The Sketchbook Project Presents Online 17,000 Sketchbooks, Created by Artists from 135 Countries

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Artist: Helen Sanderson

If you love something give it away.

If it doesn’t come back to you, it was never really yours…

Or, it’s a labor of love you created under the auspices of the Brooklyn Art Library, with the full knowledge that giving it away is a cost of participation.

Every year, thousands of artists, from the experienced to the fledgling, pay a nominal fee to fill a 5×7 sketchbook with a custom barcode. Upon completion, the books are to be mailed back to the one room Art Library, to become part of the permanent collection, currently over 34,000 volumes strong (17,000 of which appear online). Visitors receive free library cards that allow them to view as many volumes as they like in-house, three at a time.

Artists willing to cough up a slightly more substantial fee can have their book digitized for online viewing at The Sketchbook Project.

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Artist: Tim Oliveira

In their virgin state, the sketchbooks are uniform. From there, anything goes, provided they retain their original height and width, and swell to no more than an inch thick. (Messy, gooey books might face rejection, in part because they threaten to contaminate the herd.)

Dip in at random and you will find an astonishing array of finished work: messy, meticulous, intimate, inscrutable, self-mocking, sincere, abstract, narrative, carefully plotted, utterly improvisational, accomplished, amateur – rendered in a wide variety of media, including ball point pen and collage.

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Artist: Estella Yu

My favorite way to browse the collection, whether in person or online, is by selecting a theme, just as the artists do when signing up for the annual project. 2016’s themes include  “sandwich,” “great hopes and massive failures,” and “Ahhh! Monster!”

(“I’ll choose my own theme” is a perennial menu offering.)

The theme that guided the artists whose work is published herein is “Things Found on Restaurant Napkins.” Would you have guessed?

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Artist: Christopher Moffitt

You can also search on specific words or mediums, artists’ names, and geographic locations. To date, The Sketchbook Project has received sketchbooks by creative people from 135+ countries.

Those ready to take the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project plunge can enlist here. Don’t fret about your qualifications—co-founders Steven Peterman and Shane Zucker have made things democratic, which is to say uncurated, by design.

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Artist: Betty Esperanza

via The New Yorker

Related Content:

New York Public Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Download and Use

Download 422 Free Art Books from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

LA County Museum Makes 20,000 Artistic Images Available for Free Download

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her 2011 sketchbook, “I’m a Scavenger” is housed in the Brooklyn Art Library. Follow her @AyunHalliday


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  • Lianne Tiley says:

    …What a fantastic idea…thanks, it is with great anticipation that I am going to venture into your ‘online’ Library !!

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