Category Archives: Book Reviews

“Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself” Illustrated by Allen Crawford

Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself. Illustrated by Allen Crawford

Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself. Illustrated by Allen Crawford

In the tradition of Matt Kish, another great illuminated classic has been created by Allen Crawford. Whitman’s collection Leaves of Grass, with Song of Myself as a centerpiece, is a keystone of American poetry, and Crawford uses drawings and hand-lettering to deepen the reader’s experience of the poem.

First page

Looking at the first page gives you a sense of the whimsical humor that pervades the book.

Each page is a hand-drawn spread created mostly through a process of improvisation rather than of careful planning, a method of which Whitman no doubt would have approved. Some pages are nothing but elaborate compositions of text, while others are images floating in empty space with a few lines of verse. Most are a pleasing combination of both.


Trying to read a page like this slows you down enough for the individual lines to really sink in.

Several reviews I’ve read say that this copy is not the best introduction to Whitman since some of the pages are difficult to read. I have only skimmed the original, but I would have to disagree. Whitman wanted to break free of the traditional bonds of form in poetry. He wrote sprawling verses that are hard to follow even in traditionally printed books, since artificial line breaks must be added to make Whitman’s free verse fit into the standard paperback format. Crawford makes Whitman’s dream of breaking free from poetry’s form a reality. While it is almost impossible to read the page above in the exact order Whitman wrote it, it is just as impossible to miss the experience of the verse when seen in this way. The drawing, the floating text that forces you to turn the book around in your hands as you read, surely get at the heart of Whitman’s cosmic scale and intimate verse. I believe Whitman was seeking after the experience created by the reading of his poetry rather than the dogmatic adherence to his choices in form, line length, and word order.

Some pages are harder to decipher than others, though I wonder how much that has to do with some obscurity in Whitman’s poetic language and how much it is a failing on Crawford’s part to create a flow through the text. No doubt repeated readings would make such pages more clear (and re-reading is a necessary reality of reading any kind of poetry). Crawford does have a lyrical sense of how to arrange words so that at first glance the page seems illegible, but once the reader dives in he is carried through with a sense of excitement and engagement rather than confusion or frustration.


“I am the poet of the body, and I am the poet of the soul.”

This illuminated manuscript does what all beautifully bound and illustrated books should, it forces the reader to understand that he is not superior to the book. This is a book to be experienced, not marked up and analyzed. To read this copy of Song of Myself is to more fully enter Whitman’s world, to more holistically experience the scope and intimacy of his poem.

You can find Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself illustrated by Allen Crawford on Amazon or at your local bookstore.


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Book Recommendation: Brick by Brick by Stephen McCranie

Brick by Brick

Brick by Brick

I just purchased the $5 PDF of this book from McCraine’s website Doodle Alley. You can read most of the visual essays on his site, but I was so impressed with what I saw that I bought the book. It’s 208 pages of insightful observations on being an artist and making creativity a sustainable practice told in comic book form. Definitely a must read for anyone in a creative field dealing with the joys and frustrations of the artistic process. Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 10.51.36 AMScreen Shot 2014-11-05 at 10.50.36 AMScreen Shot 2014-11-05 at 11.15.45 AM

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4 Excellent Graphic Novel Adaptations of Literature


1. Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein– Grimly and Shelly


2. Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaption– Hamilton and Bradbury


3. The Shadow Out of Time– Culbard and Lovecraft


4.Beowulf– Hinds

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Filed under Book Reviews, Graphic Novels & Comics, Illumination, Literature, Science-Fiction

How to Look at Art:

A friend recently loaned me an excellent book on teaching art appreciation: Getting It: A guide to understanding and appreciating art by Becky Hendrick. Below is a simple outline of the book’s main points.


Art Appreciation=Life Appreciation

2 Requirements for Appreciating Art:

1. Look at it objectively without prejudice

2. Know enough information about its relationship to history and culture

Fine Art: 

-Not created for external demands (like graphic design or advertisements, it’s internally motivated)

-Non-verbal language, looking at art is like hearing a foreign language for the first time

-Content rather than subject matter (not an one sentence “answer”)

-“That’s terrible” really means “I don’t like it” Learn to be aware of personal preference

-If you bring the wrong set of expectations to a work of art you won’t be able to “get it”

-Most people spend an average of 10 seconds looking at a work of art

How to Look at Art:

-Describe it objectively without interpretation (a skill that needs to be practiced)

-Make subjective connections (this makes me think of_______)

-Analyze the content of the work

-Interpret and judge

Visual Vocabulary:

-Artists communicate in a different language they learn through making art

-Line, shape, space, value, color, texture, etc.

-Artists make a series of decisions based on their knowledge of their visual vocabulary


-If it’s in a book or on a screen it’s not actually the work of art

-Pictures can’t communicate scale or subtleties

“Art may not ‘mean’ anything in the literal sense, but like the atmosphere preceding a storm, it puts us into a frame of mind for pondering the timeless questions of existences and meaning.”


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Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” illuminated by Matt Kish


Matt Kish, an English teacher, librarian, and self-taught artist recently released a version of Heart of Darkness featuring an illustration for every page of Conrad’s important and poignant masterpiece.  Heart of Darkness was required reading in college and to be honest I had trouble getting through it the first time. Perhaps part of the problem was that I was forced to read it from a massive Norton’s Anthology, and books are not meant to be experienced in that context. While I was unable to make it through the book itself, my professor’s explanation of it had a profound impact on my creative and personal philosophy. I had always meant to reread it, and when I saw this beautifully illustrated edition I knew it was the right time to tackle the novel again. Kish’s illuminations are the perfect companion to Conrad’s novel. They create a visceral and aesthetic experience that heightens the tone of Conrad’s already powerful voice. They also allow the reader to more easily follow all of the repeating images and motifs of the story. This combination of art and literature allows Conrad’s message to more immediately and more thoroughly permeate the reader and serves as a wonderful example of the possibilities for modern illumination.

While the bright colorful images may at first seem to jar with the tone of a book called Heart of Darkness, they in fact only serve to highlight that evil happens under the sun as well as under the cover of night. Furthermore, the garish and sickly colors create a strong feeling of disease and corruption which fits excellently with the themes of the story. Kish’s introduction to the book describes his creative process and explains the different aesthetic decisions he made while illustrating Heart of Darkness.




slide_325363_3117451_freeYou can read what Kish has to say about his work here:


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Shaun Tan-The Arrival

CoverShaun Tan’s The Arrival is an immigrant story full of depth and pathos, all the more impressive since the story is told entirely with pictures. By leaving out the words, Tan is able to communicate the sense of disorientation and confusion an immigrant experiences in a foreign land. All good art involves the union of form with function, and The Arrival does just that. The antique feel of the drawings, the fantastical landscapes, and the lack of words all serve the purpose of the book – imparting the experience of arriving on the shores of a strange new country.

Tan reminds us of the sense of wonder in seeing  something new for the first time.

Tan reminds us of the sense of wonder in seeing something new for the first time.

Having traveled extensively as a child and recently spent six months in Japan, I have a deep appreciation for The Arrival. While my story is not that of the immigrant, I can relate to the sense of alienation in a new culture. Tan captures many of the difficulties of life in a new place as well as the sense of wonder that only comes from traveling.

The Arrival does what all good art should do – illuminate. It gives enlightenment by imparting experience through a skillful use of form. It sheds light on the experience of others and helps us empathize with those who have been in situations we would otherwise have no way of understanding. The Arrival is a book you would find in the children’s section of a book store, but it is something far more than mere children’s entertainment. It is art that tells the truth about the world in a way that is both enjoyable and profound.

Fantasy and exaggeration allow us to remember the wonder of new experiences.

Fantasy and exaggeration allow us to remember the wonder of new experiences.

I know what it's like to try to buy food without understanding the language.

I know what it’s like trying to buy food without understanding the language.

Tan's pencil drawings are evocative of old silent movies.

Tan’s pencil drawings are evocative of old silent movies.

What must it be like to see the Statue of Liberty for the first time?

What must it be like to see the Statue of Liberty for the first time?

This is what I felt like my first few days in Tokyo.

This is what I felt like my first few days in Tokyo.

Picture 6


Filed under Art, Artists, Book Reviews, Drawing, Graphic Novels & Comics, Illumination