Marion Etch A Sketch artist sees unlimited potential in a 60-year-old toy

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Tim Gallenbeck, known as the Bearded Border on social media, recently had his art displayed at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. — courtesy of Tim Gallenbeck

Tim Gallenbeck bought an Etch A Sketch for 99 cents at a thrift store in 2013. He hoped his daughters would play with it, but found himself using it more than them.

In December of that year, Gallenbeck made a Christmas scene on the Etch A Sketch, posted it on Facebook and didn’t think much of it. The Etch A Sketch was put in the toy room and forgotten about. A couple years went by, then it was found again.

“Previous to me moving [from Madison, Wisconsin to Marion, Iowa in 2017], I was playing around a little bit more, and in 2016, I looked online to see if anyone else out there was doing this as an art medium,” Gallenbeck told Little Village. “I found some people — there weren’t many. So I ended up friending them and talking to them, and I was learning little tips and tricks. Then in 2017, I learned that you could preserve [the Etch A Sketch art] and make the image permanent, which was a game-changer for me.”

“I started networking with other people and other artists around here and getting to know more people with it and found out there was an Etch A Sketch Facebook group that I ended up joining. And there’s less than maybe 90 of us on there.”

Gallenbeck, who is a self-taught artist, said tips from other artists have been helpful, especially with how open the community is to sharing techniques. Still, far as he knows, he is the only Etch A Sketch artist in Iowa.

Now, Gallenbeck — known as the Bearded Border on Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok — posts his art on social media, creates timelapses of the process, has been commissioned for his work and has showcased his art locally. Most recently, his work was on display on the second floor of the Cedar Rapids Public Library.

“Everyone’s got some sort of connection to an Etch A Sketch, it seems like, or some sort of memory, and that’s why it’s such a great medium,” Gallenbeck said, also pointing out that this year is the toy’s 60th anniversary. “There’s so many people that can relate to it and have played with one or had it at their house.”

Tim Gallenbeck said he enjoys seeing people’s response to his art, and he wants to inspire people to challenge themselves. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The amount of time Gallenbeck spends on his work varies on the size of the Etch A Sketch. Creating on the “classic” size, he said, can take anywhere from a couple of hours to 40 hours. It takes only 1-2 hours to finish a sketch on the pocket-sized machines, which he uses the most often.

“And that’s just creating it,” Gallenbeck said. “The preservation part of it is a whole different animal, and it sometimes takes longer to preserve it than it does to actually make.”

Preserving his pieces ensures that the drawing can’t be erased if someone shakes the toy. In order to do so, the aluminum powder has to be drained.

He said his favorite drawing so far is a vertical Etch A Sketch of Salvador Dalí. Gallenbeck also recalled the “awesome experience” of when he sketched American Gothic from Grant Wood’s studio where Wood painted the original.

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A few ideas Gallenbeck has in the works include a sip and sketch session, similar to classes that involve painting and drinking wine, but with Etch A Sketch art instead. He also hopes to start doing workshops.

“I want to inspire people to challenge themselves,” Gallenbeck said.

“I also teach yoga and mindfulness, and I love the correlation of the Etch A Sketch you can shake it back up and start over. There’s always little things that are really great about it that relate to life on a deeper level, and I absolutely love that.”

A vertical, pocket-sized Etch A Sketch of artist Salvador Dalí. Tim Gallenbeck said this is his favorite out of the art he’s created so far. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

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