Dave Roberts has mastered drawing a curved line with just the twist of two small, plastic knobs.
He grew up in Tooele County where his father would often tell him that “attitude is everything”, “you should stick to a task until it sticks to you” and “beginners are many, but finishers are few” — advice that would follow him through life.
As a result, he made it a goal to someday be featured in an art gallery. But he would not use a pencil, pastels or paint. Instead, he would use an Etch A Sketch.
By age 36, he succeeded in making a masterpiece.
Roberts said he would dabble in tracing books when he was young. He would also check out “How to Draw” books from the library and pencil draw abstract designs.
“You would always find me in my bedroom drawing,” he said.
He received an Etch A Sketch for Christmas when he was 15. An Etch A Sketch has two knobs that allow the artist to draw, then shake the toy and the picture shown on the screen erases.
The first picture Roberts drew was a jagged Christmas tree. He then thought he could draw presents underneath the tree and he did it.
“It takes a lot of practice to draw anything but stairs,” Roberts said.
Growing up, many of his siblings ran for student government and Roberts would hand draw their campaign posters. This helped develop his eye for art.
When he reached high school, he took his Etch A Sketch even further and he repeatedly drew the character Homer Simpson. This is where he developed the muscle memory for moving the knobs and redoing the same picture.
At school, Roberts quickly gained a reputation for his Etch A Sketch drawings. He enjoyed the reactions he got from fellow students and this motivated him to continue developing his talent.
In 2001, Roberts left to serve an LDS mission to Honduras. His parents sent him a new Etch A Sketch for Christmas. He did a rendering of Jesus Christ and wondered how he could preserve it.
Roberts took a candle and tried to burn a hole in the back of the Etch A Sketch and ended up ruining the picture. In Honduras, he didn’t have any real tools or information about how to preserve the picture.
He asked his parents to send him another one. Roberts ended up having to have surgery and while recovering in the hospital, he passed the time by sketching on the toy.
A friend told him that he saw on the Jay Leno show that someone sketched Leno’s face on an Etch A Sketch and it had shading. Roberts’ next goal was to give his pictures shading.
“The hardest part about the Etch A Sketch is making a smooth curve,” Roberts said.
He worked on texture and the technical work of creating a picture.
Roberts got married soon after he returned home from his mission. His wife, Jana, had received gifts from him on the Etch A Sketch. Jana told Dave that he should market his talent.
Dave told Jana, “Don’t say marketing. It reminds me of my Dad.” His father, Charlie Roberts, works in communications and public relations, and he always has advice for his son.
Roberts did end up marketing his work to acquaintances and friends, selling wedding pictures for $75. One client wasn’t happy with the final work.
“Why does my wife look like a monkey?” he asked Roberts. He did not let this discourage him.
Roberts looked up information on the internet and found a community of people that were Etch A Sketch artists.
“I became this mad scientist to try to find out how to preserve the Etch A Sketch,” Roberts said. Roberts finally found the solution.
In order to preserve them, Roberts cuts the frame open, removes the glass, and then cleans out all the powder. He then cuts the drawing mechanism out and seals it all back together.
“When you shake it or turn the knobs nothing happens,” Roberts said. He has recorded a video called “Shake it Up” that he shares on YouTube explaining the process.
In 2005, he moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, for work, where he would paint buildings with his uncle. Roberts didn’t think that he could do art full time, but he wanted to keep it going on the side. He spent the next several years churning out gifts for other people.
Roberts enrolled in a college course in art. His professor told him that his work was amazing and the teacher helped encourage him to pursue his talent.
In 2010, life started falling apart for him when he lost his job. He lost two homes and the family could no longer do foster care. For two-and-a-half years, he was unemployed. His dreams of being featured in a gallery were diminishing.
He was in a tough spot and he was also no longer sketching. He was depressed. After seeking therapy, he realized that the thing he needed in his life — to create — had been put aside.
“If you’re moving to where you want to go, you’re going to get there,” Roberts said.
With this thought, and now having three of his own children, he began waking up at 4 a.m. to work on his dream of having his art work in a gallery. He decided to draw each of his kids their own Etch A Sketch picture. In the process, he would work on building a gallery of pictures to showcase.
He received a call to join the Metro Arts Council, where he would show his art at a library and local community center. There he talked to other local artists. From one of the shows he got a call from Caesars Palace asking him if he was interested in selling his work there.
After a few months, he received another call from Caesars Palace that they were unable to sell his work and to come and pick it up. Loading his car up, he felt discouraged but decided to stop by the SKYE Art Gallery, also on the Las Vegas Strip, on his way home.
Roberts went to look at the gallery and ran into the owner Vanessa Skye. He told her he was an artist and just so happened to have his art in his car. Skye agreed to see Roberts’ art.
“I had to go against these voices that said, you could screw this up,” Roberts said.
Roberts brought his art into the gallery and Skye was instantly impressed. For two hours they talked about art and Roberts walked out the door with a contract.
He said if he has learned anything in this life it is to ride the roller coaster.
“Erase the thoughts that goals are too lofty,” he sad.
His father is amazed at his son’s talent and he noticed it eight years ago, when Roberts sketched a wedding gift for his sister.
“When you see his finished product up close and personal, that’s when you scratch your head and say, ‘How in the world can he do that?’ Like all great art, the photos and websites fall short of truly showing the high quality of his work,” Charlie Roberts said.
Of the upturn his life has taken, Dave Roberts said, “This is the time I run with it and ride this wave.”
Nowadays, every Saturday night, Roberts uses his evenings to work on a “live” Etch A Sketch project outside of the Las Vegas gallery where his work is diplayed. This allows him to let people know that his work hangs inside.
After all the ups and downs, the advice Roberts’ father gave to him as a kid has helped him to find his voice and achieve his dream. Roberts, in reality, has stuck to the task, despite adversity. Finally, after years and hard work, he has achieved his dream.
For more information about Roberts’ work, go to his website at www.etchbeyond.com.