by Meg Cohen Ragas
What happens when you give a bunch of artistic teens a 30-page, 5×7 unfinished sketchbook, a choice of themes and three months to create something? The Sketchbook Project, that’s what – a global art project where participants from around the world fill the pages of uniform sketchbooks that form a traveling library.
Since the program was started in 2006 by the Brooklyn-based Art House Co-op (slogan: “It’s like a concert tour, but with sketchbooks”), the library has grown to include more than 22,000 sketchbooks from more than 130 countries.
“The Sketchbook Project has really filled a space for creative kids to generate something that’s completely authentic,” said Megan Culp, Upper School art teacher at Germantown Friends School and an advisor to the Art Club, which signed onto the 2013 Sketchbook Project in the fall.
“To combine that with the feeling of creating something as part of a global community? – I love the democracy of it all,” Culp said.
After selecting a “jumping off” theme (this year’s options included diagrams, strangers, dwellings, mystery and monochromatic), students set about filling their books with their artistic interpretations. Some rebound their books, others altered their covers. Some told stories through pictures, others filled their pages with words.
Joanna Booth ’15 made a travel log, which opens with a picture of the front door of her house. She included drawings of places she’d like to visit, some real, some imaginary. An image of a shoe wears the tagline, “Takes me there.” “There’s no curriculum you have to follow – it’s more open, more loose,” Booth said. “It really makes you think outside the box.”
Jane Kye ’15 chose to do a chapbook, based on the 19th-century concept of a pocket-sized booklet filled with inspirational words and images, exploring the theme “roads.” Inspired by graphic novels and using a variety of techniques, including drawing, painting and collage, Kye sprinkled poetry and prose throughout her book, some original, some borrowed, to show how life, in her words, “takes you in different directions.”
“You can reflect on yourself, your style, what speaks to you,” she said. “You know you’re creating for an audience, but you’re not afraid to share your ideas because [there’s anonymity], you don’t know who’s reading your stuff.”
In January, 10 sketchbooks created by members of the GFS Art Club were sent to the Brooklyn Art Library to be organized and cataloged before beginning an eight-city tour around North America this month. Each book has a bar code; if someone checks it out, the code is scanned and the artist receives an email letting him or her know that someone read it.
“Each sketchbook is like a little treasure, a visual message-in-a-bottle,” Culp said.