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 haulâ€”10,000 51/4-by-81/4-inch Moleskine notebooks from 104 countriesâ€”would go on view in a new gallery, the Brooklyn Art Library.
â€œThe Sketchbook Projectâ€ 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. â€œThe idea came because I didnâ€™t know how to get into a gallery,â€ says Peterman, a printmaker. â€œWe envisioned this egalitarian community where anyone could exhibit work without some complicated process.â€ Indeed, for a $25 fee, anyone could receive a blank notebook, and this yearâ€™s response was ten times last yearâ€™s, with participants as young as 8 and as old as 86.
The Projectâ€™s loose guidelinesâ€”â€œkeep it within the marginsâ€ and â€œplease, no glitterâ€â€”allow a huge variety of work. Nike Schroeder, from Berlin, stitched her book and drawings with thread. â€œI used to design costumes for film and theater, and everything seems to suddenly make sense once I pick up the needle,â€ she says. Laura Elliott, a British greeting-card designer, says the casualness of the project was freeing: â€œI 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.â€ 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: â€œMore than one person has said that putting it in the mail was like sending away a child.â€