Friday, April 17, 2009

when negative space is poetic

Sharpie-wielding cartoonist, writer, designer, and poetry revelator Austin Kleon has been on my radar for several months now. His style is to me one of raw vibrance, at times venturing into tidy chaos. His work conveys a sense of immediacy and of calm nonchalance, which together suggest that making art for this artist is as natural and essential as breathing. It reminds me that we are all artists with the capacity to create; sometimes it just takes a bit of extra effort to discover what one's inner artist wants to create, and what language it will use.

Look past the illusion of empty simplicity in Austin Kleon's drawings, and then among what appears to be clutter—but turns out to be mostly pure energy—you'll see that he's included exactly the right number of details. 

Take, for instance, this sketch of Andrew Bird's stage setup at an Austin City Limits taping last month. 

by Austin Kleon (Licensed under Creative Commons. image source)

Black lines on off-white paper. Stage rim. Speakers, amps, microphones. Drumset. Keyboard. Lighting equipment and a twirly-swirly backdrop. Yet amid the typical items, the merely structural and the exuberantly expressive penstrokes, you'll see two important things: the iconic tape-looping double-phonograph turntable (I don't really know what to call that thing but it screams Andrew Bird) and what's that? yes, the sock monkey tour companion. How can you not love that?

As a side project, the Austin-based artist (yes, that's right. kind of like if I lived in Davis) started carving poems from newspaper articles with a black Sharpie marker. His Newspaper Blackout Poems caught the eye of the press (there's something charmingly meta about that) and took off. I won't rattle off the list of media mentions here, but suffice it to say that they're big. Oh, and HarperCollins is publishing a book of them, slated for release early next year. 

You may know that April is National Poetry Month.

What you may not know is that April is also International Newspaper Blackout Poetry Month.

I finally got around to trying my hand at it. I foresee more experimenting (and maybe posting) in the future; for now, here are a couple of the initial results. They don't really make sense, and my Sharpie gave up the ghost halfway through the second blackout, so it ended up as a mixed media piece. Anyway, I hope that they inspire you, in the way that they make you say, 'Hey, I could do better than that.' And then you do.

If you want to see good Newspaper Blackout Poems, check out Austin Kleon's blog. He's posting a poem every day for the entire month of April. 

And don't be afraid to unleash a black marker on a page from your local paper. If you live near a certain private university at the foot of a certain mountain range in a certain western state that on a map appears to be about to chow down on the unsuspecting state immediately to the northeast, please, get a copy of the school paper and go to it. I don't know how you can pass up that potential on the page of Letters to the Editor. 

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