The Art of Traveling Books

Typical sketch book.

Typical sketch book.

Since the advent of the internet, communication has exploded in so many ways. It is easier to keep in touch with people. Easier to share. One of the more interesting discoveries within the online community is the idea of the traveling book. Most commonly these are little Moleskine journals or the like being sent from person to person on a distribution list kept online. It’s very similar to the idea of crowdsourcing but free and with art. Members who partake in this social experiment have to feel comfortable giving a mailing address out to others, but what comes about is a book filled with art and in no particular order. The pages are tackled one at a time by the next artist on the mailing list and the images are as random and unique as each individual contributor.

Sometimes these books are themed but usually they are open to complete personal interpretation. The range of artwork may span from pen and ink to collage. Whole paintings may be followed up on the next page by simple word art, or an expression of hand-written ‘typography’ flooding the white space. Color stands in stark contrast to black and white. Mixed media may be followed by traditional watercolor or line art. Really, the sky is the limit. In the end, time produces a final product that resembles a portable gallery. It is then sent back to the original owner who can take the time to peruse every page and its artwork.

Sketchbook of English Landscape and Coastal Scenery - William Trost Richards

Sketchbook of English Landscape and Coastal Scenery – William Trost Richards

These experiments in artistic social contribution are often found on groups such as Ning, Yahoo! Groups, Google, and other sites where people gather together for common causes. Artistic collectives may be said to contain only amateurs, but there is no mistake that the art upon the pages of these traveling books is anything but lacking. Artistic champion Julia Cameron once remarked that the word amateur stems from the Latin root for ‘love.’ To love to do something is to be an amateur at it. One does not have to be trained professionally to have an eye for composition and color theory, or to have a gut instinct about how to fill a perfectly blank white page. The fearless tackling of any blank page let alone a blank page that will ultimately belong to someone else is commendable in itself.

While such things surely existed in the past, long before the net, it’s clear that the rise of the internet has given new energy to the pursuit of these kinds of projects. The real-time ability to track the progress of a traveling book makes it a venture that is easier to manage. Keeping track of the community is not only easier, but the voice of everyone present and consistently chiming in with new posts keeps the incentive fresh on what might be an otherwise daunting project with little direct support. In the days of snail mail and phone, it would not have had quite the same communal impact. So it is safe to say that in this way the internet is contributing to a new trend in art, at least in the kind of approachable art of the every day world. It encourages an amateur artist with great talent to share, to coordinate and collaborate, and ultimately be part of a greater community at large.