Last July, my friend Pam invited me to an exhibition at the Gladstone Hotel. As she explained the premise, my simple brain only heard:
The place was packed and there were people everywhere: standing in circles, gathered 'round tables, sitting on the floor. All looking at sketchbooks.
Some books were clad in what I assumed was their original brown craft covers. But there were plenty others. One was thick and swaddled in periwinkle blue velvet. Another was green and furry like a Muppet.
I have a 10-year old niece who loves glitter glue too. I thought, she has to see this.
The Sketchbook Project, as I later learned it was called, is a traveling library of artists' books created by thousands of people from all over the world.
And it was in Toronto for the one weekend only.
There were thousands of books, each different from the next. I wanted to see them all.
I tried rapid check-outs, peeked over shoulders, talked with strangers, even sneaked a few quick flips through books in the box initially labelled "return books here" but with the later addition of "don't touch please".
We went on Friday and I brought my niece on the Sunday. I remembered a few of my favourites* and checked them out again so she could see them. She thought they were pretty cool.
On a lark, I asked her if she'd like to make one with me for next year's tour. She said yes! So, we signed ourselves up and took home our brand-new, pristine sketchbook.
A label with both our names was printed on the back. Her last name was cut short and it flicked off the tongue like a familiar nickname. I watched her try it on for size.
The sketchbook came with its own sleeping bag.
For the following several months, we quietly and steadily worked away on our little project together.
In addition to our many "crafting" dates and field trips, we talked on the phone, we emailed, we FaceTime'd and discussed ideas. It ended up being completely different from what we'd originally planned but I think we both learned to enjoy the process -- and the surprise -- of seeing the book slowly evolve and emerge.
Of course, neither of us had much skill, expertise or endurance to draw upon (she's 10 and I'm a total amateur), so it definitely bears the clumsy marks of inexperience.
But in the end, we finished it and were pretty happy with it so that's that.
One time, as we worked on the book, my niece said to me:
Wouldn't it be cool to be in Brooklyn when the tour starts?
Yeah, it would be.
We should go.
I didn't think we would go.
But as it happens, the tour starts on Friday. And we are going to be there.
Pam also submitted a book. It's beautiful and she wrote a blog post about it here.
I didn't take many in-progress shots but here are a few snaps I posted on Instagram:
For those of you not in Brooklyn this weekend, don't fret: the tour hits 7 other cities, including a return to the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, June 7 - 9, 2013.
*Speaking of favourites, one I loved was "bits and bobs" by Rachel Vater. It tells a whimsical story entirely with cut-paper. It's in their digital library so you can see it here but the scans, unsurprisingly, don't do it justice -- it must be seen in person to be fully appreciated.