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Local artists sketchbooks are part of nationwide project
Flowery Branch studio owner among thousands sharing their journals online
Artist Cathy Little of Flowery Branch is participating in The Sketchbook Project: 2011, which features art from more than 28,000 artists in 94 countries. After a tour, the sketchbooks become part of a permanent collection of the Brooklyn Art Library. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

When it comes to their personal sketches, many artists prefer to keep those works private. But not Cathy Little.

Instead of secrecy, Little has found a very public way of sharing her drawings — The Sketchbook Project: 2011.

"When I came across The Sketchbook Project online, it really appealed to me as an artist," said Little, owner of Little Artist Studio in Flowery Branch. "I have been keeping a sketchbook journal for the last six years. I use it as a way to keep a record of my travels and the places that I have been."

The project is the brainchild of the Art House, a New York-based art gallery. Each year, the gallery invites artists to fill an empty sketchbook with drawings that depict their interpretation of a theme chosen from a provided list.

Little isn't the only artist who was intrigued by the concept; so far, there are more than 28,0000 participants from all over the world, including three of Little's students.

"When I saw the sleepless theme, I just knew that was me because I haven't had a thorough night's sleep since the summer," said Laura Hilley, a 16-year-old Chestnut Mountain resident. "I like to draw Japanese-style manga, so I drew little characters doing things that depict sleeplessness — like a new mom holding a screaming kid."

Her younger sister, Grace Hilley, selected the "things found on restaurant napkins" theme.

"I thought I could do some cool stuff with it," the 11-year-old said.

Their mom, Jan Hilley, also chose to participate.

"I have five children — Grace is my youngest and my oldest is 32 — so I have been too busy to spend a lot of time on my art, until now," Jan Hilley said. "I've always loved it, I've just been limited by motherhood."

Although she's been out of the loop for a while, the Chestnut Mountain mother said that it wasn't tough to come up ideas to fill her sketchbook.

"My brain spins pretty fast, so that wasn't the hard part," she said. "The hard part was weeding down my list of ideas to fit in the book."

She eventually condensed her ideas, and she decided to make a special statement with the last page of her sketchbook, which depicted illustrations of the "If you lived here" theme.

"I left one page blank," she said. "Instead of drawing something, I decided to ask people to please say a prayer for those without a place to live and to think about what a blessing it is to have a home."

Even if they weren't participating in this project, Little said she always encourages her students to keep a sketchbook journal.

"I draw something everyday and that has really improved my skills," she said.

"I recommend it to my students, too; if you draw daily, you will improve."

Although the sketchbooks for the project are relatively small, about 5 inches by 8 inches, completing them has taken time.

"We've met weekly since the middle of September to work on our sketchbooks," Little said. "We've probably spent around 150 hours on this project."

Once the Art House has received the submissions, the books will go on tour around the country, including a stop at the Granite Room in Atlanta.

The roving showcase will begin next month and should reach Georgia in April.

After the tour, the books will receive their own barcode and will be available for viewing at the Brooklyn Art Library in New York. The barcodes will allow the artists to keep track of how many people have viewed their work.

The gallery also has plans of digitizing the sketchbooks, so that they will be available for online viewing. 

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