Alli Katz (her real name) didn’t set out to be an Etch-a-Sketch wizard. But after borrowing her niece’s miniature Etch-a-Sketch in high school, she unwittingly discovered a hidden talent: She could draw with the children’s toy almost as well as she could with a pen and paper.
“I brought the pocket Etch-a-Sketch into high school and got a lot of positive attention,” says Katz. “So I started doing it all the time.”
The 30-year-old Philadelphia-based writer and cartoonist has since perfected the skill and turned it into a highly Instagrammable art form. Since early December, Katz has been Etch-a-Sketching her own renditions of popular album covers, from The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” to Taylor Swift’s “1989.”
Each album cover takes about 45 minutes to complete, on average. That is, of course, when there aren’t any unexpected complications. Covers with a lot shading can take much longer, since the Etch A Sketch can only fill in one thin line at a time. And then there’s always what Katz calls the “plausible nightmare” that a misspelling can render an hour’s work unusable.
“Sometimes I have to start a really simple one six or seven times because there is something off about it and there’s no way to cover up mistakes,” says Katz. “I started ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac like eight times. Something about the fluidity of Stevie’s body and Mick’s wooden balls made it really hard for me, but I really love that album and I was determined to do it.”
As you might imagine, keeping up with a project like this requires an arsenal of Etch A Sketches. Katz maintains a rotating collection of four of them and routinely picks up new ones when she finds them at a good price. Believe it or not, not all Etch-a-Sketches are created equal. “Sometimes the line is too thin, sometimes it’s too thick,” says Katz. “Sometimes the coasters that run the stylus catch and jerk the line. Sometimes the powder doesn’t stick right on the screen.”
To ensure a stockpile of the best possible Etch A Sketches, Katz says she tests them out in the store, often leaving behind an intricate rendering on the shelf at Target. So if you’re ever strolling the toy aisle of a store and you spot a painstakingly knob-doodled version of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” you know where it came from.
See Katz’s creations in the gallery above.