Sketchbook Project celebrates the magic of artmaking

dkane@newsobserver.comJune 23, 2013 


James Park of Raleigh and his sister Sarah Park of Chapel Hill page through sketchbooks Sunday June 23, 2013, at the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh. CAM was visited by the Sketchbook Project, an interactive mobile art exhibit that functions like a library.


— On a quiet corner of downtown Raleigh Sunday afternoon, a black trailer sat, filled with the inner visions of thousands of people from around the world.

The visions were expressed as drawings, paintings, photos, poems, essays and more in 4,500 sketchbooks, all part of the Sketchbook Project’s national summer tour.

In seven years, the Sketchbook Project – the brainchild of two Atlanta art school students – has grown to more than 27,000 sketchbooks housed in a special library in Brooklyn, N.Y. More than half of those sketchbooks can be viewed on the project’s website at

A space for everyone

One of those students, Steven Peterman, said at the trailer Sunday that he and a friend came up with the idea of collecting and making available sketchbooks to spread the magic of art. They wanted to create a place where anyone from a professional artist to a napkin doodler could display work. It was the opposite of the art galleries that often serve as the arbiters of what is artistic and what is not.

The idea struck a chord with the public as thousands purchased the five by seven inch scrapbooks and let their imaginations fly. For many artists, sketchbooks are the birthplace of the process of creating art.

Elaine Waters, a middle school teacher from Marion, discovered the project two years ago. She bought a scrapbook with the hope of filling it herself, but realized she didn’t have the time. She gave the scrapbook to one of her students, who began sketching in class. When other students noticed, Waters asked if they all would like to contribute to one. Every single kid in the class said yes.

Today, her seventh- and eighth-grade classes each have a book in the project. Both were available at the mobile library, and Waters made the four-hour drive to Raleigh to check them out. Each student had a fold-out page of art, and it ranged from the typical (Angry Birds drawings) to the inspired (a peace medallion with a clarinet serving as its backbone).

Waters said the sketchbooks inspired her students, many of whom come from lower-income families and have had little exposure to the arts. They were excited to take a field trip to an art museum in Greenville, S.C., that had an Andy Warhol painting on display.

“In a normal public school, I don’t think there are many seventh- and eighth-graders who could tell you who Andy Warhol or Andrew Wyeth are and how important they are to American culture,” she said.

Others who stopped by on Sunday said they were amazed at the variety of art as they flipped through one book to the next. The event was free, and Escazú Artisan Chocolates provided free ice cream.

Family outing at the CAM

Tina Keller, an N.C. State University executive assistant, enjoyed the mobile library so much that she bought a sketchbook and texted a friend to bring her family. They sat at a picnic table under an eave of the Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh, where the trailer was parked, and flipped through several sketchbooks.

Her friend, Jen Arthur, wanted to see how the sketchbooks varied from country to country. She had checked out slim volumes from Japan, Sweden, Paris and Scotland. There was variety aplenty, but the big surprise was the amount of cross-pollination. It wasn’t easy to tell which book came from which nation.

“It’s not as different as I would have expected,” she said, “or as it might have been years ago.”

It’s the kind of thing that can happen when a world full of nascent creativity can be found in an easily searchable place.

Kane: 919-829-4861

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