When her classmates were all learning to write their names in cursive, Alli Katz was learning how to Etch-A-Sketch hers.
Now 30 years old, Katz sketches iconic album covers and political figures, rather than just her name.
Recently, Katz’s sketches have gained attention over social mediums like Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, where she frequently displays her creations.
“It has always been really natural and easy for me to think about an image and take the time to do it,” said Katz, explaining how she first discovered her uncommon ability. After moving to Philadelphia in 2006, Katz is now a program coordinator for the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania, which she refers to as the “hub of reading and writing for the surrounding community.”
Initially, Katz only used her sketching talent for college applications and parties. “I got a lot of attention because it was both a weird and cool thing to do,” Katz said. “Sketching proved to be an odd yet useful skill.”
Katz’s album cover drawings encompass several renowned artists and bands through history, making her sketches relatable to her fans and music lovers alike. Famous covers including The Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in The U.S.A.” and D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s “Black Messiah” are just a few covers Katz has sketched.
“I only recreate album covers if I’m interested in the illusion. It’s not about the music, but about the artist that originally drew the cover,” Katz said.
On average, it takes the young artist 45 minutes to sketch an album cover, however Katz said the difficulty of the design is not the only thing she considers. For small, less detailed covers, it can take Katz only 20-25 minutes to complete a sketch, however with the larger projects, the lines can be problematic.
“I try to draw the hardest thing first, because that is going to be the thing that I most likely mess up,” Katz said. “You have to know how the lines work.”
Sarah DeGiorgis, both a friend of Katz and graduate student studying city planning at Rutgers University, said she was surprised when she first learned of Katz gift of sketching.
“My favorite album cover Alli sketched was Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours,’” DeGiorgis said.
As a day-to-day program coordinator and on occasion comic book enthusiast, Katz said she enjoys spending time with writers, both who are students and are from the Philadelphia community.
“Alli has an engaging and friendly personality,” said Jessica Lowenthal, the director of the Kelly Writers House and a co-worker of Katz. “She holds a constant presence at the Writers House, where she dedicates all her time to working with the students.”
Katz, as program coordinator, hosts and organizes the writing house’s events from comic book workshops to special guest presentations.
Katz, in the past, has been both an associate and multimedia editor of the Philadelphia Weekly and worked at the Free Library of Philadelphia.
First taking interest in biology and then majoring in political science in college, Katz admits her goals are always changing. Writing, however, allowed the multi-talented illustrator to find a “path to learn and keep being creative.”
“Alli comes home after working an 8 to 10 hour day and will do something creative: a painting of Waylon Jennings or Sam Waterston, an Etch-a-Sketch of a John Coltrane album cover, a comic with a joke only smart people understand, and the list goes on,” said Elliott Sharp, Katz’s fiancé.
“Professional” or “humorist” are two titles Katz would like to have for herself one day, but for right now she said she’s a writer with an “Etch-A-Sketching” eye.
Sarah Sweigart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org