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Etch-a-Sketch Art is Not Just for Children

19 October 2008 No Comment

Story by Linsay Rousseau Burnett

Since the age of 14, when he first picked up a guitar, Michael McNevin knew he wanted to be a musician. During his career, this singer-songwriter has opened for artists such as Johnny Cash and Richie Havens and produced four albums. But McNevin’s music is not his only form of artistic expression. When he’s not busy writing songs, he’s drawing detailed scenes of the events he sings about on…an Etch-a-Sketch.

The Etch-a-Sketch is a toy that has delighted and confounded children, and adults for over 50 years. With a thick red frame, users twist two white knobs that move a black line up and down or side to side on the screen. What seemed like magic as a child is actually a plastic screen coated with aluminum powder that is scrapped off by moving the knobs. Drawing with the tool is difficult because there is only one line that can be used to create the image and it cannot be broken. To start over, just shake the toy and the image is erased.

As a child, McNevin said that the Etch-a-Sketch was one of his favorite toys, and he drew on it frequently. After seeing that he was able to create curves in his scribbles, McNevin began to challenge himself.

“I remember thinking, if curves can be done accidentally, they could be done on purpose if I could figure out how,” he said.

McNevin said he spent much of his free time as a child teaching himself how to draw curves and diagonals on the toy  until it came naturally to him. Despite having taught himself this unique skill, McNevin said that he did not have a strong “artistic eye” and mostly drew cartoons.

But as he grew older, his interest in the Etch-a-Sketch waned. It was not until McNevin was well into his music career that he would revisit this childhood passion.

In the mid-1990s, when McNevin was not touring, he was living alone in a cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. One afternoon, an old high school friend visited and convinced McNevin to help him look for a toy he had as a child.

While McNevin was walking through the aisles of the store, he saw the Etch-a-Sketch.

“Here he was looking for his old childhood toy that he wanted to find and I ended up going home with mine too,” said McNevin.

From that moment on, McNevin started drawing again and his sketches became increasingly complex. His long road trips on tour provided ample time to practice his art.

Even though friends would compliment his Etch-a-Sketch drawings, McNevin said, “I didn’t think anything of it.” While he was stopped in St. Louis as part of a five-week tour, he did a drawing of the Gateway Arch and a fellow songwriter took a picture of it. After the photo was developed, McNevin realized he could capture and distribute his images through prints, much like other artists do.

McNevin erased the St. Louis drawing and headed to Wisconsin for another concert. While there, he drew a scene of a local bar.

“I drove 2,000 miles with that drawing, lying flat in the bed of my truck,” he said.

During those 2,000 miles, McNevin stopped to play concerts in half a dozen other states and continued to draw and take pictures of his sketches. In Hastings, Nebraska, a local gallery owner saw McNevin’s sketches and put pictures of them up in his gallery. At his next concert in Salt Lake City, McNevin said, “People offered to buy the drawings, the matted photos. I thought, wow. Ok.”

When McNevin returned home from the road trip, he wrote the songs that would become his “Sketch” album and decided to illustrate the lyrics with sketches. “At that point, the concept for a record that had art going with it had kind of surfaced,” he said.

Inside McNevin’s small and cluttered music shop, The Mudpuddle, over a dozen Etch-a-Sketch drawings are mounted on the wall. Next to a rack of his CDs are full-sized glossy prints of his sketches that he sells.

McNevin’s artwork has extended beyond the music scene. A photo of one of his sketches, an image of a little league baseball game, hung in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. for one year. The song he wrote that accompanies the sketch is now in the Hall of Fame’s baseball song collection and he had the opportunity to play several concerts there.

McNevin is moving forward on recording a new music album and plans to start touring again. While he said that the days of five-week road trips are over, he still plans to continue using the Etch-a-Sketch to document his adventures and hopes to add more images to his collection.

To learn more about McNevin and hear some of his music visit his website: www.michaelmcnevin.com

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