The Sketchbook Project – How Collaborative Art Is Changing the Art World !

Hello everyone, today I would like to introduce you to something that is very dear to my heart – collaborative art ! In a world where technology and consumption play an increasingly bigger role each passing day, I like to slow down every once in a while and do something that calms and inspires me but is entirely free and “off the grid”. I don’t know if you know this about me but I love art and occasionally dabble in drawing…

A few weeks ago I was browsing Instagram when I stumbled over some photos of an amazing sketchbook full of the most beautiful illustrations. I was curious about the artist and when the hash-tags led me to something called The Sketchbook Project, I started doing some research.


The Sketchbook Project, founded by Art House Co-op, an independent, Brooklyn-based company, is a global, crowd-sourced art project and traveling exhibition of handmade books contributed by thousands of participants globally. All you have to do to participate is to sign up for the project online, then receive a blank, registered sketchbook and after filling it with your very own artwork send it back to Brooklyn, NY by January 15th, 2014 to be included in the Brooklyn Art Library !

The permanent Sketchbook Project collection already holds over 26,000 sketchbooks from 130 countries around the world and over the course of 2014, their custom Mobile Library will take thousands of books on a tour to art galleries, major museums, colleges, universities and local libraries in over 20 major US cities, such as Brooklyn, Portland, ME, Philadelphia, Toronto, Richmond, Atlanta, Orlando, New Orleans, Austin, Houston, Tempe, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Portland, OR, Seattle, Vancouver, Chicago, Minneapolis, Madison…

Watch the videos below and read my interview below with James Vanderberg, the Sketchbook Projects Senior Project Manager, to find out much, much more !

LSB: When was the idea for The Sketchbook Project born and what inspired it ?

JV: The Sketchbook Project was born out of a collaboration between Steven Peterman and Shane Zucker, two college friends from art school in Atlanta, GA.  They began the Project in 2006.  They wanted to create a project that fostered collaboration and participation with out the pretense and closed doors of the gallery world.

LSB: Was the Sketchbook Project your first experience with collaborative art projects ?

JV: It  was certainly one of the first that had a major following, but the project, like all we do has evolved so much since it started.

LSB: How do you think collaborative art projects have changed and continue to change the nature of art (e.g. with regard to authorship, authenticity, the relationship between artists and audiences…) ?

JV: Our projects are all about participation and being a part of something bigger than yourself.  The collection itself is over 26,000 books, so when you are signing up, you are not just signing up to make and fill out a sketchbook, you are signing up to join over 70,000 other artists in a world wide community.  I think more and more people are looking for this outlet for their creativity.  We see art fairs and gallery shows that are becoming increasingly exclusive and out of touch with how regular people interact and experience art.  The art world and the art market are very hard to separate these days.  We are not involved in an art market, instead we are creating our own art community that fosters and supports each artist as part of our collection.  In terms of authorship and authenticity, we certainly have a healthy back and forth.  Each artist is registered with a barcode for easy searching in our collection database.  When a book is checked out, that artist will get an email or text notification saying where their book was checked out and the person’s first name that looked at it.  Artists are free to promote their own book as much as they like and some even put contact information in the book.  Furthermore, if you sign up for digitization of your book, you will have a unique URL for the digital spreads to promote as much as you like.  Our Digital Library has had over 1.5 million views in the last year.  Artists can maintain a certain amount of singular attention while others can remain as anonymous as they like in our collection.

LSB: Give us some fun facts and figures – how quickly has The Sketchbook Project grown, how successful is it and where do most of the artists come from ?

JV: The most artists submit from New York and California, but strong seconds are Texas and Florida.  The Project grew in 2006 from a few hundred books to a few thousand the next two years.  In 2009-2010 we expanded to 22K! That was a huge jump for us and made possible the relocation to Brooklyn, NY from Atlanta, GA.

•    We have over 26K books in the collection presently

•    66,380 participating artists

•    75K signups for our projects

•    7800 participating cities

•    43K library cards issued on tour and at our Library

•    Over 11K books in our digital library, that is almost half our collection!

•    Almost 85K check outs on tour and at our Library

•    Almost 50K miles traveled on our tours

LSB: How many kids have participated so far and have you had many sketchbook collaborations (such as siblings or families) ?

JV: We get tons of submissions from kids and families.  It is hard to note which books are from kids and which are not since we have so many thousands of books to go through in the collection and we don’t necessarily catalog them by age.  We always say that our books range from as early as 4 or 5 years old to at least in the 90’s.  We also do events in the Brooklyn Art Library with school groups, kids groups and family friendly craft nights.

LSB: How old was your youngest artist and does artistic skill matter (or rather, why does it not matter) ?

JV: It certainly does not matter.  Our youngest artists are probably about 4 years old and some of the ideas they come up with are pretty amazing regardless of their draftsmanship.  We never select books based on skill or mastery of a technique, or even execution of an idea.  We have books that are half full or barley finished while others are of such quality and filled to the brim with unique detail.  The point of the project is that all are welcome and like the thousands of people that contribute, each book is unique not only to their skill level but their life experience.

LSB: Have any schools participated and would you like to see that happen more often ?

JV: Yes of course! We love school groups and we offer discounts for bulk orders of submissions to encourage groups of all types to contribute to the project.  We also offer discounts and great packages for workshops in our Brooklyn Art Library.  In the last few months we had students from universities, public grade schools and a children’s group of 5-6 year olds.

LSB: Can you give us a little sneak-peak into the future of The Sketchbook Project ? Where do you see it going in the future (this year, five years from now…) and what goals would you still like to achieve ?

JV: We are always coming up with new ways to reinvent our projects and to create new and exciting projects for our community.  Sketchbook Mobile was a huge initiative this past fall where we launched our new custom Mobile Library that will travel the country to smaller three to four city tours that are specifically themed.  We are also reinvigorating our free projects and our limited edition projects that offer new and exciting ways to get involved.  Our goal has always been to grow the collection indefinitely, reach more people and travel to more cities across the country and beyond.

LSB: Will The Sketchbook Project tour more of Europe at some point ?

JV: We hope so!  The trip to London was so inspiring and the participants there were so grateful and responsive.  We would love to travel back to Europe, especially London again.  Coming up with the logistics for traveling across the Atlantic with thousands of books is always difficult and costly but we are always streamlining our system to figure out how to travel more efficiently and to get to more places. We always say that if a community wants us to come and can get the sign ups to make it possible, we’ll try and get there.  Stay tuned to see where we might end up next!

LSB: Do you host any other collaborative art projects which would be fun for children to participate in ?

JV: We think all our projects appeal universally to all ages. The Sketchbook Project is the obvious one, but our free projects would also be great.  We do a weekly free photo project that asks people to take a picture based on a thematic prompt like “Things Found…under the bed, by accident, or in your pocket.”  These projects would be great for families to join.  It’s like a global game of Eye Spy!

LSB: Thank you James for taking the time to answer my questions and I can’t wait for my sketchbook to arrive so I can get started on my own contribution ! 🙂

In the coming weeks, my husband, the kids and I will work on a sketchbook together as a family and I am so excited !!! This would be a great class project, too ! Let me know what you think in the comments below…

(images: art house co-op)

4 Responses to “The Sketchbook Project – How Collaborative Art Is Changing the Art World !”

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  1. Caroline @trend-daily says:

    Brigitte! What a fantastic interview-isn’t it wonderful! I blogged about mine which I had to do in two days in the end- not brilliant!! I’ m so sorry we didn’t talk properly at MTB. I had been really looking forward to meeting you and feel bad we only had a very quick hello. Maybe at the next one?! Have lots of fun all together with your sketchbook-I look forward to seeing it! Cx

    • Bridgee says:

      Thanks Caroline ! Yes, too bad we didn’t really find the time to chat some more last weekend but don’t worry, I didn’t get to everyone either and I am sure the next opportunity is right around the corner !!! xoxo

  2. the narrator says:

    this is fantastic! thank you for sharing this amazing project. i am so inspired, i think i might have to sign up and participate. already running names of different journals i could create through my head 🙂

    great post!

    your fellow byw student,
    the narrator