Jane Labowitch AKA Princess Etch is a full-time professional freelance Etch a Sketch artist based out of Chicago, Illinois. She has been playing with the toy since she was 4 years old and discovered that she could turn both knobs at once. From there, she quickly went from staircases to masterpieces and discovered that there was a demand for her art. She now attends local cons like C2E2 annually, sells her art through Etsy, and hosts Etch A Sketch workshops. Her favorite fandoms include Pokemon, Spongebob, Nintendo, and memes in general, and her Etch work definitely reflects that. Some of her most notable clients include Disney, Cartoon Network, MTV, Callaway Golf (twice), Tomb Raider, Toys R Us, and many more. She has worked with singer Amanda Palmer, and her art has been featured by Pee Wee Herman and Britney Spears. As Etch A Sketch celebrates their 60th anniversary, what better time to interview the one and only Princess Etch?
Before taking on Etch A Sketching as her full-time career, she worked at a children’s and family photograph boutique in Chicago called Jookie. She worked to make family portraits look “nice and shiny and perfect” and to get rid of any unwanted bumps or bruises as a photo retoucher, graphic designer, and assistant. It wasn’t until after college, that she started offering commissions Etches. She worked at Jookie for about 3 years before making the transition to freelance art, and in her words, becoming “the master of her destiny.”
Labowitch uses the skills she picked up from her job as a photo retoucher to get the best quality photos of her work. She only photographs in natural light and uses a Nikon D5200 camera to take her pictures in raw. After that she puts it into Photoshop. Jane says, “This is where the magic happens.” She is tedious with layers and cleans up any dust or otherwise from the photo until she is satisfied, but she believes that is important to be honest in her work, so if there is a mistake in the final drawing, she is going to leave it. Videos of her Etch A Sketch renditions are also very popular and she hopes to do more of them in the future.
She currently owns about 400 Etch A Sketches including about 100 that have drawings currently on them and need to be preserved. She buys them in bulk from Spinmaster (for the pocket size) and goes out to the stores like Target to buy the classic size. Her niece finds a lot of the unique and crazy ones in thrift stores. She says that one of her main goals as an EAS artist is to keep pushing her medium and challenging herself to keep creating.
For those who haven’t played with one before, her advice is to go out and buy one. “They are super fun, and for those just starting to get into Etch A Sketch, I am glad that I didn’t have the internet at my fingertips.” She goes on to say that if Google had been around and she would have been able to search “Etch A Sketch art” that may have discouraged her, so for people just starting, “Be proud of the pace you are going at… I started with staircases- many, many staircases before I could even do a diagonal.” Just go easy on yourself, have fun, mistakes are a part of the experience, draw whatever you are already interested in drawing, and just play around with it. Jane also mentions that if you get irritated by the toy, just remember that it has a built in erasing feature in it, and if you have to, “throw it like a frisbee.”
Not only is she a master Etcher, she also loves to draw. She says, “I also like to do digital art sometimes, so that can be Photoshop and Illustrator. I took a lot of watercolor classes, and I love drawing. I like using pens, and those are my favorites.”
I was first introduced to Jane’s work a few years back on social media and recognized how much talent went into this niche profession. In 2018 (woah time flies), I had the chance to meet her at C2E2. Since then, I have been to several Chicagoland area conventions like C2E2 and Anime Midwest annually and have gotten to see her and her incredible art at Artist Alleys and workshops.Unfortunately, due to the current circumstances, her upcoming cons have been canceled until further notice.
She sells her designs in the form of stickers, prints, custom Etches, buttons and more on her Etsy shop. Each unique piece is truly remarkable and is totally worth checking out! Her original designs range from Pokemon to Van Gough not to mention everything in between. She recently teamed up with Spinmaster (who have owned Etch A Sketch since 2016) to make the designs for their line of limited edition 60th anniversary Etches coming out over the coming months. There are a few available now on Etch A Sketch’s website. If you are in the U.S. you can check those out here!
She has a huge video project in the works so watch out for that hopefully towards the end of the year. Also be sure to check her out on Instagram, Etsy, Patreon, and all of her platforms including her newest social media endeavour, Tik Tok– where one of her posts has over 1.1 million views already. You can find all of these and more on their website here!
Recently, I had the chance to talk with her via a phone interview on her life as an Etch A Sketch artist. She is an incredibly talented artist and such a kind person. Check our interview!
Lily: What made you decide to become a full-time Etch A Sketch Artist?
Jane: It definitely was a long journey to get to the point to where I wanted to do this full-time. I started sharing my work online probably around 2007-when I was still in high school. It was around that point that I started realizing that I was getting a lot of really good feedback online for my work. I kept on drawing, and after high school, I went to art school. I decided that it’s something that I have always gotten such a good response out of, and that I really wanted to keep pursuing it.
I got a part-time job, and it got to the point where I kept getting more and more commissions. So after working at my job for a few years, all of the Etch A Sketch stuff I had been doing was building up more and more… It certainly wasn’t a romantic leap into full-time, but I made a very measured decision to keep doing more and more art on the side to the point where I felt comfortable feeling what full-time was like. I told myself after I quit my job that I would give myself like half a year to see how it would work out and if I kept afloat I would keep at it. I’m still floating!
Lily: What is your favorite part of being a freelance artist?
Jane: The freedom. I have full creative control. For the most part, I get to dertermain everything.I get to decide not only how to present myself, but also the work that I do. I get to set my own hours and make my own schedule (if I want to fly to Colorado to visit my boyfriend for a week, I can do that). So there are a lot of amazing freedoms that come with being your own boss. In some ways it’s exciting, and in other ways it is terrifying because you answer to no one but yourself.
Lily: What advice would you give to those thinking about becoming a freelance artist?
Jane: The internet is your best friend. We are so connected now that you can share your work immediately with the entire globe and that’s amazing. For those interested in becoming freelance, I encourage you to share your art online. You never know what doors that may open for you. If you can try to take a class in marketing or business. These are things that I just legitimately enjoy. It helps to be interested in those things and develop acumen in those topics and it is super helpful to get yourself involved in communities of like minded people. There is a phrase that goes something like, “You never want to be the smartest person in the room.” Don’t surround yourself with yes-men. Fountuently, I went to art school so I have this great group of peers that are taking on these amazing endeavours that inspire me everyday.
Lily: How do you decide what you Etch? What is your most requested/ most popular fandom that you etch?
Jane: It definitely depends, but currently I am working on a larger project which is inspiring a lot of the fun drawings I have been doing lately. In general, I usually just pay attention to what’s going on and etch topical things, meme culture, pop culture, and things that resonate with me personally. For example, I did an etch of Brock with his frying pan (Pokemon), and stuff like that where it’s personally nostalgic for me. As far as paid work that I do, videos are the best type of content.
As far as fandoms, I get a lot of Nintendo. That is a very umbrella company, but it has so many different smaller franchises. Just going off of my latest stream a few people requested Mario, Animal Crossing, someone said Metroid.
Lily: Throughout the years, do you have a favorite Etch A Sketch that you have made?
Jane: [Woaahhhh] That’s really tough… It’s like picking children. Sometimes it’s a tie, but I am still really proud of the skeleton series. Not only was it the most time consuming project that I have ever done on Etch A Sketch, but it’s arguably the most original thing I’ve done. There are some renditions like my Seurat etch that I am really proud of, but a lot of my work is copping things which isn’t a bad thing. As someone who has a degree in illustration, I was always encouraged to share our own organics, personally inspired work.
Lily: What is your favorite part of making custom pieces?
Jane: My favorite part is when I finally get through the preservation process and I am able to photograph it and package it up. That’s when I get to really take a hard look at the drawing, and I get to feel the pride like “I made this” and I think about the excitement of the client getting it in the mail. I never share a picture of the art unless the client requests it, so most of the time it is a surprise to them. So, it’s the anticipation of “I’m sending this out in the mail and I can’ wait for them to receive it.”
Lily: What is your process for preserving Etch a Sketches?
Jane: What I have been doing in the last year or so is sawing apart the Etch A Sketch completely. So I will take a little saw and get it down to the two frames. In the traditional red Etch A Sketch there is the external red frame and an internal box which holds the powder. I saw apart the red frame and took off the knobs. It’s more time consuming to saw them as opposed to how I used to drill them, but it’s worth it because I get to relax more while I’m doing it. Then I have the box that contains the glass and has the powder inside. For the classic Etch A Sketch, it’s kinda like a sandwich, I saw right through that box, so then I am able to remove the top half which contains the glass that has the rendition on it. After that I deep clean inside and cut the rest of it (the pulleys, wires, stylist, and all sorts of cogs and wheels.) Before putting it back together I lay down a piece of felt to make the image crisp. Then much like a sandwich, I put all the pieces back together with epoxy and it’s good to go!
Lily: What was it like working with Spinmaster on their limited edition Etches?
Jane: That was really cool! This was the first project that I feel like I could creatively collaborate with Spinmaster on. It was a lot of fun and super exciting getting insider information on Etch A Sketches before it was made available to the public. When I first got to see the previews for these Etch A Sketches I was floored! They gave me a specific prompt and I just followed along and basically just went verbadium with their image in a way that made it look Etch A Sketchy. One of the designs that I was the most excited about was the Nasa design, but ended up pulling the plug on that one. 🙁 Someday I would love to do published Etch A Sketch work for Nasa.The Monopoly, Stan Lee, and Rubix Cube limited editions will be on some store shelves in the U.S. eventually. That is super exciting because I’ve never had anything Etch A Sketch related that I could go up to a store shelf and buy
Lily: What was it like working with Ripley’s Believe it or Not and being featured in their 2019 book?
Jane: That’s probably one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me. I don’t think I understood the gravity of how cool an experience it was until after it all happened. It started with Reddit when I shared an Etch A Sketch drawing and it made it to the front page of the website, which means your work was exposed to millions of people that day. I was interacting in the comments of the photo with a lot of people, and I didn’t know this, but one of the people I was interacting with works for Ripley’s in the publishing department and she put in a good word for me.
So, A few weeks after that day, I got an email from someone at Ripley’s asking if I would be interested in being featured in their then upcoming book. And I said, “Absolutely!” I sent them a bunch of photos and they invited me to come down to Florida (their headquarters) to do a little video spotlight on my art. Once I got down there, it was like a full 10 hour day of filming. I had no idea what to anticipate/ what to expect once I got there. I figured that was it, the book was gonna come out and they are going to release this video on me, but then they invited me to come with them to help promote their book and I went on their media tour with them! That was next level! For five days it was like “morning go on tv, drive to a different news station, get on a plane, fly to a new city, go to my hotel room, crash for the night, and do it again the next day.” It was one of the craziest things to happen in my life and I got to know some truly awesome people who worked for Ripley’s and had all these stories of people they have featured from around the globe. I am very humbled and thankful to be part of that pool of people now.
Lily: What has been your favorite convention you’ve attended?
Jane: I’d have to say C2E2 is my favorite con to attend for a lot of reasons. 1) It is definitely my highest grossing convention. 2) I just love the audience. I am really passionate about that convention because I started going to it in 2010 (its 2nd year) and I have been going every year ever since. I really love the convention and I love that I have been able to be involved with C2E2 on an official level and I think they do a good job of treating their artists well. I get to catch up with so many people when I go- it has become our unofficial school reunion. Not only will a lot of my classmates, but a lot of my teachers attend annually and that is the only time I get to see them, so that’s a real treat. It definitely has the best outreach.
Lily: My next question is what has been your favorite experience at a con?
Jane: Technically, my first boyfriend was from a convention (The Motor City Comic Con in Detroit, Michigan), and it was the first conversation I ever went to. I was 13 (we were about the same age) and I was cosplaying as Misty from Pokemon and we exchanged (this will date me) AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) usernames. We became fast friends online and we never hung out during the entirety of our “relationship”… It was the perfect weeb relationship. I saw him again like two years later at the same con and it was super awkward because we had kinda stopped talking, but I have very fond memories of my first convention.
Conventions are great, it allowed me to buy the last season of Sailor Moon on DVD, and they never released it in the U.S. so this was Japanese/English subtitles. There were these booths are like knockoff DVDs and I found the final season. There were some things in the show that they tried to make more kid friendly, but they just couldn’t do that with the last season, but I got my hands on it! This was like 2004 so this wasn’t available to see unless you had sources. I brought home these DVDs and for the first time in my life, I was able to watch the fabled final season of Sailor Moon and I was just beside myself with excitement and anticipation, and I remember the first time I saw the final episode, I just cried. I was so emotional about the privilege of finally being able to see this last season of Sailor Moon. To this day, I still have that bootleg DVD set.
Honestly though, one of my favorite experiences at a con was meeting you! [That is so nice!] That was so cool! I felt so silly not knowing what your username on Instagram was when we first met. I think when I got the message from you later, I was like, “Oh no! I had no idea!” That was just a really cool experience, and yeah I would say that was my best experience at a con. Being in Artist Alley is a completely different experience than wandering a convention, but that was super fun. I think the stories that I shared earlier were my favorite experiences.
Another cool experience was at the same convention as my internet “boyfriend.” Because it was such a small convention, celebrities were handled differently back then even compared to now so I got to meet Michael Dorn who played Worf in TNG and Voyager. You could wait in line for a photo-op for $25- Which today photo-ops are a lot more expensive than they used to be. He hosted a panel, and it was like this room with 30 folding chairs and it was the first panel I had ever been to- that he was hosting. He was in the front of the room and it was like a dimly-lit small conference room and there were like 15 people in it. There was probably a flickering lightbulb or something. It just had all the hallmarks of a tiny convention, and here is this huge actor just casually having a conversation with like 15 of us. I was just like starstruck and everyone else in the room was probably equally starstruck, but if that panel would happen today, it would probably be a packed room of 250 people. It’s just a very different culture today than it was back then. And he put my sister in a Klingon headlock so super cool.
Lily: Thank you very much for doing this! It was really fun!
Jane: Yeah! It’s been an absolute pleasure!
Be sure to check Princess Etch out on her website PrincessEtch.com!