The Untitled Drawing Club has, for the second time, sent us to an international location. This week, we are travelling to the Brooklyn Art Library in New York. The name of this library did ring a bell. I remember, a few years ago, learning about their Sketchbook Project and thinking it was a really amazing idea. I was glad to have this opportunity to discover more about the Library and learn what inspired the Project. As always, my artwork and a link to the Club will be shared at the end of the post.
The Brooklyn Art Library
Located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Art Library occupies a two-story brick building that blends into its surrounds. Stored inside are over 50 000 sketchbooks that have been donated to the Library by around 30 000 individuals. I purposefully didn’t use the word ‘artists’ because you don’t need to be an artist to submit a sketchbook to the collection. This project, the Sketchbook Project, has reached almost all corners of the world with 100 countries represented.
The Project began in 2006 and was the brainchild of Steven Peterman. One of the links for the Club sends you to a short YouTube video where you are introduced to the collection and to the Library by Peterman himself. The Library has quite literally become a time capsule, documenting the creative thoughts and processes of people from all over the world. The sentiment that Perman shares in this video is great – rather than focusing on individuals the project has shifted to community creation. By contributing a sketchbook, you are joining hundreds/thousands of people who have embarked on the same process with the same shared goal.
To be involved, all you have to do is order a book online, create whatever art you like (ensuring the book remains thinner than an inch), then send it back. Putting my Curator cap on, I couldn’t help but think of how donation actually works. What kind of information is collected and how is the Library set up for users? Luckily, that was all answered in the video and on their website. When you donate your book they ask for some details including your name, title of work (if there is one), your location and any tags/biographical information you want to include. This helps people search for your book both onsite and online. You can elect for your sketchbook to be digitised and added to the online collection. Currently, there are about 25 000 sketchbooks searchable online.
Just like any other library, once a book has been donated it receives a call number. What’s really cool is that you are notified if your book is ever ‘checked out’ and if you decide to have it digitised, you can see for yourself how many online views its received and also the number of mobile checkouts.
The Library officially became a nonprofit organisation in 2020.
Browsing the Collection
After reading a bit more about the Project I couldn’t wait to delve into the online collection and see what I could find. I can’t quite describe it, but there is something so personal about browsing through the sketchbooks, gaining an insight into someone’s thoughts and creativity. I could honestly spend hours on this website searching through the sketchbooks. No surprises here, but my first two search terms were ‘dog’ and ‘pathology’. All digitised images are protected by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. For this reason, I’ll be posting a link to my favourite sketchbooks and no images.
One of my absolute favourites is this one (click the link here) called ‘Histopathology’ by Jenna Hannum. It contains a combination of sketches, old histopathology index lists and some writing. The index lists have been lifted from the ‘Physicians Desk Reference to Pharmaceutical Specialities and Biologicals’ printed in 1947. You can zoom in on the individual pages and really see the detail up-close. The watercolour histopathology pages are stunning and I love how each disease represented is described in pretty accessible language.
Another sketchbook completely broke my heart. Titled ‘memori JAN’ by Gea&Danny, this book (here) was created as a memorial to the contributor’s dog. It has been made to help cope with loss. On the back it says ‘R.I.P. my sweet companion’. I was moved to tears reading through the pages and seeing just how much love has gone into this project.
If you have a spare moment in your day, or want to make time to relax and unwind, then I highly recommend browsing the collection. You can access it here. On the homepage, there is also a link to participate in the Project.
I have to admit this is the most inspiring week so far. I was overwhelmed with options, so I decided to focus on the first thing that caught my eye – the building itself. I love a bright-coloured door so I’ve sketched the outside of the building and cross-stitched its yellow door.
I have also decided to become part of The Sketchbook Project. I ordered my book and will be waiting so patiently for it to arrive. It gives me some time to think of how I will fill the pages. It is actually quite exciting to think of all the possibilities.
To conclude, this has been a really fantastic week that has inspired me to actually contribute something to a cultural institution! If you want to join the club then you can click here for further information. Otherwise, have a great time browsing the sketchbooks online.