Sketchbook exchanges - how do they work? was it worth it? was it fun?

Nina's work in my sketchbook in the FPP exchange :>)

I was lucky enough to take part in two sketchbook exchanges [ one is now coming to an end :>( and I'll really miss it!] and I've had a lot of queries about them - how they work, timings, what type of sketch books etc etc etc etc so I thought it might be a good subject for a post here.

Above is a great example of one of the major benefits - you get lots of lovely work from people you like and whose work you like :>) to keep! and lots more passes through your hands on their travels - you get to see the work in real life and not simply on screen.

One of the challenges in my book was to draw/paint a feather - and just look at this lovely subtle and original take on it - I can't wait to see the rest of Nina's images, but won't see them until the book gets to the next person in the chain, my friend Glen. But just look at the masterly use of watercolour, and an idea I wouldn't have come up with, involving her lovely way with people in watercolour along with the super large feather - and that shadow on the arm from the other feather - wonderful.

Another is the interesting conversations about the work and friendships that develop. Seeing the work of people in real life is fascinating and the different ways in which they tackle the themes.

It makes you tackle other ideas and break out of your comfort zone :>)

Both started off with a clearly designed and very flexible set of 'rules' on how we'd run it - not organised by me, I can't take any credit, but very well run by Stephanie for the Moley project and Lindsay for the Flying Pictures Project. My only input at this stage was being part of the initial discussions and suggesting that with the FPP one we didn't make the entire book before sending it, but let each person add their own pages (it gave some space for mess ups that were safely binned!)
I have to say they have been terrific fun and as we relaxed into them they made us all experiment and play as we bounced off the ideas of the book originator and the other members who had worked in the book, each very different. We also did some of 'what we do normally' woven into the theme - as that's why we were invited in the first place, because the organiser/group liked our work and heavy hints were dropped!

the books used:

  • a small concertina fold moley for the moleyX
  • and a larger 26 x18 cm hand made one for the FPP, instructions on Lindsay's site
    that we added pages to as it travelled (I liked this method and the size )

  • we started a book each and that would finally be OUR book, returning to us at the end. So 7 Flying Pictures Project books travelling round the world and 8 moleskines ...
  • Making the books as they travel means different papers for different media and a lively vibrant , ever changing book - colourfix/watercolour paper/cryla paper ..... anything! I put black pages in one book in my section, cryla paper in another and watercolour paper in several. The larger size also gives more room for maneoevre.

'Rules' were the same for both exchanges (=guidelines, agreed method)

  • Size/type of book is decided and all participants use the same size
    - the moleskine concertina fold for one exchange
    - the hand made book for FPP

    - Most made their books landscape format in the FPP as in Lindsay's original instructions on how to make the books - but a couple used the format portrait style it was totally optional. See Lindsay's blog , link below, for instructions on making the sketchbooks we used in the FPP or search on the sketchbook exchange tag in the right hand column for a link there or to see other posts done here on the exchange.
  • Books start their journey with a front cover attached (back cover unattached optional (- it needs to be attached at the end when you can see how thick the book has become!)
    and the book owners starting pages - 3-4 pages approximately (this is for the FPP - obviously moleys were complete from the beginning and we all just bought the same one and did 4 pages each)
  • We set a theme for our book that others related to in their own way - and the ways have been very very different at times, making it really interesting.

    The themes need to be open ended enough that a variety of styles and subjects can be bent to fit

    - David's theme in the moley exchange for example, was Dance - He started it with some wonderfully sexy, passionate Tango dancers - I did dancing flowers in the wind after a lot of thought and suddenly seeing the wind flinging the flowers in the garden about in wild abandon - and there was my idea, Gesa did an abstract of footsteps and rhythm, Stephanie did sketches of dancers at a show she went to, very quick loose sketches .... it could be fitted to a still life with a dance music cd/record/sheet music or even high heeled shoes, or animals active, leaping whatever ? there's always a way to twist a theme to fit your work and experiment.
  • Look at the websites, where you can see all the work in the exchanges and you'll see how different the work is within each theme.
  • The theme is explained at the beginning of the book
    - this is open with a lot of potential to twist is to suit the individual and come up with different ideas, media, etc As I said - the others are NOT compelled to follow it - but everyone has in these 2 exchanges and just given it their own twist :>)
  • About 3.5 -4.5 pages is an ideal amount for each person to fill. The last half-page has a beginning of something and is left uncompleted for the next in line to work into and change in their own way - this was fun but didn't always happen as people forgot or were shy to work on someone else's work. It IS a fun element though.
  • A time scale for sending books on was set but was flexible, allowing for pressures of life
    - but we found that people enjoyed it so much that books actually often travelled faster than arranged - again flexible and good humoured :>) One was 2 weekly, the other monthly send-ons.
  • We designed our own covers for the FPP and some people requested that others added to theirs - again optional.
    With the moleskine exchange some people decorated covers and Lorraine has designed a pencil holding sling for the moleskine and kindly made us all one :>) as our books arrive in Belfast she attaches them
  • The FPP exchange also has a private discussion thread as well as the public blog with many a conversation about the necessity of chocolate to cope with following some of the great work we'd received ;>D. This is a good idea. In fact one of the sketchbooks travelling, Robyn's, actually involved enclosing a bar of chocolate to ease the nerves of the next recipient - a great idea!

Taking part made me experiment and play with new ideas and triggered ideas for my own work. There were interesting conversations and discussions. I've really really enjoyed it and the interesting work and ideas of my fellow conspiritors :>) - that spelling looks weird - is it right? or am I just tired?

Our books travelled through England, Scotland, France, Sweden, Italy and the US picking up ideas and artwork as they went .

- and at the end there is the fact that you have this lovely book of original art by people you like :>) - it's been a really good experience. It was all very good humoured and positive, supportive and tolerant .

I'm dying to get mine back! My FPP is on its way to Glen who lives locally and is the last one to add to it :>) it'll be fabulous and a little sad. The group are keen to do another joint project after a break :>) and I'm IN!


Flying Pictures Project

FPP website:

Lindsay the organiser and instigator :>) :

Ronell :

Casey C :




and me! here and

The moleskine exchange:

group website:

Stephanie, organiser and instigator:






Casey K:

and me!



Robyn Sinclair said…
What a wonderful post, Vivien. Terrific description of how both projects worked and you've really captured the flavour of the fun, joy and trepidation inherent in a sketchbook exchange.

I think you'll inspire many others and I'm going to link to this post because I couldn't put it better myself :)
Kari Gibson said…
What wonderful projects - I was wondering what everyone was referring to! Thanks for the explanation of how it works, sounds like a lot of fun.

Oh and thanks for all those lovely links. I shall be happily procrastinating all morning now...
a great post and I agree with everythiong you said Vivine. I think we should take on another project, I really enjoyed this!
vivien said…
thanks Robyn, Kari and Ronell :>)

Robyn I'm about to start work on your book

Yes Ronell - Lindsay has emailed us about another joint project and I'd certainly be interested :>)
dinahmow said…
Echoing the others, Vivien.I will also link to this when I get back to my blog (2 weeks in NZ and a dead computer, plus beginning of school term...)
I know we are all keen to "do it again" and several non-exchanges have asked to be included. It's really one of those happy, pay-it-forward gestures, isn't it?

Hope family worries have abated?
vivien said…
thanks Dinah

and yes, definitely a pay it forward thing. I'd highly recommend it to others :>)

Have a great time travelling

and no, sadly my father is now in a very very bad way and my husband's diagnosis is a life sentecne :>(

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