On any given day, you might find Jane Labowitch sitting near the Bean or on a bench at the Art Institute. Just look for the 25-year-old Detroit native hovering over a classic toy: the Etch A Sketch. Labowitch, who goes by Princess Etch A Sketch and lives in Logan Square, is a full-time artist who sketches famous pieces of art and architecture around Chicago, from the Bean to A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. You can even buy an Etch A Sketched version of your family portrait via her Etsy shop. Here’s what to know about this unconventional artist.
How did you get into Etch A Sketch?
We had one in the house growing up, and I’m the youngest of five, so the Etch A Sketch was one of those toys that all of my siblings before me had played with. I first started playing with the Etch A Sketch when I was four, and I taught myself the secrets of the toy over the years: shading techniques, planning steps for how I go about starting an art piece, and preserving my art after it is complete.
In 2014, I decided to bring an Etch A Sketch with me to the Art Institute and I spent 45 minutes rendering a small statue called Eve After the Fall by Rodin. That was the first time I ever did a copy of a famous work of art on an Etch A Sketch. But growing up, my sister Kelly, who is an artist too, would take me to the Detroit Institute of Arts on a Friday night and we would just draw from the museum.
Why an Etch A Sketch?
When I got older, around high school, I started realizing that there was some interesting artistic potential for it. I think as an artist, it’s always exciting to do something that’s never been done before. I also appreciate that there are very specific limitations to it. Everything has to be done in one line and it’s a pretty unforgiving medium.
Where would you say is your favorite place to sketch in Chicago?
A lot of architectural Etch A Sketch drawings are interesting because the skyline of Chicago is so diverse. I liked the Bean because it was such an organic shape. Lately, I’ve been doing work at the Art Institute, which is heavily figural
You ship your finished Etch A Sketches all over the country. How does that work?
It’s a messy process, but I drill a hole in the back of the toy and shake out this aluminum powder. That’s what coats the screen when you shake it. If you remove the extra powder, you don’t have to worry about the sketch being messed up.
I saw that you have an Etch A Sketch necklace. Could you tell me a little about that?
They made these ridiculously tiny Etch A Sketches a few years ago, and as someone who loves Etch A Sketches, I have a ton of ridiculous merchandise. And I thought, well, why don’t I make this into jewelry? For me, it’s become an important piece of my professional wardrobe. And I have that necklace in a variety of colors now because they have made little baby Etch A Sketches in a variety of colors. It’s absurd but it’s great.
Are you working on anything else right now?
I do a lot of commission-based work, and most of that I get through Etsy. Most of the time, my commission-based work is family portrait-related. So people will send me a photo of themselves, or a significant other, or their whole family, and I come up with an Etch A Sketch rendition of that.
How long does it take to finish a sketch?
The beginning is the hardest part to do. Once I lay it out, then I do the shading. For the Caillebotte [below], I’m working on the hard part of it and I expect it will take around the same amount of time that my Seurat [above] took me, which was about eight hours, but I hope to have it finished by the end of the month.