Shea Baker is at the wheels of her Etch A Sketch, crafting John Calipari’s ear.
Most of us are hopeless on the magnetic drawing tablet, lucky to craft a square with sides that are more or less equal.
Not so Baker, a DJ at Lexington radio station Classic Rock 92.1. She discovered her skill while waiting in a dentist’s office in Denver more than a decade ago. The waiting room offered an Etch A Sketch. Baker was surprised to find that she could manipulate the knobs to make images.
Baker was soon showing off her creations to work colleagues for critique.
Then she got ambitious: “I was doing it for 18 hours. ... It’s crazy how long it takes.”
Baker will start on an image and do it one time, then go back over it a second time and often a third.
That’s particularly important on the new generation of Etch A Sketch devices, which have a lighter line than the “classic” Etch A Sketch. Etch A Sketch was once produced by Ohio Art — the kind Baker prefers, with the darker lines — but is now owned by Spinmaster of Toronto. The classic sells for about $15.
She has an elaborate process for “freezing” her finalized drawings, but Baker nonetheless likes to play a practical joke on the unsuspecting by tossing her Etch A Sketch upside down “like when you go to Dairy Queen and get a Blizzard” and turn it upside down to make sure it was set like concrete. As all Etch A Sketch artists know, turning the device upside down erases the sketch.
People have wanted to buy Baker’s Etch A Sketch art. Her specialty is faces, and she is quite hard on herself about her sketches.
For example, in the Calipari sketch, in which the University of Kentucky basketball coach is featured with UK football coach Mark Stoops and UK women’s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell, she is unhappy with the way Mitchell turned out, not really captured by expression or body language as the other two are.
She also has a gallery of Etch A Sketch portraits she keeps for herself. Baker has a wicked sense of humor, and the retained Etch A Sketches entertain her: actor Patrick Stewart of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” looking earnest and wrinkled; the late “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson, wearing his trademark bemused expression; Queen Elizabeth on a stamp, focused and sober; and “American Gothic,” the iconic 1930 painting by Grant Wood, in which she has captured the dourness of the country couple.
Baker is also fond of Norman Rockwell illustrations.
She gets a lot of requests from customers who want a sketch of their dog. Her portraits of actor/comedian Bill Murray are also popular.
She has sold some of her frozen Etch A Sketches, sometimes for as much as $200. (Did Baker mention that it takes tens of hours, including sketching, going over the sketch and the elaborate sealing process?)
Mainly she posts them online, both on her Facebook and on her blog. Sketches include Pope Francis on the cover of Time magazine; Yoda from the “Star Wars” movies; Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones; John Wayne; a recreation a piece by artist M.C. Escher, known for his mathematical drawings and plays on perspective; and a take on impressionist Eduoard Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.”
She also works on the “pocket” Etch A Sketch, rendering such classics as Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “The Luncheon of the Boating Party.”
The miniature Etch A Sketches, she said, “are my favorite.”
The challenge on the tiny Etch A Sketch is seeing clearly: Baker uses a sewing magnifying glass to do that.
“People always ask me if I cheat,” Baker said of her Etch A Sketch work. “I don’t cheat. How would I?”