The Journals Project

It is too bad the journals that are part of the 1,000 Journals Project do not have tiny, hidden video cameras attached to them. The images that would come back from the journeys would be as fascinating as the books' contents. Reminiscent of the Grateful Dead anthem "what a long, strange trip it's been," one journal was stowed in a cave (and may still be there), another was stolen at gunpoint, and one traveled throughout Brazil and Ireland before returning to the United States, where it made its way up the Eastern seaboard.

That latter one was Journal #526, the only book thus far to be returned to Brian Singer, the San Francisco-based graphic designer who began launching blank black journals in August 2000. By January 2003 Singer had set all one thousand journals adrift. The stamp inside each cover offers the following instructions; "Take this journal and add something to it. Stories, photographs, drawings, opinions. Anything goes." The rest is up to the finder.

The project was inspired by bathroom-wall graffiti, an interest that dates back to Singer's college days. He was intrigued by the commercial nature of the messages, a coming together of virtual strangers. After trying to work out the logistics of putting blank books in bathroom stalls, he landed on the idea of traveling journals. Within weeks he was designing and producing the first batch.

But why a thousand? "A few days after the idea hit me," Singer says, "I knew it had to be a thousand. It had to be that big in order to get any back." The journals' whereabouts are tracked on the website Singer maintains, 1000journals.com, where people who have come into contact with a journal can post a scan on the site and report about a book's location. Singer is often surprised when a previously unheard-from journal pops up, while another that has been steadily accounted for disappears.

Journal #526 had only been sighted five times when it was returned to Singer nearly full of images and writing in August 2002. "I had no clue it was almost done," he says. "So when it showed up in a velvet bag that someone had made for it, I had the biggest grin on my face!"

In addition to the book's physical journeys, Singer is interested in the creative journeying they inspire in those who come into contact with them. He says he "created the project for the Average Joe to rediscover his love of painting and art." On the website, he quotes from a book about creativity, Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie, that points out how a class of kindergarteners will all raise their hands when asked if they are an artist but only about a third of sixth graders will do so. "What happens to us growing up?" Singer wonders. "We begin to fear criticism and tend to keep our creativity to ourselves."

Although the covers are professionally designed, the contents inside are a hodgepodge of writing, collage, politicizing, and simple drawings. Based on comments he's received via e-mail, Singer's goal of reigniting people's creative spark has been successful. He is told frequently that someone has gone out and bought a journal and started drawing again after a thirty-year hiatus.

As a graphic designer, Singer (who goes by the moniker "someguy" on the website) sometimes feels like everything he does is driven by profit margins—which can really sap a guy's creativity. The 1,000 Journals Project is an antidote to that, something totally devoid of funding and advertising. And without rules. Intrigued by the possibilities, Singer jokes, "I think it would be great if one journal came back all blue."

Grandma Layton Paintings

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