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Brooklyn Art Library launches its 14th volume in ongoing ‘Sketchbook Project’

Whether you check it out in person or online, the collection can ‘hit home.’

An artist’s sketchbook can be a window to their worries, musings and history, and one library has more than 40,000 of them lining its shelves — all free to read.

The Brooklyn Art Library in Williamsburg, which has been collecting the books since 2009 for an endeavor called The Sketchbook Project, recently gathered about 4,000 of them and is celebrating by throwing a free party with pizza, drinks and a photo booth featuring the sketchbooks.

The library sends out the sketchbooks, which are all the same shape and size, and asks that artists send them back in with whatever they want to include, ranging from cartoons, photography and sketches to writings. And even though the library gives themes to inspire, it’s up to individual artists whether they follow them.

With artists of all levels and from many different countries participating, it took about a month to digitize them so they can be shared with the world, according to Emily Morin, the library’s assistant director.

“I don’t consider myself a fine artist, but I am continually amazed how much people can share about themselves and their stories without being a fine artist,” she said. “In addition to tying in different textures, they fold in their storylines, opinions and thoughts. It’s really cool to get another perspective on life. They share intimate things.”

Stories about conquering cancer or going through a divorce, for example, have been submitted in the sketchbooks. But they’re not so harrowing and are sometimes just the drawings of sixth-graders.

“You really have no idea what you’re going to get,” Morin said. “Sometimes a sketchbook with a blank cover ends up being your favorite one. It cannot stand out but it still might hit home for you.”

Some pieces from the recent 2018 collection called “Volume 13” are evocative, like a sketch of a woman’s life inside her room, from reading a book to crying on the floor, by Marine Piegay.

Others are simply eye-catching, including Patricia Sahertian’s, which feature the torn pages of books, newspapers and forms to create different textures in one spread. Some have realistic or impressionistic portraits of people in various emotional states.

The project goes even further and texts, with permission, the artists to let them know someone has checked out their book to view in the library or in its mobile library somewhere in North America.

“People get to stay engaged with their art,” Morin said. “It’s a reminder that you may have created this personal or intimate art piece and people are engaging with it. You put something out into the universe and someone is looking at it.”

Steven Peterman and Shane Zucker founded the project in Atlanta in 2009 from their desire to bring the art community together in a big way. Nine years and almost 41,000 sketchbooks later, the library takes its collections on the road each year in its trailer. This year it will stop in Toronto, Chicago and Atlanta.

As for New York, the library invites anyone to party and check out the sketchbooks for free at its space (28 Frost St.) from 7 to 11 p.m. on June 23. Otherwise, you can stop by Wednesdays through Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The library is taking submissions for 2019 for “Volume 14.” You can find out how to participate at


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