Steven Peterman calls it the creative bug. It’s a desire to create something — perhaps a sketch, a poem, a painting, an essay — and to put it out there for another person to see, touch, and explore. That person could be someone you’re close to or someone you’ve never met.
A lot of people have that creative bug, says Peterman, co-founder and director of the Sketchbook Project, a crowd-sourced library that features works contributed by creative people from 135 countries. Sketchbooks can be read at the Brooklyn Art Library, at traveling exhibitions, and on the Internet. The project invites people to put pen to paper and share their work for the world to see. When people shy away, saying “I can’t do it; I’m not an artist,” Peterman replies: “That’s not the point.”
The point is knowing that you, along with others throughout the world, can create something from your inspiration, and know that what you create can inspire others, he says.
The Sketchbook Project came into being motivated by Peterman’s creative bug — and a need to pay the rent, he says. When the Princeton Chamber’s Young Professionals Summit meets next week, Peterman will share both the inspirational and pragmatic forces that formed and grew the project to more than 30,000 members between its early days in 2006 to today. Presented by the Princeton Chamber and sponsored by Thomas Edison State College, the event takes place at the Conference Center at Mercer County Community College, 1200 Old Trenton Road, on Friday, November 14, 8 a.m. to noon. Chamber members: $50. Non-members: $70. To register, call 609-924-1776.
In addition to Peterman’s presentation, the event includes a panel discussion with Matt Dowling, editor-in-chief of the Trenton Times; Marty Johnson, president and founder of Isles; Mercer County freeholder John Cimino, assemblyman Dan Benson, Jud Henderson of Callaway Henderson Real Estate; and John Sakson, a lawyer with Stark & Stark.
Peterman’s talk and on-screen presentation will focus on setting your own path, doing something you are passionate about, and recognizing community as an important part of the creative process.
Peterman, age 29, grew up in Hillsborough and graduated from the Georgia’s Savannah College of Art and Design in 2007. “My mom was a romantic and a creative spirit. I get a lot of that from her. My dad is a business man. I believe the mix of them together is what gave me my drive and intuition,” he says. Today he lives in Brooklyn with his wife Sara, the company’s special projects manager, a textile designer, and graduate of Georgia State.
The origin of the Sketchbook Project can be traced back to the early 2000s when Peterman was a college student. Although he felt he would never become a professional artist and sell his work to museums, he had a desire to create and share his work with others, and suspected he wasn’t the only person who felt this way.
In the interest of fulfilling this desire and with a need to pay his living expenses, he and his student-friend and co-founder Shane Zucker opened a store-front gallery and charged artists a small fee to display their work. They also created a website asking people to buy a sketchbook which the purchasers would complete and send to the gallery. To entrepreneurs’ surprise, the response was positive.
As the popularity of the project grew, they began taking the gallery on tour, and out of necessity, they created a catalog system. In 2009 they moved from Atlanta to Brooklyn. “That move changed our lives” Peterman said. Their base of signed-up artists grew from 3,700 to 28,000 in just one year.
Today the project collection includes 31,000 sketchbooks from 75,000 artists hailing from 135 countries. Over 125,000 books have been checked out by readers. The Mobile Library tours the U.S., Canada, and London making stops in large and small cities.
How do you become part of the community and submit your own sketchbook? The process is straightforward. Visit the Sketchbook Project’s website — www.sketchbookproject.com — and order a blank sketchbook. Fill your sketchbook with drawings, writing, collages, photography, and any other way that you’re inspired to fill the pages. When your book is completed, send it back to Brooklyn Art Library where it will cataloged and bar-coded by the staff.
When ordering a sketchbook, you’ll have two options: If you choose the standard sketchbook for $25, your book will be become part of the Brooklyn Art Library. If it is submitted in time for the annual mobile book tour, it will be included in the tour and returned to the Brooklyn library when the trip has concluded. Every time someone views your book, you will receive an E-mail or text notification from Sketchbook.
If you choose the digitized sketchbook for $60, in addition to being available at the Brooklyn library and the mobile tour, your book will be scanned and added to an online archive. You will receive a custom URL to your sketchbook, allowing viewers to search for your book by your name, location, medium, or theme.
Another part of the Sketchbook operation is the “Challenge” in which participants are asked to create works around a specific theme. A challenge now in place, with a December 31 deadline, is a “Pen Pal Painting Exchange.” According to the guidelines on the website, people who sign up for the kit, priced at $50, are paired up with “another painter to start a conversation. They might be from another city, country, or even another continent. We’ll be looking at specific details about you and your submission to make a great match.” The theme: “Can you give me a break?” The $50 fee includes “the swap. Your work will be sent to your match, and you’ll get theirs in return. Shipping is included for the painting being mailed back to you for the exchange.”
All this community building among artists who otherwise might have labored over their creations in total anonymity appears to have produced a sustainable business for the Sketchbook founders, who declined to disclose their total annual revenues.
“We hope to keep growing the collection, while finding new and innovative ways to share it,” Peterman says. “We also hope to become an New York City institution where people know they can come and, for free, access this one-of-a-kind resource.”