When I picked up this book – almost a year ago now! – I had no idea what I was getting myself into. And not that it had to be a big thing, but it turned into one. The Sketchbook Project, for those of you who don’t know, is an amazing collaborative, crowd-sourced art project where anyone can buy one of these little books, fill it with whatever they want, and then send it back in and it becomes part of this library that tours the country and then comes to rest at a storefront in Brooklyn where anyone can get a library card and then look at all these (33,000+) submissions! You can also view many of the sketchbooks online through their digital library. So cool, right?
Every submission year is kind of like a different cohort with a separate set of themes that artists can use to categorize their books. One of the themes this year was Parts of the Whole which really resonated with me and the style of art that I do – there are so many parts that I create individually in order to form a whole picture.
And then there’s my friend group, which has been a very solid urban family for the past 4+ years (and several people I’ve known since my portland days!) We took this great trip for Memorial Day last year, taking off 3 days of work (longer than I took off to go to Panama) in addition to Memorial Day to go to a lake house upstate. The picture I used is of all of us on a day we rented a pontoon boat in the rain, and our “captain” expertly maneuvered it to the dock connected to our house so that we could go in and wait out the worst of it. So, it’s all these little pieces of paper that make up the picture, and it’s all these wonderful people who make up this amazing group.
When conceptualizing it – I know that what I do is pretty far from sketching (and actually I really want to take a drawing class because I think my lack of self-originated creation skills are starting to hold me back) Instead of doing a different piece for each page, I wanted to do something sort of “sketchy” – showing the process and the work that went into the final. And also relates to the theme. So I kept all of the paper scraps from which I cut the individual pieces, in order to put them on all of the pages of the book leading up to the final page where the completed picture would be.
Some other decisions I didn’t make until I was in it – for instance, making each person a different color. This was honestly a defensive move because I’d never made a piece with so many people in it, and I wasn’t sure whether they would differentiate enough. Maybe next time I do something like this (will I ever?) I’ll just trust you’ll be able to tell what’s going on… we’ll see. Also the background being more-or-less black and white was a late decision, based mainly on the fact that as I was constructing it I was putting all the people on the original black-and-white print out of the photo and it looked pretty cool, and people were like “you should leave it like that!” which I wasn’t going to do. But I think it worked because it makes the people pop more.
Another last minute decision was to separate all the negative pieces by person and arrange them individually on the preceding pages. I sort of tried to have them start as completely abstract, and move slowly towards something somewhat recognizable as human by the end – or at least more forming something.
There were also a number of missteps along the way which, in hindsight, could have made for interesting inclusions (for instance, the pontoon boat was originally a bunch of different gold and metallic papers, as I have many of those, but it just didn’t read right and honestly had no place competing with my friends for visual attention, so I had to scrap that. And a couple of people’s faces or clothing articles were wrong and had to be switched out).
Anyway, after the many many days and nights of anti-social-ness (kind of ironic, seeing as it’s a project about my friends) I had the main piece done, and I had painstakingly saved all of the negative spaces from which all the pieces were cut. Then it was time to start thinking about assembly.
The book is 5″X7″ and there are 8 10″X7″ pages folded in half and stapled in the center. You’re allowed to dismantle the book and do whatever you want to it (as long as the final product fits back into the original dimensions) and I knew I didn’t want the final picture page to be split onto two half-pages, so I decided to take out all the pages and put them in more like a fan so all of them would be able to lie flat in the final. Also, because although I had so so many pieces of negative (and I’d also saved all the little tracing paper shapes I used to transfer the image from the photo to the paper), I didn’t think I had enough to fill up all both sides of all of the pages in the book. So I used only the front sides of each of the pages and then glued them to each other so that each page would lie flat and nothing would be cut in half.
And then there was gluing. Confession: I am not so great at actually constructing my art pieces. I make all the shapes, but then to connect them to one another, all the pieces are precariously held together with stingy pieces of masking tape. Then when it’s all assembled, I have to figure out how to make them stay like that and actually be a finished product. This is enough of a struggle for me when I’m making something to go in a frame on a wall and never be touched again, let alone making it to be handled by who-knows-how-many people!
Enter Mod Podge. I had heard of this stuff before, but shockingly never actually used it. My hope was that it was magic and could soak through all my layers of paper, binding them together without me having to really do anything, but I guess it doesn’t work that way. I also didn’t anticipate that it would make all the pages and pieces wrinkly. Maybe there’s a way to use it so it doesn’t? but anything I put the glue on started to curl, and the thinner papers curled almost to the point of unsalvageability, so that was challenging. And the pages started feeling like plastic, which I guess they partly were by the end.
There was the additional challenge of the pieces of paper that ended up in the creases, and figuring out how to get them to stick in such a way that they could fold up and lay flat. If you look closely at the arm of one of the people in the final, you can see that this got a little messed up.
Also I used a rubber stamp set for the dedication and info pages, and also for the title of the book (it’s the hashtag my friends put on all the pictures associated with our trip – we were staying near Caroga Lake) but because of the Mod Podge the ink didn’t dry, and smeared when I tried to put on another layer of glue, so I had to go back over it in sharpie. And then there was getting the pages to actually be in the cover, which I did by sewing them in with dental floss – I’d heard it was really strong! (Mint waxed, for the record)
Another learning curve was the whole abstract-art aspect of the negative space pages. Not something I’ve really ever done before, although I really do like abstract art, and I think there’s definite room for compositional improvement there! But it was fun, and a stretch. And sometimes I get a little tired of my art form and wonder whether it’s really art or just craft, and I think if it’s challenging and emotional then it definitely is, and this definitely was.