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What are you making?

This is the new selection of theme options you might have already encountered, as you checked out (or joined!) the 2013 Sketchbook Project. They look a little different than the theme choices from past projects, and many of you have been asking: “What do these mean?! Why did the themes change from past projects? How do I choose?”

In short: The Sketchbook Project is not just a project for sketchbooks. It’s a library featuring all kinds of handmade books. And this year you have the opportunity to select a category that best describes what kind of creative person you are.

Form and content are the two mainstays of any kind of art. “The medium is the message,” a credo coined by communication & media theorist Marshall McLuhan, pretty much sums it up. Every art object tells a story. This is something we’ve learned here at Art House through the years, as we pour over the thousands of sketchbooks in our archive. Each book blends a unique combination of medium, technique, talent, and content, and through this combination, alchemy happens. A golden story emerges.

Sometimes the tales encapsulated in the sketchbooks are abstract and seem to have everything to do with the artwork itself, how it was made, and even, why it was made. Other stories expose deeply personal experiences, travels, histories, wishes and fears.

The choice now is really up to you about how you want to categorize your work, and ultimately, your story. Through what lens do you see the world? Are you a traveler? A chronicler of events? A diarist? A mapmaker? A poet?

Below, we’ll offer a brief overview of the different types of books you can choose to make for this project, in hopes to get you inspired and also jump-start your art making, storytelling, and creative adventures.




[The cover of E Alexander Powell’s 1922 travelogue ‘Where the Strange Trails Go Down’]

From the dictionary:

1. (noun) travelogue, travelog: a film or illustrated lecture on traveling

Are you a traveler? Do you keep field notes, snap pictures, jot down anecdotes of the places you visit far and wide? Then the travelogue may be the book type for you. Humans have kept record of the places they’ve visited for centuries, and these records often find their way into history books. Whether you’re visiting another side of the world, outer space (c’mon astronauts, you know you want to do this project), or just the stand of trees in your backyard or the corner bodega, creating a travelogue is a really neat way to document places and the experiences you have there — and make them come alive for the viewer.




Did you traipse around Paris in the 1920s and live to tell the tale?

Neither did we. But that doesn’t mean we don’t all have a unique story to tell about our lives. Whether you do it in photographs, words, drawings, or some other combination of mediums we could only imagine, the memoir category of book is the thing to choose if you’ve got a juicy life story and feel that that’s the picture you’d like to paint.

[Above: "A Family Sketch" is a 64-page handwritten memoir my Mark Twain that begins with a tribute to Twain’s eldest daughter, Olivia “Susy” Clemens, who died of meningitis in 1896 at age 24 and served as the inspiration for his ”Joan of Arc” and ”A Horse’s Tale.”]




Maybe you’re a natural born storyteller, but autobiographies aren’t really your bag (those are for our memoirists!). If this is the case, then perhaps a narrative book is for you. What’s your weapon of choice? Words? Infographics? Doodles? Paint? How about a genre … are you into magical realism, fiction, loose abstractions, dreams ….. ? There are so many ways to weave a narrative thread throughout a handmade book, and now’s your chance to hone your expressive talents and tell/show us a tale …




Are you a closet map maker? Are you constantly writing out directions for folks to get from A to B? Are you kind of in love with geography? Do road signs really get you going? If any of these are the case, the the atlas book type may be for you.

Or maybe you’re just obsessed with patterns and want to create a matrix of lines and shapes that form some kind of cohesive whole — a map of impressions, changing light, seconds ticking by in a waiting room, every shade of green encountered in one day. Whether you’re interested in concrete mappings or a more conceptual approach to documenting things in space or time (maybe even with secret codes or keys!), then creating an atlas may be the way to go …

[Above: The various riverbeds of the Mississippi River, which show that over the geological past, the river really has coursed like a snake.]




Before nifty websites like existed, folks predicted the weather (ie the growing season, and their livelihood) using a little thing called an almanac. Typically released at the beginning of the year — and comprised in part by data from past years, wives tales, and colloquial knowledge — these handy little manuals helped others plan the next 12 months ahead.

So why not make yourself useful and create a manual? If this idea turns on a light bulb or two somewhere deep inside of you, then the almanac might be for you.

Do you have some knowledge you can impart through your book? How about “An Illustrated Guide to …. [fill in the blank].” Interested in field notes? Diagrams? Practical advice for how to … ?

Go ahead. Teach us. We want to learn.




From the dictionary:

1. An extended account in prose or verse of historical events, sometimes including legendary material, presented in chronological order and without authorial interpretation or comment.
2. A detailed narrative record or report.


They say the devil is in the details. Or is it? A chronicle is a detailed record of the process or progression of things. How does a line get from point A to point B? How do colors change across a page? What does a drawing look like if you replicate it a few times over? There are many ways to visually chronicle things happening — whether real or imagined — and if you’re into keeping note of the whys hows and whats of life happening around you — or your own creative process — then this book-type could be a great jumping off point.





[Above: a sketchbook by: Barbara Johansen Newman; for: The Sketchbook Project: 2011; theme: Coffee and cigarettes]


The sketchbook category might not need too much explaining. 
……  Or does it? What is a sketchbook, anyway?


From the dictionary:
n. - A book containing sheets of paper on which sketches can be drawn

But are they just for drawing? The answer is both yes and no. While some of the most amazing sketchbooks we’ve received contain drawings alone, the Art House sketchbooks have been defined by our community as much more. We allow ALL mediums in our sketchbooks, which in many ways act as visual workbooks for creatives of all persuasions. Textile artists, portrait painters, and collagists all do their thing in our sketchbooks … as well as scientists, architects, teachers, students, moms, dads, kids, and that guy down the street. The sketchbook is really a book for anyone, in which to create whatever you please.

[Above: a sketchbook by: Eric Durrance for: The Sketchbook Project: 2011; theme: First thing in the morning, last thing at night]


[Above: a sketchbook by: Bepen Bhana for: The Sketchbook Project: 2011; theme: Make mine a double]


[Above: a sketchbook by: Nina Morgan for: The Sketchbook Project: 2011; theme: In 5 minutes…]




So you’re a poet. Or a literary artist. Or you love the idea of mini books that contain bits of text, images, and thoughts. If this is you, you’ve probably already signed up for the chapbook book type for this project.


But for those who aren’t yet hip to the format, here we have again from the dictionary:
  1. A small pamphlet containing tales, ballads, or tracts, sold by peddlers.
  2. A small paperback booklet, typically containing poems or fiction.

So maybe you won’t peddle your chapbook on the street. But you could create a chapbook to submit to us (and potentially make replicates before you send it in, which you can distribute whenever and whenever you please!). Let your lyrics loose in this book, and the lines (poetic, visual) guide the reader/viewer through your thoughts.




From the dictionary:

1.  a. The act or an instance of the supplying of documents or supporting references or records. b. The documents or references so supplied.

2. The collation, synopsizing, and coding of printed material for future reference.

Are you a scientist? Do you love graph paper? Do you collect data and spit it out again in lyric form or in paintings, graphs, graceful columns or polls … ? Can you imagine tracking a bird in flight and then mapping this along x and y -axes. Then the documentation book type may be just the ticket. Show us, tell us, explain to us what is happening and how. It can be abstract or strictly representational. You choose… it’s your data, after all.




You love photography. You’re analog. You’re digital. You’ve got a photographic memory. You’ve got a gigantic memory card. You’re wide angled. You’re panoramic. You’ve got nothing better to do than put it down in a photo log.
We’d offer you a dictionary definition for this, but honestly, we made it up. But let’s start with this: it’s like a photo BLOG, except in book form. Wow us with your best shots. The candids will make us cry. The heavy edits will make us jealous of your technical skills. Tell us something about life, using real life images.
*        *        *        *
In the end, the story you tell with your book is really up to you. The category you choose can help guide the way you tell it, but always remember: in the end, there are no rules with our themes/categories, and you can create whatever you want, however you want, in your book. The best book is the book that is uniquely YOU — an expression of life that is particular to your own individual sensibilities and outlook.
So after all this, don’t worry too much about the categories. If you have a creative itch, scratch it. Jump in. That first blank page is calling your name.