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The Seeds We Sow

| Elaine Weiner-Reed

Artist Elaine Weiner-Reed reflects that she is always pleasantly surprised when someone contacts her to let her know that she, her words, or her art has touched their lives. Such contacts are always welcome, no matter how rarely or frequently they might come her way . . .     Continue reading to find out how one seemingly small art experience led to Elaine’s inclusion in a global library of sketchbooks.


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The Sketchbook Project: An Overview

In 2013-2014, I participated in the Sketchbook Project’s 2014 Call. My sketchbook creation, officially known as “Raw Edges Soliloquy,” Sketchbook #S121055, is filled with small watercolors and collages. Mine and all the other sketchbooks submitted that year and every year since then have become part of a larger, global collection. All are housed in a unique library in Brooklyn, New York. 

One of a kind, the Brooklyn Art Library is home to The Sketchbook Project collection in its physical form. The Library’s walls are lined with shelves that hold the tens of thousands of collected sketchbooks created by artists from around the world. As with any good library, the Brooklyn Art Library offers a hands-on reading room. In this unique Library, its welcome guests can spend an afternoon enjoying artwork from artists of all genres and ages. Imagine the treasures contained within each one-of-a-kind sketchbook!

Founders and Funding: Who, What, When, and Where

The Founders’ flagship endeavor, The Sketchbook Project, is a crowd-sourced library that houses 36,360 sketchbooks, each created by one unique artist coming from over 135 countries. Brooklyn Art Library is located on 28 Frost Street in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY.  Essentially, it is a one-of-a-kind curated exhibition space. The Sketchbook Project began in 2006 in Atlanta, GA and moved to New York City in 2009. Since 2009, this small organization has grown into a worldwide community of many projects: To date, if you include all the other projects and challenges under the umbrella of The Sketchbook Project, over 162,081 creative people have shared their talents by participating in one project or another. According to its Founders, by focusing on the intersection of hands-on art making and new technology, The Sketchbook Project nurtures community-supported art projects that harness the power of the virtual world to share inspiration in the real world. And they are doing just that! 

Following are the Founders of The Sketchbook Project:

  • Steven Peterman, Co-founder/Director
  • Shane Zucker, Co-founder
  • Sara Peterman, Special Projects Manager
  • Marissa Passi, Assistant Director

How I Got Involved

Back in 2013, I learned about The Sketchbook Project from an artist friend. She indicated that she also planned to participate in the initiative. I remember thinking “how cool” the idea was and becoming a part of it appealed to me. So, I hopped online, registered, and ordered my blank sketchbook – which I received about a week later. Reality hit when it came in the mail, and I remember feeling somewhat daunted as I looked at the blank sketchbook of some 20 pages or more. As I held it, I panicked, wondering what had possessed me to agree to do it! At that point in time, I was working full-time in a stressful career, while also working full-time on my Art. A single parent, as well, my son was in college. I was very busy, as I also had several big art shows scheduled, paintings to plan or complete, press and other paperwork to tackle, and of course, that was on top of life’s usual must-do things like chores, laundry, shopping, etc. I mention all that so you can better understand my feeling of being overwhelmed... Perhaps you can relate?

Untitled 27

My Approach: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Another thing I should mention: By the time I committed to participating in the Project, I had only left myself a few weeks to complete and mail in my completed sketchbook. Panic descended like an avalanche, almost preventing me from even starting on it. 

Luckily, I remembered something…a time management technique I had learned in a leadership class several years before called the “Swiss cheese approach” to breaking down and completing tasks. My panic was soon replaced by determination, and I was able to breathe again. I knew that what I had to do was break up the big Project into a series of small tasks – essentially methodically punching holes in it and slowly moving forward. I resolved to do one small thing, then another, and so on, until my Sketchbook was completed. 

I felt better, so much so that I had a brainstorm that helped me conceptualize the sketchbook as a themed “show” – each page would be a part of the whole, connected, yet unique. I counted the pages, figured out how much time I had for each creation. “Raw Edges Soliloquy” was a theme related to my jazz-inspired abstract paintings on unstretched canvas. It was broad enough to allow for creativity, tying in with current works on canvas, as well as my water media painting series from previous years. I had my direction, cleared off a table in my studio, and set about finding and choosing materials I would need to begin creating.

Enter, Inspiration: My Bin of “Saved” Water Media Bits and Pieces

Between 1999 and 2015, I was creating works-on-paper in my “New Directions” painting series. Many people do not know this, but throughout that time frame, I would destroy or cut up paintings that I might have liked, but did not love. The fruits of that aperiodic purging were contained in a plastic bin. In it, I retained sections or portions of paintings that were good and continued to excite. I had thought perhaps I could use them in future collages. The time had come! Once I had decided on my Sketchbook theme of “Raw Edges Soliloquy” and determined my plan of action, I headed straight to that bin of salvaged sections of watercolor and acrylic paintings. Those water media “keepers” ranged in size from 2” x 2” to 4” x 6,” and a selection of those keepers became my starting point for the pages in my Sketchbook. I was off and running and was able to keep to my schedule: I completed the Sketchbook and met the deadline. Whew…

A Legacy

Mailing it in, I felt like I had really accomplished something – something beyond the ordinary, something beyond my small universe or lifetime. A legacy of creativity that would take on a life of its own and keep on giving. With so many sketchbooks to choose from, each Artist never knows when or if someone will see our work, but I can tell you that it is always a thrill when someone does view it. Over the years, I have received at least half a dozen notices from The Sketchbook Project facilitators whenever my sketchbook was checked out and examined. About a month ago, I received the latest email notice when someone in New York named “Teagan” viewed my Sketchbook (#S121055). I smiled, contentedly knowing the global creativity wave will continue to grow. And it was that email that prompted me to write this article and share the opportunity with others in the hope that The Sketchbook Project will continue to grow and thrive!

The Sketchbook Library Meets The Digital Age

The Sketchbook Project and Library staff are working to keep the creative wave growing and moving into the next generation and beyond any physical boundaries or borders. For example, if you cannot visit the Library in person, guests are now able to take a virtual YouTube tour of The Brooklyn Library.

But it gets even better… The Library now has a Digital Library – that continues to expand. To help people more easily browse this large digital/online Library, the staff organized some number of sketchbooks, grouping or cataloging them into by-theme “Collections” such as Trees, Nature, etc. Consequently, to allow for broader global access of my Sketchbook, I recently went online and allotted the small amount of money to enable the Library to digitize my sketchbook for inclusion in The Sketchbook Project’s Digital Library. As you can imagine, the Brooklyn Art Library could not hope to self-fund the digitization of tens of thousands of sketchbooks. Therefore, hopefully, each contributing artist can do their part, and perhaps donations from other Patrons of the Arts will help with the rest over time.


Prior to The Digital Age: The Mobile Tour

I feel very fortunate that my Sketchbook was included in the Brooklyn Art Library’s 2014 mobile tour of over 30 cities in the U.S. and Canada.  (A sample of the schedule follows.)  I know that my sketchbook was viewed by at least one person in Toronto, California, and in four other cities throughout the Mobile Tour. It always brings a smile to my face to know that a stranger has looked at my sketchbook … and I find myself hoping that my work will intrigue or inspire them to create. 

All the participating artists received the schedule for The Sketchbook Project’s 2014 Mobile Tour. As the Library Bus roamed from destination to destination, across the U.S. and Canada, we received updates and news of its progress. What a great idea and what planning to make it happen! 

3/14 - 3/16
Brooklyn, NY
Brooklyn Art Library

Richmond, VA
Virginia Commonwealth University

Asheville, NC
Asheville BookWorks

3/29 - 3/30
Atlanta, GA
The Goat Farm Arts Center

Orlando, FL
Church Street Entertainment District


I was excited when The Sketchbook Project emailed me, announcing that new stops have been added to The 2014 Tour, and "your sketchbook (mine! Sketchbook: #S121055 by Elaine Weiner-Reed) was going along for the ride! Your sketchbook will now be viewed by visitors to our Mobile Library in the following cities:"

Santa Fe, NM
New Mexico Museum of Art

Sante Fe, NM
Sante Fe University of Art and Design 

Flagstaff, AZ
Coconino Center for the Arts

Newport Beach, CA
Orange County Museum of Art

Untitled 17

And then, they added, even more, stops on the mobile tour…

Philadelphia, PA - October 5th, 2014
Franklin Square
200 North 6th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Syracuse, NY - October 14th, 2014
Syracuse University Art Galleries
Shaffer Art Building
Syracuse, NY 13244

Buffalo, NY - October 16th, 2014
Western New York Art Book Center
468 Washington Street
Buffalo, NY 14203

Detroit, MI - October 19th, 2014
Popps Packing
12138 Saint Aubin
Detroit, MI

Brooklyn, NY | The 'Ontario Canada' Tour Closing Party
Brooklyn Art Library
103A North 3rd Street
Brooklyn, NY 11249 

            All I can say is WOW! I was thrilled and kept an eye on the calendar, watching the progress virtually as the mobile tour made its way around the country and Canada.

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Your Opportunity Awaits

So, what happened to my artist friend who had first mentioned The Sketchbook Project to me? In early 2015, I was surprised to learn that she had not ended up completing or submitting a sketchbook. She confided to me that she had been too busy. “But, aren’t we all?” I remember thinking. In hindsight, however, what I can say is that personally, I am very glad to have participated in such a worthwhile global creativity project. My Sketchbook, as I recall, is a rather simple affair of mini watercolors, acrylics, and collages. And while I can only imagine there are much more exciting and ornate sketchbooks in the Library, I know I did my best. 

Sketchbooks have always been a part of my creative life, so I am especially pleased to think that my Sketchbook (#S121055) stays alive and on exhibit--long after all my other art exhibitions have closed. These special Sketchbooks become “Art that keeps on giving,” touching the lives of an unknown number of art lovers, students, and artists throughout the world now and in the future. Once the digitization of the latest batch of older sketchbooks (including mine) is completed sometime in the Summer of 2018, people all over the world should be able to find my sketchbook online. The thought makes me smile …

Remember … there is always next year for those of you interested in joining the sketchbook creativity movement. The Sketchbook Project has an annual call, so the opportunity is always open. If you miss one year, you can plan to enter the following year! Although The Sketchbook Project 2018 open call has closed, there are other open challenges and projects if you are looking for a creative and global project yourself. As one example, on 7 February 2018, the official launch of The Canvas Project was announced. Described as a crowd-sourced project of mini canvases painted by artists from all over the globe, with a culmination in what they call a “visual encyclopedia.” I was sorry to have missed that opportunity, but I look forward to seeing the end result and cannot wait to see what will be their next new creative challenge… 

Let me know if you take the plunge yourself and create a Sketchbook or if you visit the Brooklyn Art Library – physically or digitally! And should you happen to take a real or virtual tour, I invite you to check out my Sketchbook and let me know what you think. 

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