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The Etch A Sketch® is a closed drawing system that allows people to create art without the need for any other supplies such as paper, pencils, crayons, paints, pastels, or pens, and without any need for either preparation or clean up. The system grew out of an idea that André Cassagnes, a French electrician, had for drawing with aluminum powder that was moved by static electricity and could then be shaken free of the drawing surface so that a new picture could be created.
Naming his invention “Ecran Magique,” which means “magic screen,” he presented it at the International Toy Exhibition in 1959. An introduction to Jerry Burger — then Chief Engineer for the Ohio Art Company — led to a collaboration that resulted in the system that is still at the heart of the Etch A Sketch® product today, with the first model produced on July 12, 1960.
The Etch a Sketch® as produced looks a little bit like a television: it has a gray rectangular screen with rounded corners set in a red plastic frame. There is a dial at the lower left corner and one at the lower right. You start a sketch by shaking the box vigorously. This makes aluminum powder stick to the screen on account of static electricity.
By turning one of the dials to start, you will move the stylus inside across the screen, removing the powder and a tiny bit of a dark gray line appears, revealing the location of the stylus. One dial directs the stylus up or down, while the other moves it left or right. By carefully adjusting the dials either individually or in tandem, drawings of remarkable intricacy can be created. The picture can be saved or — by turning over and shaking the Etch A Sketch® to recoat the screen with powder — erased.
Today, Etch A Sketch® toys are available in a variety of sizes, including mini, pocket size, travel, and the original size called classic., which has a 5 inch by 7 inch screen (12.7 cm by 17.8 cm. In addition, there are themed Etch A Sketch® toys tied to popular children’s characters such as Dora the Explorer®, Go Diego Go®, and SpongeBob SquarePants®.
Etch a Sketch® artists, such as George Vlosich III, who specializes in portraits, remove the aluminum powder and the build in stylus from the toy to preserve the artwork. It can take between 70 and 80 hours for Vlosich to complete a drawing. Other Etch A Sketch® artists include Kevin E. Davis, who copies famous works of art as well as architecture and Tim George, who began using the toy to amuse his daughter at a time when she was hospitalized, as well as Jeff Gagliardi, Ron Morse, Nicole Falzone, and Pauline Graziano.