Category: Makers District

The Sketchbook Project Drops by Madison

sketch1by Sherry BonDurant, writer for The Artery

Madison continues to strike it rich in the art department, because the Sketchbook Project is on the road and heading to Madison. Mark your calendar for Wednesday, August 20th from 4-8pm, at the Central Library, located at 201 W. Mifflin, will be hosting the traveling Sketchbook Project. Not familiar with this organization? If you are an artist, you should be and you can learn all about it right here, because I interviewed the founder, Steven Peterman, to get you all up to speed.

Can you describe the Sketchbook Project in one sentence?

The Sketchbook Project is the world’s largest crowd-sourced collection of artist sketchbooks, based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

How did this digital concept get its start?

Our Digital Library has existed for several years, but we recently launched a library card free digital checkout system. Our new system allows users to check out books using their own smartphones and iPads provided at our library locations. Users can create a cue of books to view and even preview digitized sketchbooks on their devices. We wanted to create a system which allows our audience to easily preview, access, and search our vast sketchbook library using keywords and themes. Users can even curate collections of their favorite sketchbooks on our new website.

Do you accept artists from anywhere in the world, and if so, how does one get their work included?

Anyone can join The Sketchbook Project by visiting our website, There, you can order a regular sketchbook to be mailed to you, which you can complete throughout the year. Sketchbooks that are mailed back to us by our annual deadline are included in the following year’s Mobile Library Tour throughout North America. Participating artists can also choose to have their sketchbooks digitized for easy viewing on our website by anyone around the world.

sketch2One interesting fact about participating in the project is that artists who register for a sketchbook have the option to create their own book from scratch, as long as it fits the normal 5″ x 7″ parameters when closed. Because many artists are bookbinders as well, we have a number of completely handmade books in our collection!

Are you looking for volunteers to assist in any way? If people are interested in helping out, who should they contact?

The Mobile Library will arrive with trained librarians on site to assist folks with check out!

What makes this project important to the art community?

The Sketchbook Project is a crucial platform for international artists to connect on a very personal level. At our Mobile Library Tour stops, our audience has the chance to view work by artists from around the world in a personal, tactile format, which can be much more direct than viewing a drawing on a gallery’s white wall. Similarly, viewers of our online Digital Library can see full detailed spreads of thousands of sketchbooks, providing an important tool for research in illustration, art, and specific themes which are tagged and searchable in our sketchbook database. In this sense The Sketchbook Project provides ways to connect for individuals who may be professional artists, aspiring artists, researchers, and people of all backgrounds who are simply interested in getting to know a stranger through their personal sketchbook story.

I am really excited about the Sketchbook Project’s visit to Madison. What can you share with the community about why they should check it out?

We are looking forward to visiting Madison this month. We hope the local community will join us at our tour stop because The Sketchbook Project acts as an outlet for artists to share their stories with the world, as every book tells a tale. From finding a cancer patient’s chronicle of their recovery, a marriage proposal between the bindings, or drawings made by distant friends, the Mobile Library has allowed for sketchbooks to evolve into a means of connecting with artists in a way you may otherwise never experience.

Wheelhouse Studios: a Public Playground for Artists

by Sherry BonDurant, writer for The Artery


There is an exciting new “playground” for artists called Wheelhouse Studios. The studios are located in the lower level of the newly renovated west wing at the Memorial Union.

wheelhouse studios MadisonI had the pleasure of attending a preview party, and the space is quite impressive. Wheelhouse is made up of three studios:

1)     A full ceramics studio for wheel throwing, hand building, sculpture, and more

2)     Art metals, stained glass, glass fusing, lampworking, and polymer clay jewelry

3)     Drawing, painting, printmaking, digital photography, laser cutter, and fabric arts

wheelhouse Studios Madison, WIArtists should be excited about the hours, because they will be open from noon-11pm seven days a week. UW-Madison students will have free access, and all others can purchase passes in the form of daily, weekly, monthly and annual (best value).

Daily: Union Members $4 / Non-members $5

Monthly: Union Members $15 / Non-members $25

Discounted annual passes will be available and sold at either the Wheelhouse Studios Store or online: Union Members $135 / Non-members $225

wheel6In addition, the studios will offer DIY projects, courses, drop-in events, workshops, group parties, instruction and private instruction.

I spoke with Jay Ekleberry, Director of Wheelhouse Studios, and he is very excited about sharing the facilities with the community. I asked him what he feels Wheelhouse Studios will add to the art scene – “A true art maker space with multiple media capabilities and a truly affordable open studio space.” His advice for up-and-coming artists? “From someone who is not a professional/selling artist himself, enjoy the process and don’t get hung up on the end product.”

Wheelhouse Studios opens their doors to the public on September 2, 2014; however, you can check out their website now at Think about all the possibilities….


Fat City Emporium window display

Fat City Emporium Opens on Madison’s Artsy East Side

by Sherry BonDurant, writer for The Artery


There’s a new kid in town and it’s called Fat City Emporium. The venue showcases and sells local artists’ work in a casual and eclectic atmosphere. The pieces are diverse with a wide range of prices, allowing affordability for everyone. Ryan Robinson, a local artist, is the brainchild behind Fat City Emporium. On behalf of The Artery, I interviewed Todd Maahs to see what they are all about.

What type of art do you sell?

Abstract paintings, hand-made furniture, paintings, pottery, photography, hand illustration, abstract pop art, mixed media, and antiques–any artifact is fair game. The majority of the pieces are original work. Our goal is that your experience is different each visit.


Are you looking for work from artists, and if so, how should they contact you?

Yes we are! Artists can contact or reach us on our Facebook page. Other details can be found online at

SAM_4568Do you plan to host any events?

Absolutely; as many as we can. We are definitely going to do art parties and other weekly and monthly events. Details for our events are on our Fan Page ( Soon we’ll have some musicians play to give that a go. We’ve discussed having some artists do some work live too. Our goal is to be casual, friendly, and approachable. We want to engage the community and other neighborhood businesses.

Is there anything in particular that made you choose this location?

This area is an important area for the local art scene. We gravitated here and have experience with the space already, and because we’ve spent a lot of time in this part of Madison.

What do you think about Madison’s art scene?

It’s like other scenes in Madison. It’s the biggest small town in the world and very personable. There will always be a need and environment for more unique opportunities. Definitely not too much art here. I feel we are a long ways from having a very noticeable art scene, but it’s a great city for art and people are right-minded for it.

What would you say to the community to get them to check out Fat City Emporium?

We are a consortium of artists for artists primarily, with an eye for the public as an art experience. Our pricing, artist opportunities, and featuring an ever evolving collection of art are the main draws to come to the shop. Unlike Ryan, I’m new to collecting art, and the thing that really appeals to me is the diversity styles and reasonable prices. Fat City offers something for everyone and is a brand with a feel to it. It’s comfortable without sacrifice to make it accessible to everyone. Attracting a very diverse set of artists who care more about getting their art in the world rather than making a ton of money.


Central Library Opens with a Bang: Stacked

Madison Central LibraryMy library is hipper than your library, now say the people of Madison to, well, pretty much everyone else.

The grand opening of the Central Library in Madison was kicked off Sept. 19. with Stacked, an event featuring art, music, performers, adult beverages and warm gooey cookies. It was a major party in the stacks — a game changer pushing the envelope of what library space is used for. Dozens if not hundreds of people stood in line to get into Stacked, but presale ticket owners got to go to the front of the line.

Library Art GalleryThe event was a huge hit, and the highlight was the space itself. Uber contemporary and artsy design is the hallmark of the new library. Wall to ceiling to floor white makes the gray Dell computers seem out of place on the individual work stations.


The top floor features a full art gallery, the bottom level has amazing little reading pods. There is a green screen room, a 3-D printer and so much more. It is a multi-media paradise.

The lighting in the library is masterfully done, with each individual shelve having it’s own light source.

Madison Central Library Design

The Bubbler Library Program

The Bubbler is the new art programing, brought to you by Trent Miller and others at the library, which will feature maker-focused programming model for all ages. Whether learning the basics of animation, screen printing, music, clothing design, dance, or painting (to name a few), The Bubbler’s hands-on pop-up workshops will introduce participants to a variety of local experts who will share their talents and physical resources.  The Bubbler experience promises to be current and dynamic, offering a wide range of lectures, demonstrations, and make-and-take workshops.

Madison Central Library

The new Madison Central Library is a community gem. I for one am proud and excited to have a such dynamic and progressive space. Here’s to all the folks at the library who made the event a success and all the donors who made it possible.

Alisa Toninato

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Spending a couple hours with Alisa Toninato, owner of FeLion Studios in Madison, is pure delight. No story of hers is complete without grandiose hand gestures, captivating facial expressions and, if you’re lucky, a pretty darn good New York accent. I was giggling practically the whole time I was at her studio.

Besides being a total badass iron artist, she is also an inspiring entrepreneur. Her and her partner, Andrew, run the FeLion art studio as well as “Cook with Pride,” a commercial product line of state-shaped cast iron skillets. She forgoes conventional business wisdom and makes decisions based on her guts and intuition.

Alisa considers her mortality on almost a daily basis, always pays her rent on time, and loves to watch ferns grown.  She seems wise beyond her years and yet eternally youthful. Before art, her passion was horses, and she hopes to someday own some acreage and a couple horses in “her third life,” (which to her means when she’s 60). “That’s my only plan,” she says.

Read a part of her interview below, and be sure to check out her Kickstarter project (running July 1 – 30th).

[box float=”right”] Find out more about Alisa Toninato

Support the FeLion Kickstarter Project!

Follow FeLion on Facebook

[/box]I know you used Kickstarter to fund part of your “Made in America” work. What are your general thoughts on Kickstarter as a way to fund art projects?

I’m a huge fan of it. I feel like Kickstarter and crowd funding in general is pretty close to the new norm for anybody like a start-up, entrepreneur or artists. The convention to take out a loan isn’t realistic anymore. They have made it such a pain in the ass to take out a loan and jump through the hoops. And if you are a company that has an idea and it’s is growing really fast, you don’t have time to wait 2 years on a product development because things move so quickly.

The DIY scene is more than an underground now, and Kickstarter is the public platform for people to share their ideas and inspiration. And people on a human level really gravitate towards it.

I think it’s really saturated right now, but it’s amazing.

Why we’re launching the Kickstarter project is to help fund the new state in the commercial series. And that’s going to be New York. We’re working with a new manufacturer for that, Lodge Manufacturers. They’re down in Tennessee. They’re kind of the cast iron cookware company. That’s what they do. So they really have it down. They’re such an awesome company. They’re the only American company doing cast iron cookware.  So we’re hooking up with them. And to do minimum runs with them is really high. We couldn’t front that money. It’s a pretty giant chunk of change, which is why it’s stressful for me.  It’s kind of one of those things, we don’t really want to take out a loan / (slash) we can’t.

So the earlier ones were produced elsewhere?
So these ones: Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, were produced up at Kaukauna, WI. There’s a foundry called Roloff Manufacturing. They’re a little company; they’re really awesome. They do smaller runs and smaller pieces. They tend to take their time and like to invest in unique projects and things that are a little more high maintenance. So they’ve been really awesome and we’re going to stay with them. They’re our guys for those 3. And then everything’s moving on after that so we don’t bog them down.


Name 3 adjectives that describe your personality.
So my positive attributes are that I’m pretty passionate, and very tenacious and relatively fun. Relatively fun.  There’s sometimes when I’m all business. It’s like a work hard / play hard kind of thing. My negative: I’m very critical, stubborn and nervous. Yeah that’s not good.

What is your first memory?
Orange shag carpeting in my house.  I think I was 2. And my brother breaking a violin string. I have all these very visceral memories, like tangible, tactile memories of this house, maybe because I was crawling around so much. I remember my mom had a violin and my brother was pretending like he knows how to play and I’m laughing. And then the string broke and it coiled up, and I was terrified, like “You’re in so much trouble! We’re both in big trouble!”

Did you get in trouble?

No, my mom was like, “It’s OK. You can restring these.” My mom’s very cool. She’s amazing actually. She’s very intuitive.

What is the best gift (or one of the best gifts) you have ever received?

So I’m a big fan of experience gifts. Like people give you stuff that’s not tangible. My mom had given me season tickets for the orchestra in Milwaukee. It was the coolest! What a unique gift. I brought a different friend every time. I love Milwaukee.

What is your favorite plant or flower?
Ferns definitely. We have a whole bunch of them in the back yard and I love watching them grow, how they just unravel themselves. I want a whole yard of ferns.

What makes you sad?
I think in general, I can hardly watch movies. Movies are the most powerful things for me. Not that they ALL make me sad, but when there’s an injustice or a bullying movie.

And getting yelled at. it doesn’t really happen that often, but when it does, I’m just crushed. I’m like “What did I do wrong? I just try to do good all the time.”  And that’s why it’s great to work for yourself. If you screw up you already know, you don’t need anyone yelling at you. Self-criticism is hard enough.

a-helmetsHow often do you think about your mortality?
Every day. Seriously. I’m such a hyperchondriac. I was getting all these headaches, and started thinking, “What if it might be a blood clot.” Andrew, my boyfriend said “I think that half your body would go limp.” And when they say that, I start really paying attention to half my body and think there’s something tingling. I might be losing feeling. It’s probably not healthy how much I think about it. I think I even dream about how I’m going to die. It’s always a car accident or a bridge went out. Or like propane bottles exploding. These are internal fears.

Were you voted “most likely to X” in high school?
Actually it was “artist.” I was like, “How did they know that?” because I didn’t do a lot of art in high school. My last two years were my inaugural years of getting into a visual arts practice. Because I was riding horses all up to that point. My whole family thought I was going to be an equine vet.

What is something in your home you can’t live without?
I think I could live without a lot of things. The one thing that came to mind is my computer, which has all of my visual history. It’s almost like a sketchbook at this point. Everyone asks “Why don’t you just back it up?” Well, because I don’t back up very diligently. If that got lost, I would be devastated but of course I could keep living.

What rule do you always follow no matter what?
I always pay rent on time. I freak out if I don’t have my finances in order. I have an amazing credit score.

If you could have any job in the world (other than being an artist), what would it be?
I would probably be working with horses. I’d probably just be mucking stalls. Taking horses out. Riding them. You know, the good life. Horses were my first passion. They taught me a  lot of things about intuition. I think that was my first lesson in listening without language. So it was a really powerful connection for me. Or a musician.

Do you have plans to buy a horse?
We (meaning my partner Andrew and I) both would love to live in the countryside on some acreage and property. It would be like a live/work situation. I think eventually, I would totally have 2 horses. But that’s an investment. You really need to have a lifestyle where you can be at home a lot. We travel a lot now. So I think it will be my third life. Are you on your second one now or just your first? My first one still. I’m just 30. But I think that it’s going to go until 40 and then something’s going to change. And I’ll have a second career, and when I’m 60 I’ll get my horses. That’s my only plan.

About Art & Madison:

furnaceHow long have you been making art?
My background was an artist working with very non-sellable artworks. Very installation-based, ephemeral, kinetic. I was way different back in the day. I was way more interested in these crazy weird stuff — that didn’t sell. And as I evolved and getting into the iron scene, it was kind of a natural step away from building performative sculptures. Iron work is kind of a dance. You work with a lot of people. It’s a spectacle. Building your own crew and your own furnaces is very close to what I was already doing before. And when I went into foundry work and developed this product line out of it, it just sort of took its own spin. I was open to different opportunities. I didn’t have any plans. I didn’t have a straightforward, conventional entrance into the business world. So I moved forward using my guts and intuition as a guide. There’s a negative connotation into not having a business plan.  Some people see that kind of flakey or very lucky. And there is a lot of luck involved, but I think it has to do with being very honest and open and aware of opportunities when they come and being ready to pounce on them.

What have you observed about the Madison art scene or other Madison artists you have met?
I’ve been here for 3 years. Moving to Madison was really foreign to me. I’ve traveled a lot, but Madison was so radically different than Milwaukee. It was really hard to swallow it right away. My impression wasn’t very fair.

I think Madison really needs someone to initiate conversation about art. Somebody to hold the public’s hand and show them this is who is here doing stuff. Because my first impression of Madison was that there is no buzz, like where is the scene? It’s been 3 years, and I’m just now starting to meet people. I’m realizing that there are artists, there are amazing people, they’re just buried. They’re in their own studio or their basements. It just doesn’t have the same accessibility as Milwaukee did.

I think it comes down to Madison’s real estate for holding studio spaces that are affordable and conducive to art just isn’t happening right now. I think there are a lot of squatters who have money in the buildings that are really awesome for that but they’re just waiting for them to flip on the market or something. Madison doesn’t have the industrial spaces to host really open spaces and cultivate that community. There aren’t even really a lot of galleries here. There’s no place for artists to convene. There’s no conversation happening because there’s no space for that to happen.

I really revered in Milwaukee because there was a lot of cross pollination from the dance world, performance, film, music, art. It would create these visible hot spots. There was a lot of public access to it. I don’t know what the solution would be for Madison.

What are your views on Sector 67 and your experience with the DIY scene here?
Sector 67: They are my heroes. They are the best thing to happen to me in the Madison scene. That community is extremely unique and prolific. It hosts technicians, engineers, artists, programmers, software people. All of that comes together there because they have that community space. There’s sort of this energy there like you have an idea, you do it, and you move it off the table for the next person to come along. You’re almost pushed by the momentum of that space to finish stuff. It’s such a good thing. There’s so much camaraderie and so many varieties of intellect there. Everyone has the interest to share their experience with you. When I built the map, I used their facility to build that last 28 states. They master new things really quickly. They’re hackers and makers. They’re big movers and shakers in town.

How did you get to be on the Martha Stewart show and what was it like?
I had an Etsy site a long time ago. And they found me through Etsy. They wanted to do a cast iron show and they had emailed me and wanted me to ship the piece out like 7 days later. I was like, uh, “Maybe a picture?” Do you realize it’s 600 pounds and it’s 10 feet by 7 feet and breaks down to into like a trillion pieces? And they were like, “Yeah, so?” At first I told them I couldn’t make that 6-day turnaround. It was all on us to get it out there. They were not able to foot the bill for guests on the show.

But it was an opportunity and I said “We have to make this happen.” It costs you money to say no. We’re going, we’re figuring it out.

It was so off the hook. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Then when we went back the second time, in Fall as an American Made honoree, that they covered EVERY expense. It was quite amazing !

Click here to listen to Alisa talk about the Martha Stewart Show