It's time for folks in the Rogue Valley to release their inner artists, and the Illahe Studios & Gallery's community book project offers a unique way to do it.

It's time for folks in the Rogue Valley to release their inner artists, and the Illahe Studios & Gallery's community book project offers a unique way to do it.

For years, the Illahe has held an April exhibit of art books made by national and international artists. About three years ago, gallery owner Sue Springer and the Illahe staff were looking for ways to include local artists in the exhibit.

"We wanted to make the exhibit more accessible to the public and get the community involved," Springer said.

With the help of retired Southern Oregon University professor Michael Holstein, they hit upon the idea of including books created by the public, and the Community Press came to life.

So, for $5, anyone can pick up a blank book from the gallery, take it home, and fill it however they choose, with drawings, paintings, poetry or anything a wild imagination can dream up. Completed masterpieces are then returned to the Illahe, where they will be showcased along with other art books in the gallery's April exhibit. Those who want to participate will have until March 27 to return their completed book to the gallery.

The first year, Michael Holstein made blank books for the gallery to distribute. The following year, and again this year, the gallery hosted a free workshop for the public to learn how to make the blank books. It's those books created at the workshop that are now available to the public.

There are a variety of cover designs and book sizes to choose from. "The people in our workshops have fun with styles and designs. Some are experienced book artists and some are new to everything, but they all have a blast," said Springer.

"The blank books themselves are works of art. They can act as a sort of prompt for whatever people put inside." For example, maps or city icons on the cover can be inspiration for travel writing.

Springer says she hopes more people will participate. "This is a great project for people who don't consider themselves artists, but who want to try something creative and fun," she said.

Springer said the community book project has been popular. "There's a lot of interest and we get a lot of people on First Friday who want to see the completed books. We've even sold a couple," she said.

Each blank book comes with printed instructions and information about the books. There is also a space for both the book maker and the book artist to sign their work. Book artists have the option of letting Illahe sell their work or keeping it themselves after the exhibit.

Unsold or not-for-sale art books can be picked up by the owners after April 30, when the exhibit closes. "Most people choose to keep them. They are so personal and they've put a lot of creativity into them," said Springer.

The diversity of work in the books reflects the community and many approaches toward art. In previous years, people have made collages, painted, written stories and poems, added photos or whatever they can think of.

"That's the beauty of it," said Springer, "you can do anything you like. We have people who just doodle. We've had books completed by children, and books by people who never considered themselves creative. One guy turned his into a graphic novel. Parents and children have done them together. People have fun with them, and I think Illahe is a welcoming place for these kind of projects."

A reception for the artists will be from 5 to 8 p.m. on April 4, during Ashland's First Friday Art Walk.

Illahe Studios & Gallery is located at 215 Fourth St. in Ashland's Historic Railroad District, at the corner of Fourth and B streets. For more information, call 541-488-5072 or visit the website at

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at