Lakewood Resident's Sketches Of The City In National Art Show

Jill Milenski’s life is like potpourri, a mixture of many different roles. As an artist, she paints, sketches, knits and quilts. As a mom, she nurtures a daughter and son and struggles with the special trials brought on by her son’s food allergies. An academic advisor at the Cleveland Institute of Art, she aids students with learning disabilities in their quest for higher education. An avid reader, Jill leads a book club in Lakewood and reads an impressive array of fiction and nonfiction titles. She recently added "blogger" to her list of accomplishments, taking as her moniker, "The Artfully Booked Mom".

Fulfilling all of these roles didn’t stop Jill from taking on the task of creating 40 drawings of Lakewood for The Sketchbook Project, an annual exhibit of sketchbooks from around the world, sponsored by The Brooklyn Art Library. Curious after seeing a post on Facebook, Jill decided that this project would fit in well with her ever-present desire to create.

For $20, participants in The Sketchbook Project receive an 8"x5" blank Moleskine sketchbook and a deadline date. There are many suggested themes, but artists are free to sketch whatever they wish. In fact, there are only two rules that must be followed: participants must use the sketchbook they receive and they must stay within the original dimensions of the book. The goal of the Project is to get blank sketchbooks into the artists' hands and completed sketchbooks into the world for viewers to enjoy.

Jill chose "Down Your Street" as her theme because she wanted to honor Lakewood. "I’ve lived a lot of places," she noted, "and there aren’t that many places like Lakewood left." For her, Lakewood offers walkability, original and interesting stores, great schools, fascinating architecture, and a diversity of people.

Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, Jill came to Ohio as a student at Oberlin College, where she received a B.A. in English in 1988. Although she had been creating art since childhood, Jill’s mother discouraged art school. "She said I’d never meet a man or get a job," laughed Jill, who followed an art path anyway, studying classical figure drawing and painting in Paris during her junior year and taking a job with an art exhibition service in New York City upon graduation. There, she took art classes at night, went to museums, met artists and worked for an art school. From there she moved to Vermont to be with her future husband. After he got a job in Cleveland, they moved to Lakewood in 1993 and Jill started working at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

The birth of her son in 1999 and daughter in 2003 derailed Jill’s painting ambitions for a few years due to the incompatibility of open paint containers and toddlers, but she continued to knit and create art quilts. She began keeping a personal journal in sketchbook form about a year ago, so the transition to The Sketchbook Project was a natural one.

Jill’s first drawing for The Sketchbook Project was made literally around the corner from her house, at Plantation Home, whose store windows she had always admired. From there, she chose independent businesses on Detroit Avenue to sketch, along with public places such as Lakewood Library and the YMCA. "I wanted to celebrate what’s unique about Lakewood," said Jill. Two Dads' Diner, TJ’s Butcher Block, the Root Café, Breadsmith, Stitch Cleveland and the Detroit Theater are all represented in her book. Each sketch took about an hour. In addition, Jill researched the businesses and wrote by hand some information to accompany each drawing. At first, she sketched each site from life, but the weather eventually forced her inside to draw from photographs.

The sketchbook was due on January 18th of this year. As books are received at the Brooklyn, NY Art Library, they are barcoded so that artists can track where and when their book is viewed while on tour. In 2011, over 28,000 artists from 94 countries are participating in a tour of galleries and museums across the country. The project’s tagline is, "It’s like a concert tour, but with sketchbooks." After the tour, all books become part of the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Art Library. For an additional $20, the library will digitize each page of an artist’s sketchbook and post them online. Information about the project and sample sketchbooks can be viewed at

Jill plans to view the exhibit in June when it travels to Chicago. She is currently working on a series of oil pastel paintings of Lakewood homes. "I love Lakewood," she said. "I love old houses. People here are interesting. There are other cool places like this in the country, but many of them are so expensive, average people can’t afford them. This is a real place."

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Volume 7, Issue 5, Posted 2:20 PM, 03.08.2011