Make Art Because You Love Art. Join In the Fun!

Austin Kleon is a writer who draws – among many other things.  We recently came across some of his work on 20×200, a website that sells limited edition prints and photographs at affordable prices.  (Thanks, Tawny Lehman, for introducing us to the site!)  Austin’s art stands out because it’s full of words.  That’s because his prints steam from his first book, a book of poems called Newspaper Blackout, which garnered praise from some big names like The New Yorker, NPR’s Morning Edition, and The Wall Street Journal.

Since publishing Newspaper Blackout, Austin has spoken at events for TEDx and The Economist, to name a few.  It seems that everyone wants to hear his insights – including us!  We decided to get in touch with this inventive thinker to see what he had to say about creativity, 20×200, the power of the Internet, and his new book, Steal Like An Artist.


AP: From drawing on mugs to blacking out newspapers to make poetry, you seem to find endless ways to be creative.  Where do you find inspiration?


AK: I read a lot.  I listen to a lot of music.  There’s a fella named Lewis Hyde who wrote a really good book called The Gift, and in it he says that “most artists are converted to art by art itself.”  In other words, you make art because you love art, and you want to join in the fun.


AP: Were you always this productive creatively or did something significant spawn all of this?


AK: I used to think that making art was a sprint.  You sat around and waited for lightning to strike, and when it did, you got it all down really fast.  Now I know that a career is really about the slow accumulation of work over time.  You write a page a day.  It doesn’t seem that much that day, but after a year, you’ve got enough for a novel.  It requires some patience, which, even though I don’t have a lot of it now, I have way more of it than I did when I was twenty.


AP: We came across your art on the website 20×200.  How did you get involved with that website?  What made you want to turn your blackout poems into artwork?


AK: They’ve always seemed like a natural fit for prints.  I made a video of a printmaker friend and I pulling screen prints of the poems.  Jen Bekman, the CEO/founder/goddess of 20×200 saw my work and became a fan (like me, she’s a big poetry nerd and a lover of art with words in it) and the 20×200 people contacted me.


It’s been one of the best moves I’ve made.  I love Jen and the staff and everything about the company.  It’s been a really nice source of extra income for me, too.  Of the six editions, four are sold out at the $20 level, and with the past two editions we’ve released, we’ve sold out the $20 pieces within 24 hours.


AP: Were the poems on 20×200 all taken from your book Newspaper Blackout?


AK: None of them!  They’re all “singles,” so to speak.  I tell people if they want a print of a poem in Newspaper Blackout, buy a copy of the book and rip out the poem they like and frame it.


AP: Do you have a favorite Newspaper Blackout poem?  Or favorite of the ones featured on the 20×200 site?


AK: My favorite is probably “Overheard On The Titanic.”


AP: Can you tell us a little bit about the new book you’re working on, Steal Like An Artist?


AK: Yes!  Steal Like An Artist is based on a talk I gave at a community college in upstate New York earlier this year.  It started out as a simple list of ten things I wished I’d heard in college.  After I posted the text and slides on my blog, it went a little crazy, and it’s been read by over a million people.


AP: I noticed you list a few lessons on your site from the book, including #1: Steal Like An Artist.  How and when did you learn these lessons?


AK: All these lessons have been learned over almost a decade of making art.  A lot of them I’ve stolen from my mentors and heroes.


AP: You write, draw, create websites – do you see yourself pursuing any other creative outlet?


AK: I think I’ve got enough covered for the moment!  I’d love to do more teaching and speaking.  I’d also love to learn to paint.  I’m so terrible at color.


AP: I love that Access Contemporary Music in Chicago commissioned composers and musicians to set your poems to music!  What was it like to see your art take on a different life?


AK: Totally weird, especially considering I’m a musician and a songwriter.  (I’m classically trained at piano and I play drums in a garage band with my friends.)  It’s weird to see work transformed through someone else.


AP: I love this quote that you have on your website “I don’t love the web, I love what it can make happen.”  Can you elaborate on that point a bit?


AK: A lot of people get really caught up in the technology of the web — new widgets, etc.  I’m more interested in the kind of ancient, evergreen things that the web can accomplish that were so much harder before: building an audience, making friends, etc.



Austin’s creativity and web savvy are certainly an inspiration for Alyssa Pizer Management.  We’re so happy to have been able to get in touch – and we’re definitely going to head over to 20×200 to buy some of his art before it’s sold out!


Learn more about Austin and check out his work here:


And here:


See how we found out about 20×200 here: