The Brooklyn Gallery Filled with Thousands of Sketchbooks

sketchbook project

New York City is bursting with places to browse art, but there’s one Brooklyn gallery with a twist most New Yorkers – let alone tourists – don’t know about…

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The Brooklyn Art Library in Williamsburg has been open for 10 years and although its ordinary storefront has a lot of people fooled, it’s not a library or gallery in the traditional sense, instead the setting for one of the city’s, if not the world’s, unique collections of art. Introducing The Sketchbook Project, a jaw-dropping compendium of over 36,131 artists’ sketchbooks – and counting – from around the world, which you can browse through on a visit. All you do is sign up for a free library card on the day you swing by, get settled and start flicking through…

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Sketchbooks are organised into whimsical themes such as ‘secret codes’ and ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’, for example, and you choose what you’d like to see from an online catalog – searching by an artists’ name, country, theme or keyword. A librarian then brings you your chosen sketchbooks – two at a time – along with another they think you’ll be interested in.

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Anyone can contribute to The Sketchbook Project, too, starting with the same 32-page sketchbook, which you buy for around $30 from the library’s website or at the library in person. You then have free reign to draw, write, doodle, cut, print, photograph, scribble, scrawl whatever you want in it, to fill it. When you are done, send it back by the deadline and the sketchbook is included in the library. As a little reminder that their work matters, each artist receives a notice every time their book is checked out.

the sketchbook project sketchbook

There are no rules on what goes into a sketchbook, either. ‘…contributions from first-time artists and children sit alongside the work of professional illustrators and painters…’ describes The New Yorker. ‘Some tell stories —recently on display in the library was a picture-book tribute, carefully painted in cheery colors, in memory of the artist’s best friend, who had died. Others are more like diaries or collages, some feature architectural diagrams, extraordinarily detailed watercolors, depressing doodles, lists of favorite songs and ex-lovers, white-on-white cutouts, and on and on.’

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So far, the library holds books from 101 countries and in 2015, the project published The Sketchbook Project World Tour, a 256-page book of pieces from all over the world, captioned only by their location.

Brooklyn art library

Visit the Brooklyn Art Library website, here.

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