The envelopes arrived by the sack daily, dragged up to a cluttered office in Williamsburg where volunteers logged the arrivals on laptops, trying to keep up. Their deadline was February 19, when the painted, penciled, and collaged haul—10,000 51/4-by-81/4-inch Moleskine notebooks from 104 countries—would go on view in a new gallery, the Brooklyn Art Library.
“The Sketchbook Project” was conceived by Steven Peterman and Shane Zucker, two art-school grads whose group, the Art House Co-op, put out its first call for submissions in 2007. “The idea came because I didn’t know how to get into a gallery,” says Peterman, a printmaker. “We envisioned this egalitarian community where anyone could exhibit work without some complicated process.” Indeed, for a $25 fee, anyone could receive a blank notebook, and this year’s response was ten times last year’s, with participants as young as 8 and as old as 86.
The Project’s loose guidelines—“keep it within the margins” and “please, no glitter”—allow a huge variety of work. Nike Schroeder, from Berlin, stitched her book and drawings with thread. “I used to design costumes for film and theater, and everything seems to suddenly make sense once I pick up the needle,” she says. Laura Elliott, a British greeting-card designer, says the casualness of the project was freeing: “I could afford to be frivolous: I could come up with a funny story about an evil clown with a soft side, or experiment with new materials.” Other contributors created graphic novels, pop-up books, portraits; pages were variously quilted, burned, beaded, laser-cut. For everyone it was deeply personal. Says Zucker: “More than one person has said that putting it in the mail was like sending away a child.”