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Archive journalière du 15 mai 2008

Etch a Sketch of Childhood

Sherbrooke, Quebec, 1963. I’m four-years old. My father and I are coloring a little girl playing hopscotch in my coloring book. Bedtime is creeping up but the clock stands still when you’re breaking in new crayons — a box of 48 Crayola wax crayons with a built-in sharpener that makes curly shavings. Crayola has not yet invented crayons that glow in the dark, sparkle with glitter, change colors, smell like watermelon, or wash off walls, windows, and bathtubs. But I’m thrilled with my gold, silver and copper crayons. My father colors the sole of the girl’s shoe gold to make it look dirty. Since he doesn’t press hard there is no iridescent effect. It doesn’t look as if this happy-go-lucky girl has 24-karat gold leaf underneath her Mary Janes. The sole of her uplifted shoe simply looks a tad worn, a testament to her playful endeavors. I’m impressed. Now I try out as many colors as I can, including Peach and Midnight Blue.

Had I been coloring before 1958 I would be have been using Prussian Blue instead of Midnight Blue, which in fact is the same color with a different name. Crayola changed the name because teachers felt that children were not familiar enough with Prussian history to recognize that this crayon color referred to the deep-blue uniforms of Prussian soldiers. When I used my Peach crayon I was oblivious to the fact that a year earlier this color used to be called Flesh. In 1962, partly in response to the civil rights movement, the Flesh color was renamed Peach, in recognition of the fact that skin comes in various shades. I never colored faces, preferring the natural tint of newsprint to any of the politically correct shades available in my box of crayons.

That coloring book episode is my earliest memory of making art. Coloring books have gotten their share of slack for inhibiting children’s creativity. I grew up with them and became a professional artist. I know what you’re thinking: She sounds like the ninety-year old pack-a-day smoker who boasts of excellent health.

Let’s consider the merits of a coloring book from a child’s point of view. There’s the obvious virtue of making you look like a master artist just because you’ve carefully colored within the boundaries of the lines. When it comes to choosing what to color the decision-making process simply involves flipping through pages, almost as easy as clicking on a mouse. And the coloring book is easy to tote along when you go to visit boring relatives.

For some reason I don’t have memories of coloring freehand. There must be something comforting about the pre-drawn designs in coloring books that imprinted in my mind: The Mickey Mouses, the Santa Clauses, the Tweedy Birds, the baskets of Easter eggs, the farm animals, the jungle animals… Luckily my father kept some of my freehand drawings from when I was a child, all carefully tucked away in a filing cabinet. A note to parents: save your kids’ artwork, and date it. Thanks to my Dad’s judicious filing techniques (he even kept a copy the “Feeding Schedule” from when I was one month old, before the days of feeding-on-demand) you can view three works of Talleen Hacikyan, exhibited here for the first time, all made somewhere between 1964 and 1969.stilllife.jpg
Still Life
Wax crayon and banana stickers on paper


Happy Landing
Wax crayon, pencil crayon and gold sticker on paper


Woman With Fork Jewelry
Wax crayon and ballpoint pen on paper

When I think of making art as a child I remember certain toys.

Growing up in the sixties, I made my share of Etch A Sketch drawings. Etch a Sketch, in case you don’t know, is a plastic screen with knobs that control a stylus behind the screen. As the stylus moves it displaces Aluminum powder on the back of the screen, leaving a dark grey line in its path. This toy was introduced near the peak of the baby boom. I liked writing my name with it, creating odd geometric letters, drawing houses with stairs, and then shaking the Etch A Sketch to erase my masterpieces. It was also fun covering the entire screen with lines aligned one next to the other, so that the screen turned dark grey, revealing the stylus and the rods attached to it. I’ve come a long way from my classic red and white Etch A Sketch to my silver, streamlined Apple PowerBook. But as I discovered there are some people out there who churn out incredible drawings on their Etch A Sketch. To view an Etch A Sketch artist at work check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYM__s3R5q0

spirograph.jpgSpirograph was one of my all time favorite toys. I must have made hundreds of circular designs with it. It works by rolling a plastic gear inside or outside of a plastic ring. A few years ago I bought a cheap imitation from a street vendor in Istanbul for my son. The plastic is too thin and slips constantly. I was more disappointed than he was with this impulsive purchase. One small consolation is that I discovered that the web is full of sites that sell items with Spirograph patterns on them, everything from desk mugs to diaper bags. For my birthday I want a set of Spirograph sheets. If I can’t make Spirograph designs let me sleep in them.

One Christmas I unwrapped a huge box –Rings ‘n Things, the first item on my wish list that I had personally mailed to the North Pole. The kit came with “gobbledy goop” that I poured into metal molds to make rings and pendants of butterflies and flowers. I remember lots of pink and the thrill of observing imprinted details when I pulled out the hardened goop from the mold.

The following Christmas a family friend got me a pyrography kit, which I had never asked for because I did not know what pyrography is. I discovered that it is the art of burning designs into wood. The kit came with thin wood plates, printed with designs of horses, chipmunks, roosters, etc. With an electrically heated needle that had adaptable tips I would burn the patterns. I loved the smell of the burning wood and the way I could modulate the intensity of browns according to how long I let the wood burn.

The only photo of me making art as a child is this Polaroid snapshot taken when I was twelve years old. I am painting by numbers with oils on a black velvet board, wearing my red velvet dress. I still have
the easel but there is no trace of my velvety chef d’oeuvre.
Making art makes me feel good. Not all the time, but when I’m totally immersed in what I am creating, when my piece dictates how to continue working and when this silent dialogue between myself and my art becomes so engaging that the outside world evaporates, I feel good.

When I create a collagraph plate designed for printing onto paper, I work (and play) on cardboard. As I make textures with plaster and glue bits of eggshells, coffee ground, leaves, and sand, I connect to the little girl who colored a monkey eating a banana, who made pink plastic rings, and who etched a marvelous childhood, if only to have it shaken by the passing of time until it vanished into the realm of memory.

Talleen Hacikyan

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