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Etch-a-Sketch portraits turn Facebook flotsam into lasting art

Bryan Lee Madden turns his friends’ fleeting Facebook photos into Etch-a-Sketch art.


Kevin Morris


For many, a Facebook profile pic should be ephemeral: something to change when you feel like it. It’s an Etch-a-Sketch portrayal of one’s essence. Draw it, shake it, and forget it.

Not so for friends of Bryan Lee Madden, a self described “artist with a day job” from Connectictut. He recently immortalized 50 of his Facebook friends’ profile pics.

And he did it in Etch-a-Sketch form, as it happens.


Madden said the sketches are more practice than anything else. He’d been trying cityscapes and landscapes for the past year or so, and wanted to challenge himself with something new.

So he chose to draw portraits.

The result is a mosaic of random online social connections, rendered in lines scratched out of the Etch-a-Sketch’s aluminum-powder and plastic-bead innards.

(He’s even found a hack for turning the transitory images into something more permanent.)

Each piece takes about an hour to complete, Madden said, though some can take as many as 10 tries. It took him six months to reach 50 friends, he said.

Though the profile pics came from Facebook, and he runs a blog on Blogger, he thought social news site Reddit, where he’s been a frequent contributor for years, would be the best place to get his art noticed.

“The audience there seems to be very compatible with my work,” Madden wrote in a message to the Daily Dot.

The move’s paid off. His post received 3,340 upvotes and 201 comments. It briefly made it to the Reddit frontpage yesterday — no easy task on a site with nearly 20 million unique visitors a month.

“It’s probably my preferred venue for displaying my art,” Madden wrote. “I’d imagine it would be difficult to find the kind of exposure offered there through other avenues.”

For Madden, who works at camera and imaging store in Connecticut, the Etch-a-Sketch is alluring as an artistic medium because it’s so rare.

“There are millions of painters, illustrators and sculptors” Madden wrote. “There’s less than 10 legit Etch-a-Sketch artists. I dig that.”

As for the future, Madden is inviting redditors to “like” his blog on Facebook. Then, he’ll choose some of his fans at random, and sketch them.

It’s a clever way to bridge two very different online worlds and promote his art. And Madden shows that the Internet’s soft ties, the seemingly discardable tapestry of connections we build up in online encounters, can turn into a lasting impression.

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