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Etch-a-Sketch Artist Comes to Somers Library

Bryan Lee Madden, a North Salem native, is displaying a collection of 34 of his most recent work at Somers Library during the month of February.

Bryan Lee Madden, a North Salem native, is not your typical artist. He creates intricate art just using two knobs on a mechanical drawing toy known as the Etch-a-Sketch. For the past few years, he has been actively creating art of detailed cityscapes and life-like portraits.

"People seem to enjoy my work because everyone, young and old, has used one before and has an idea of how difficult it is," Madden said. "It's a very special thing, elicited by the combination of people's nostalgia and appreciation for art." 

An Etch-a-Sketch has a flat gray screen and two knobs, which move the lines vertically and horizontally to create images. Shaking the toy erases the picture.

Madden said he remembers using the Etch-a-Sketch when he was a kid and used to draw basic structures.

"I recall doing a sketch of the local A&P in Golden's Bridge," he said. "I don't think I ever showed it to anyone."

Ever since he randomly picked up the toy again while he was in school, the response has been overwhelming. He has been featured in numerous publications and gotten requests from people from all over the country to have him sketch their cities.

"I got a lot of media attention in the months leading up to the Presidential election," said Madden, who now lives in Connecticut. "Mitt Romney was the subject of scrutiny from his political rivals when his advisor had compared him to an Etch-a-Sketch in regards to how he would handle the general election. When this happened, I got a phone call to go down to the News Corp. building and sketch a picture of Mitt to be recorded and used by The Daily."

This story was also picked up by several other media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and CNBC. 

Now, the 1999 North Salem High School graduate is displaying a collection of 34 of his most recent work at Somers Library during the month of February. A reception will be held on Saturday, Feb. 16 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

Patch caught up with the artist.

Patch: How did everything begin?

Madden: I was going to school upstate and I randomly bought a pen with a micro-sized etch-a-sketch affixed to the top of it. I drew a scene of my friends playing games at my apartment and was really surprised with the results. I decided to buy a full-sized etch and see what I could do with it – so I started drawing New York City, starting with Yankee Stadium in the top left corner and working my way across the rest, filling in the East River, upper Manhattan, the Bronx and everything else you would see traveling into and out of the city by train or car. I also did a sketch of Chicago for a friend out there.

One day I posted pictures of the sketches on reddit.com and the response was overwhelming. Thousand of upvotes (users vote submissions up or down, the best submissions rise to the top), hundreds of comments. Lots of people requesting I sketch their city. Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco. I saw there was an audience for it so I kept going with it. 

Patch: What is the hardest part about creating Etch-a-Sketch pieces?

Madden: The most difficult thing about creating art on the Etch-a-Sketch is the pressure to not mess up. If you make a mistake, you're stuck with it. Keep going or erase and start again. If I'm 20+ hours into a piece and I'm drawing a crucial aspect, like a steeple or major landmark, the pressure is pretty strong to get it right, otherwise you could lose hours, days, even months of work.  

Patch: What inspires you?

Madden: I'm inspired by anything different and fun. The obscure art mediums excite me, things people didn't think could be used to create art. I've tried my hand in skittle art before, I also bought a lite-brite that I'm yet to experiment with. I like the guy that makes awesome lego sculptures, and the guy who carves intricate objects into the tips of a pencil. These strange mediums, just off to the side of what people normally think about. That's where the fun is.

If I were to paint an amazing picture or sketch a beautiful portrait, people would be impressed, but they wouldn't be shocked and excited. Those are the typical responses I get when people see my art. People get happy when they see it. It's a really positive, inspiring thing.

Patch: What is your favorite piece of art so far?

Madden: My favorite piece of art that I have created so far is my Times Square Etch-a-Sketch. It's by far my most involved work, taking me half a year to complete. I get a lot of enjoyment out of working on a very tiny scale, creating very fine details. Drawing all of the billboards, trying to squeeze all the little logos and adverts - it was a fun subject to tackle. 

Patch: How do you preserve your work?

Madden: Before I start a sketch, I drill holes into the back of the Etch-a-Sketch. I then cover the holes up with electrical tape and begin the drawing. Once the etch is complete, I remove the electrical tape from the back and sift all the aluminum dust out of the sketch. Once all the powder is removed, the sketch can no longer be erased by shaking it up, as there is nothing left to coat the glass. This makes for a semi-permanent work of art that can be shipped through the mail. I've sent several across the country. 

Patch: How long does it take you to finish one picture? What picture took you the longest?

Madden: A single portrait of a person, which I usually do on a pocket-size Etch-a-Sketch, generally takes me about an hour to complete, if I get it right the first time. Sometimes it can take 5+ tries. A city-scape, which is probably my preferred subject, can take between 12-50 hours, depending on the complexity. My most involved piece so far has been my Times Square etch, which I'm guessing took 50 hours spread out over half a year. 

Patch: Do you make your living through your Etch-a-Sketch art? 

Madden: I do commissions of portraits, pets, houses and businesses. I also do parties and events. To supplement my income, I wait tables on the side, but only until the art covers all the bills. I'm getting closer all the time.

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Upon graduating from high school in 1999, Madden moved to New York City to pursue comedy. He was previously writing and hosting a public access show on Yorktown Cablevision called "Up-Late with Bryan Madden." He also had a website Robot-Frank.com, about an angry cardboard box robot that would go into town and cause trouble. That was featured in Entertainment Weekly, Maxim, KROQ radio and nearly got turned into a TV show. 

Madden's work can be seen online at Bryanetch.blogspot.com. You can also "like" his Facebook page facebook.com/bryansketch. If anyone is interested in commissioning an Etch a Sketch, email Madden at bryanleemadden@gmail.com. 

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