?
It honestly came down to that being the only art medium I felt I had any talent or potential on. I had attempted several different mediums in hopes that I could be the artsy type, and nothing stuck. It was a no-brainer to pursue this as my medium because I picked it up quickly and I also have an obsession with nostalgic/retro toys, so merging the two came effortlessly and seemed to be a perfect fit for me personally.
What's your process in creating a piece from concept to final design?
My process for any piece isn’t too strenuous, or even thought-out, for that matter. It isn’t often that I am working on a piece that isn’t commissioned. It’s as simple as the customer emailing me a few of their favorite photos that they want to be done. I immediately dive in and free-hand their favorite design on an Etch-A-Sketch. If I am not confident in that piece, I move to their second favorite photo that they sent over. It’s rare that I don’t freehand a sketch using a customer’s reference photo; however, on occasion, typically on more intricate designs, I use acetate paper to assist me. I use two sheets, both that have graphs mapped out on them. One sheet lies on the Etch-A-Sketch, the other lies in my reference photo, and I will Etch-A-Sketch block by block to truly get the detail and proportions accurate on the more difficult commissions.
How much time and dedication would you say goes into each piece?
This truly depends on each piece. I work on both classic sized and pocket sized Etch-A-Sketches. The time and dedication also vary based on the detail as well as whether or not it is a commissioned piece. I obviously take more time on commissioned pieces to ensure the customer is completely satisfied with what I produce. Typically a commissioned classic sized piece will take me anywhere from half a day to a few days, if not more. Traditionally, the pocket-sized pieces can take me just a few hours at most.
When you make a mistake, do you incorporate it, do you find a way to backtrack, or do you simply start over?
I have been doing this long enough that I got to the point that mistakes can more easily be covered or hidden and it’s difficult to find those flaws. However, there are some pieces where mistakes are more noticeable which requires an entire restart of the piece. I usually only restart a piece if the proportions are off or if facial features aren’t symmetrical or don’t look right.
What was it like for you breaking into the local art scene and doing exhibitions?
This was the most exhilarating concept to me when I first broke into the art scene. I finally had a talent that warranted sales and interest, a talent that I could share with people, especially after I found a way to preserve and sell my artwork. My very first exhibit was at Salt Lake Comic Con in 2015. I kind of took the “go big or go home” approach to my very first event, which was extremely overwhelming and took a monumental amount of time and money in preparation. And while the event was incredibly fun, I realize now that I probably should have started small so that I could learn what to expect at events, and put more thought and effort into my marketing strategy. Now I typically stick to smaller events, and my main focus is on having fun, networking and getting my name out there as opposed to how many sales I can make. It’s not often that I pay my way into larger events.
What's the response been like from the geek community to all the nerdy art that you create?
I have received such positive responses from not only the geek community,
but from some of my favorite artists, musicians and sports teams since starting my art adventure. I have been fortunate to receive some online love from The Walking Dead
, Utah Jazz
and RSL as well as several of my favorite bands. I even have my own private collection of Etch-A-Sketches that I created that have been signed by my most influential bands growing up. It is incredibly surreal to create something I am passionate about and having the creators or members of that subject approve of the fan art with a simple like,
share, retweet and even sometimes comments of praise. Creating this type of artwork has certainly opened up doors and opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do, including unexpectedly meeting some of my idols. Not to mention, some of my favorite bands are in possession of my art, which is truly humbling.
Do you do any commission work or custom pieces for people?
I have been fortunate to discover a way to preserve my art to sell, so the majority of the work that I do is custom commissioned pieces. I do this through a process of drilling a hole in the back of the Etch-A-Sketch, emptying out the aluminum powder, and re-sealing it. This creates a more permanent art that customers can hang on their wall or display without erasing.
What shows do you have coming up in the next few months so people can check out your work?
I don’t currently have any shows that are set. I am, however, participating in an event hosted by the Urban Arts Gallery called "RE" where they will be featuring work made from recycled/repurposed materials. Each of the participating artists will be receiving a Rock‘Em Sock‘Em Robots game, and are free to create whatever they want with it and be as artistic as possible. I haven’t decided what I will be doing with mine, but I am sure it will involve merging Rock‘Em Sock‘Em Robots and the Etch-A-Sketch for the ultimate nostalgic art piece. This show will be held sometime in April, though I don’t have the actual details in regard to opening day.
What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Unfortunately, Etch-A-Sketching has somewhat been placed on the back burner in my life with everything I have going on, so I don’t have any specific goals related to my art for the upcoming year. I will mainly be going with the flow and attending events when invited and continuing to create any pieces that are commissioned. Aside from that, I do have a goal of using the Etch-A-Sketch to raise awareness and educate individuals on certain topics that I am passionate about, but I don’t currently have a strategy going into that just yet. In the meantime, I will still be taking on commissions and Etch-A-Sketching for fun until my time opens up more and I can put more time and attention toward my passion.