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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Etched in Time: George Vlosich III Turns a Child’s Toy into a Unique Sports Collectible

A slightly different version of this article was originally published in the November 12, 2004 issue of Sports Collectors Digest under the title "Etch a Sketch Prodigy George Vlosich III Conquers New Worlds".

The answers to the two questions most frequently asked of George Vlosich III are "Hard work and dedication" and "No, it won’t erase if you shake it." Vlosich creates stunningly detailed artwork with an Etch a Sketch and his skills have earned him appearances on TV shows as varied as 20/20 and NBA Inside Stuff. People who see his work for the first time invariably ask, "How do you do that?" and "Will it erase if I shake it?"

Vlosich displayed several of his Etch a Sketch works—including depictions of Tracy McGrady, John Wooden, Cal Ripken and non-sports subjects such as The Andy Griffith Show and the movie Gangs of New York—at the 25th National Sports Collectors Convention held July 21-25, 2004 at the International Exhibition Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Vlosich has been to both previous Nationals in Cleveland. He also went to the National several years back in Anaheim, when Yahoo sponsored an online auction of some of his artwork. Vlosich's choice of subjects is often influenced by the potential opportunity to interact with one of his sports heroes: "A lot of times I do it by commission but sometimes it's like, 'Hey, I'd love to meet Tracy McGrady' and I'm going down to Florida, so I'll try to get a chance to meet him. That's the fun part for me." When Vlosich shows a completed Etch a Sketch to an athlete, the athlete frequently signs the red frame, but don't expect to see those on the market: "All the ones the players autograph—I keep every autograph, I don't sell any of the ones that are autographed. I just keep those for my personal collection."

He adds, "The one thing for me is I've never paid for an autograph. Even through my own work, I've always said that the player should sign it because he wants to sign it and not because I paid him to sign it. So, I've never actually paid for an autograph. That's kind of important to me." His Etch a Sketch work has provided Vlosich the opportunity to not only meet his favorite athletes and collect their signatures, but to obtain other collectibles as well: "I've had a chance to get some pretty neat collectibles. A lot of guys will autograph a ball or a bat or a jersey, which is really neat for me. Again, I keep (those items) for my personal collection and would never sell them. One of the things that I got was a Bulls team ball from the (record tying) 69th win of their 72 win season (1995-96). My brother got a signed ball by the whole team, too, which was just a great thing to have."

Ask Vlosich what the highlight has been so far and his face brightens when he describes his day at the home of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. George's younger brother Greg attended Coach Wooden's basketball camp in California, so the whole Vlosich family got a chance to meet Wooden at the camp. Vlosich had not done an Etch a Sketch of Wooden at that time, but when he mentioned his interest in doing one, the Wizard of Westwood responded very enthusiastically, saying "I'd love to see it." The next year (2000), the whole Vlosich family again traveled to California and Coach Wooden invited them over to his house: "Going up to his house and then seeing Coach Wooden standing at the door waving to us—that's a sight you don't get to see too often! He read poetry to us. He played songs that his players had written and stuff like that. It was just an incredible experience—listening to him talk, his knowledge, his wisdom. It was just awesome. It was a very humbling experience. It was just really cool. Going there, it was like a museum. It was incredible—and the stories he had to share."

Vlosich recalls how his Etch a Sketch career began: "Art has always been a God given talent. I have painted and drawn since I was 2 years old—I would wake up, watch cartoons and draw. One day we were going on vacation to the nation's capital and we stopped to pick up my Mom's old Etch a Sketch…I started playing with it and did the U.S. Capitol Building. When I looked at it when I was done I couldn't believe it and my family was amazed. We felt like, we've got to take a picture of this—you know, my little brother was in the car, he might erase it. We pulled over to a gas station and took a picture of it and that was it. I just kept practicing with it and wanted to see how good I could get."

The 25 year old Vlosich, who works for Cleveland based Wyse Advertising, has been perfecting his craft for more than a decade and a half: "I went to art school and as I got better at drawing I got better at the Etch a Sketch and vice versa, so they just kind of fed off each other…People don't realize that it didn't always look this good. It takes time and practice. You can't just go out there and do it."

Vlosich adds, "When I first started doing them they probably took two hours at the most and I started off doing simple things like Batman, Spiderman, the California Raisins—real easy things, cartoon stuff. The first athlete I did was Cal Ripken (from an image) on a baseball card. I put the name on the bottom and that was the only way you could know it was Cal Ripken. From the progression of getting better, they can take 70-80 hours now."

The increase in time and effort naturally results in a corresponding decrease in productivity: "I probably do, on average, five or six a year that I would sell. People commission me. I try to keep it as limited as possible. I don't want everyone and their brother to have one. It's a unique piece of art and it should stay that way." Vlosich estimates that 75% of his Etch a Sketch works are sports related but he adds, "I'd like to branch out into movies, TV, pop culture kind of things." They range in price from $5-8000 depending on the complexity of the piece. On his website Vlosich sells prints of his Etch a Sketch art; professionally framed and double matted, prices start at $125. He also produces original pencil or acrylic illustrations made to order and lithographs.

It is unlikely that anyone will ever attain the proficiency with an Etch a Sketch that Vlosich has, but even if that were to occur, Vlosich feels that he has something else that sets his work apart: "If anybody ever got as good as I did at Etch a Sketch, I would still have (an edge on) them on design, on overall design. I try to make everything fit in there just so, so that it becomes one unit, one nice image." He credits a lot of his talents in this area to his father, who has many years of experience working in and teaching advertising design.

Of course, none of this would be possible without a way to keep the Etch a Sketch from erasing. While Vlosich taught himself how to create his artwork, Ohio Art—the maker of the Etch a Sketch—told him how to protect his masterpieces from his younger brother, falls off of a countertop and other hazards that typically befall Etch a Sketches: "When I would send (photos of the) artwork to Ohio Art I always kept winning the contest. I just kept winning and finally, they called up and wanted to see if I was really doing this…Some lady came up to the house and brought a bunch of Etch a Sketches with her. She actually watched me do an Etch a Sketch. From that point on they told me how I could actually preserve them and make them permanent. Basically, I remove the back and remove all the powder that is inside. There is aluminum powder, which, when you shake it, sticks to the glass (erasing the previous image) and then the two knobs scratch away the powder that’s on there (to create new artwork)—it’s almost like a negative kind of image. What I do is just remove everything that is inside and screw it back together."

Greg graduated from attending Wooden’s basketball camp to playing for Cleveland State's basketball team and he is an artist as well; he displayed his painting of Tracy McGrady alongside George's Etch a Sketch work at the National. George explains the difference between his work and his brother's: "My brother loves to use watercolors. I haven't perfected that yet and I don't think that I ever will because I’m a little slower in my approach. It's a little like the difference between a fast break style in basketball versus a half court style. You put a color down in watercolors, it's pretty much down and you can't take it up. In oil painting you have a lot of room for mistakes, painting over it, you can make it as thick as you want it. You can just keep painting over it."

If there is one thing that George Vlosich III would like people to understand, it is that—while he feels blessed to have the ability to create Etch a Sketch art and is grateful for the doors that this talent has opened for him—he is more than just the "Etch a Sketch" guy. He is a serious artist who works in traditional media such as oil paintings and pencil illustrations. An art school project to create an ad campaign eventually led to him designing the uniforms for the Cleveland Force professional soccer team. He has donated artwork to an impressive roster of charities—including Akron Children’s Hospital, Muscular Dystrophy, March of Dimes, Jimmy V. Fund and NY 911 Tragedy Fund. Vlosich is very direct about his next goal: "I want to open my own design/advertising studio." He plans to involve his father and his friends in this project, which would incorporate "advertising design, stuff on the computer, logos. I enjoy all that stuff. Hopefully that will happen pretty soon."

Here is a photo of the Vlosich brothers and their father at the home of legendary UCLA Coach John Wooden, plus photos of the Cleveland Force uniform George designed, George's Etches of LeBron James, Allen Iverson and John Wooden and a painting of Tracy McGrady by George's brother Greg.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:58 AM



At Wednesday, July 01, 2009 12:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's just insane. Talent is talent, no matter where you find it. Thanks for the article.



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