The Sketchbook Project

The Sketchbook Project is designed and organized by a small group of creative folks based in Brooklyn, NY, who call themselves the Art House. They are an independent group that organizes global, collaborative art projects. The Sketchbook Project is their main endeavor and was begun in 2006. It has developed into a growing collection of over 18,000 sketchbooks, created by artists of all ages, from over 130 countries. The sketchbook library is kept permanently in the Brooklyn Art Library, their storefront exhibition space in the heart of Williamsburg, but each year’s collection of new sketchbooks travels to exhibition venues all over the world.

The most recent venue for The Sketchbook Project was at the Lynn Arts Center in Lynn, MA. Upon entering the gallery, visitors were greeted by Sketchbook Staff and invited to sign in at their computer station to obtain an “Art Library Card.” With card in hand, you would move to another computer station where you scanned in your new library card and then searched the library database. Searches could be done by artist names, themes, colors, materials, medium, and randomly, or by keyword tags. The system selected one sketchbook that matched your search and another sketchbook at random. The collection itself is cataloged and shelved on rolling bookshelves behind the computer stations. Your request was sent electronically to staff members’ smart phones who then retrieved the books from the shelves and gave them to you at the “Pick Up Books” station. You could then take the books to a reading table and spend as much time with them as you wished. When finished you brought the books to a “Return Books” station. You could go back to the “Check Out” station and ask for more books as often as you liked.

Near the reading table was another workstation where visitors could sit down and create a piece of “Mail Art.” Blank postcards, envelopes, markers, pencils, crayons, etc. were provided. These postcards will be distributed at the next Sketchbook venue. Visitors were allowed to take home a piece of “Mail Art” made by participants at a previous venue. At another table, you could also sign up to participate in the 2013 Sketchbook Project and pick up your own blank sketchbook to fill and return. Instructions for participating can also be found on their website. The cost for participating is $25.00.

Activity at the sketchbook viewing table was both lively and focused. The sketchbooks themselves were widely varied in medium and content. There were artist books, travelogues, diaries, pages of doodles, comic books, zines, sketchbooks with fold-out pages that become posters, and even a felted toy rat, complete with change of paper doll-like clothes. The sense of community engagement was very strong and the mood celebratory. Many visitors who may have been shy about being able to fill a sketchbook, left with a new feeling of empowerment.

Sketchbooks have been used by artists for centuries. They serve as personal portable records of their ideas and designs, as a place for working out creative solutions to problems, for capturing an image of a person, place or thing that inspires them, and as visual journals of their daily life. Keeping a sketchbook is as important to an artist as breathing and fuels the creative process. Kudos to the Art House, for bringing inspiration to many and keeping this tradition alive. The next venue for the Sketchbook Project will be at the Space Gallery in Portland, ME July 12-14.

Posted by L. Whitehill Chong

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