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One Sketch Artist Who Doesn't Toy Around

September 14, 1997|LARA M. ZEISES | BALTIMORE SUN

BALTIMORE — In a few days, George Vlosich III will enroll in the Cleveland Institute of Art. He plans to major in graphic arts, but he prefers to work in a medium the school doesn't offer: Etch A Sketch.

It's no joke. Vlosich, a native of Lakewood, Ohio, has spent about half of his 18 years perfecting the art of Etch A Sketch-ing. Anyone who has ever tried a hand at the toy knows how frustrating it is to form almost any coherent shape: Imagine etching a detailed portrait of Cal Ripken in Camden Yards, the baseball legend's arms straining from a swing of the bat.

That's what Vlosich does.

"He has a really unique gift," says Elena West, vice president of marketing for Ohio Toy Co., makers of Etch A Sketch. Her company tracks the work of 50 or so Etch A Sketch artists. Vlosich's portraits, she says, are "unbelievable."

The images don't come quickly for Vlosich; the average "sketch" takes from 30 to 40 hours to complete. Using the sketching device's two white knobs to control his lines (one pushes a stylus horizontally, the other vertically), Vlosich scratches away at the Etch A Sketch screen's aluminum powder until he's got a remarkable likeness of Joe Namath, Michael Jordan or Muhammad Ali.

The pressure is high, Vlosich says, because "if I make one mistake, I've got to start over."

When he's satisfied with the picture, Vlosich carefully opens the back of the Etch A Sketch, removes the excess powder and other innards, and frames the finished work, now permanently sketched.

The finished pictures look more like pen-and-ink drawings than tinkerings on a child's toy. But Vlosich was merely a child when he discovered what he calls his "God-given talent."

During a vacation to Washington, the bored 9-year-old sat in the back seat of the family car with an Etch A Sketch and produced a stunning likeness of the Capitol.

Although he's an accomplished artist in several media, it's his Etch A Sketch art that's brought Vlosich the most pleasure and notoriety--most recently in the world of sports. During a recent family vacation to Baltimore and Ocean City, Vlosich was scheduled to meet with a sports marketing firm to explore possibilities for his work.

His hobby already has turned into a fledgling business: Etched in Time. For $1,000 to $3,000, you can buy an original work. Limited edition lithographs are a more affordable $50. Or wait for the Topps baseball card supplement series, with Vlosich's portraits of baseball stars. Those hit the stores in October.

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