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The Sketchbook Project collects sketchbooks from people all over the world, and turns them into a global, traveling library — taking them on tour in a little trailer that’s a bit like a taco truck for books.

Created by friends Steven Peterman and Shane Zucker in 2006, The Sketchbook Project is a tribute to collaboration, proving that, sometimes, an artist doesn’t need a mystical muse to come and shower them with inspiration to make art happen, but just a neatly-planned project and a bunch of strangers to join with them.

To participate, you sign up for a sketchbook tour on the project’s website and once registered, receive a sketchbook, a send-in date, a choice of several different themes to center your sketchbook around (past themes include “Strange Neighbors,” “Borders and lines,” and “This is not about me”). Once submitted, your sketchbook is loaded onto The Sketchbook Project mobile library and goes on tour — becoming part of a worldwide community of artists, traveling across cities, and, in the end, living in The Sketchbook Project’s permanent library in Brooklyn, NY, where visitors can get a library card to check sketchbooks out.

In March, co-founder Steven Peterman traveled from the project’s headquarters in Brooklyn to Richmond, Virginia to speak at TEDxRVA, and brought the library with him.

At TEDxRVA, Steven spoke on the genesis of the project and the power of collaboration. From his talk:

I went to art school…I went to Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta and I wanted to create art, but I never — I didn’t think I was that good. I didn’t think I was ever going to be a professional artist, but I still wanted to create…

I really needed a purpose. I never liked to just make art for art’s sake. I wanted it to be for a show or I needed a deadline or something like that … so I was kind of struggling a little bit with this idea of just creating art for art’s sake and I knew that there were other people out there who also kinda felt this way — you know, they weren’t going to be professional artists; they weren’t going to be selling their work to museums or having these big shows, but they wanted to be inspired and create together…

So, I met this guy Shane …. and we came up with this idea for these projects.

Steven and Shane’s projects, the biggest being The Sketchbook Project, aim to get the crowd involved in art — to give even the most wayward artist purpose, deadlines, motivation. “Our mission,” they write on The Sketchbook Project website,is to allow anyone to be able to participate in art, and to create a collection of work that represents the current state of artists worldwide.”

And since its start, The Sketchbook Project’s results have been incredible:

  • Participants from over 135 different countries on 6 continents
  • 26,735 sketchbooks in the collection (as of March 2013)
  • 962,100 pages in the collection
  • 45,583 Sketchbook Project library cards issued
  • 94,866 library check outs

For more information on the project, watch Steven’s entire talk below:
(Photos via The Sketchbook Project and TEDxRVA)

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