Stepping out of the Shadows and Building Creative Communities

Global Concertina Collective Sketchbook Project 2022…

I’m not one to make myself too visible.

But sometimes an idea gets under your skin and you instantly know you have to follow it up. It won’t leave you be until you do something about it, whilst other ideas can float in, hang around for a bit, then drop away. Occasionally, there’s the idea that comes along, and really sticks; like one of those sticky plants that, as a child, I remember, we loved to throw at each other until we hit a target. It doesn’t matter how you try and shake it off and reach round to grab and remove it, it’s not going anywhere. Nature never ceases to astound me; those little Velcro inspired burrs are astonishingly effective at dispersing their seeds. So all at once, dispersing creative ideas in some kind of collaborative project seemed an incredibly appealing idea that I was compelled to share. 

The Concertina Collective Sketchbook Project was one of those ideas that stuck.

I shared the idea within an online art membership – Louise Fletcher’s, Art Tribe (the same Louise Fletcher of the ArtJuice Podcast, which incidentally, I heartily recommend). Frankly, it was on a bit of a spur of the moment whim that I sent out a call-out to members, to see who might be interested in a little collaborative experimental play. If I’d known how much time and energy was involved initially, I may well have talked myself out of it! That said, 4 months into the project the feedback and positive comments that I’ve received to date, far outweigh any initial angst! 

Goal: to connect in an enjoyable creative collaborative experience –  a chance for each Artist to do their own thing without overthinking the process, banishing expectations and most of all… have fun! 

End result: a beautifully crafted individual book, consisting of a number of artists contributions, with each responding to the previous creator’s marks.

77 members around the world put themselves forward to join the collaborative experiment.

I wasn’t prepared for the response… in hindsight I’ve learned a lot – for instance, if you’re doing a call-out in a private Facebook page, make sure you have a means of contacting people, with permissions to follow up.

Being mindful of potential costly postage fees – I divided groups into geographical regions within each country. Groups from UK, including Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England, USA, Canada and Australia were created. 

Within each group, people made individual concertina sketchbooks – with no restrictions on pages, shape, size or materials. Artists could add random marks, sometimes with collage, in a colour palette of their choosing – after which they sent each book on it’s way to the next member. The following artist then did the same, responding each time to the book, before passing on to their next group contact. After everyone had made their creative contribution and rotated the books on, the book would eventually return to its owner for them to add their final consolidating marks… a kind of a chain project, going full circle with no knowing what the end result would be. A great opportunity to connect – and a fun experiment to see what would evolve…

  • For my own book, I included a few scraps of my collage to enable group members to harmonise the piece as they worked.
  • Different sized groups meant that some would be finished sooner than others. Within my own group we agreed to have no deadlines to put pressure on people – with COVID raising its unwelcome head and people having other commitments, we’d resolved to be patient for each round to appear.

As I write, I’m waiting for my book to return to me, having worked on 5 wholly different books to date. As one of the larger groups – we have 11 contributors – I’ll have to be patient and wait for another 6 rotations before I am reunited with it. With only 4 members in the smaller groups there are bound to be a variety of different resulting books. The diversity and unlimited range of possibilities makes the project even more exciting!

So what did I learn?

This project made me step out of my comfort zone and has given me the confidence to believe that my ideas are worth sharing. My art has provided me with a means of expression and in doing so, a stronger voice. How incredible it would be to share that with others!

Why don’t you step out of your comfort zone today and do something brave?! I think you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve.

Points to think about if you’re considering embarking on a similar project;

  • Check participants commitment prior to starting the project.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help if it all gets a bit overwhelming!
  • Relax and have fun! Don’t take it too seriously!

Finally, learn from feedback;

  • Were there any issues that arose – and how could these be resolved in a future round of the project?
  • What are the benefits of taking part in, or organising a project such as this?
  • What connections were made that can be built on?

If you’d like to know how to make your own concertina sketchbook there are a variety of examples on YouTube – try making one for yourself… remember: there are no rules… take your pick and have a go for yourself!

Feedback from participants…

“Oh my goodness! This was quite the undertaking. Thanks so much for all of your hard work!
… Sandra Heath You are awesome, and deserve a medal.

Nancy A

“Thank you for all your hard work on this idea, that has mushroomed – fabulous initiative.
Looking forward to seeing what everyone creates.”

Sam W

“Thoroughly enjoy getting the surprise packages through the post. 
The more I receive the more confident I get making marks into other collaborators’ work.
I like the anonymity of the mark making – no worry about ‘ getting it wrong’.
I like the fact that we are not finishing anything; the book is just on a journey.
I enjoy seeing the various marks made by others.
I love trying to harmonise my colours with what has already been put down .
I was thinking about maybe a smaller group so that the momentum is kept up but maybe it’s nice to have the larger variety of artists’ styles and there is a lot less to do on each book knowing there needs to be space for 11 others . X”

Sharon B

“I get a thrill when one of the books arrives. It’s like a present. I’m loving the diversity of styles of book construction and then the art within. I’m getting more experimental and trying new things as I respond to what I see. I have also found even when super busy it’s a great way to stop and spend a little me time to recharge my batteries.”

Sian F

“I enjoyed the whole process but felt a pang of disappointment that I didn’t get to keep them all!”

Deborah P

The Gallery below demonstrates the range of approaches taken and offers a clue to the fun that was had by all!

Melanie B, Deborah P, U.K.

Many thanks to all those who took part!

If you took part in this project and want to include your book in the Gallery please email me at [email protected] with your first name, last name initial and country location. 

Feel free to share your books and comments on Instagram #ConcertinaCollective

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