Art Smart: Black Out Poetry

Art Smart: Black Out Poetry

Circle, cross out, scribble and doodle to create a visual piece of poetry.

By Laura Jean Whitcomb

I love to doodle (and Zentangle) and draw cartoons. Pinterest knows this. So as I was scrolling through my Pinterest feed one day, photos of book pages with art on them kept popping up. It was a combination of doodling, Zentangling, drawing and poetry, and I was hooked.

This technique is called Black Out Poetry, and was invented by author Austin Kleon in 2010. It was his way of combating writer’s block, but it soon became a way for everyone to transform someone else’s words into their own. Think about it: you can take a book page, and make it into a poem. You can take a nonfiction magazine article, and make it into a work of fiction.

What I like about this art form is you don’t need to be an artist. You don’t need to be a writer. But Black Out Poetry will make you both! The results can be stunning, hysterical, sad, happy, thought provoking, shocking. Every time you look at a book page, your mind will come up with a different combination of words. The black marker does the rest, making the remaining readable text into a visual piece of poetry.

And, if you feel bad about tearing up a book, use one that has seen some good years and was bound for recycling anyway. Now you’re giving it a new life!


  • Old books
  • Sharpies (or colored pencils or crayons)
  • Optional: old magazines, stickers, scrapbooking supplies


Find an old book. It could be from a library sale, yard sale or one you don’t read any more.


Carefully tear out a page. (It’s easier if you don’t read the pages to find words that you might like to use. Just pick any page.)


Circle (or put a square around) the words that speak to you. It could be a verb, an adjective or a noun. (Sharpies tend to run on book pages, so make the circle or square a wide one to start.)


Do this for one paragraph.


Now, you may want to make sentences. Circle words that will help you make a coherent narrative: and, is, of, the.


Move onto the next paragraph. When you get comfortable with the process, you can look at the whole page at once. I usually start with one word, and stare at the rest of the page for words that speak to me (checking to see if there is a way to make them into a sentence). Then I circle the words I want all at once.


Black out (or color over or doodle over) all the words you DON’T want. There is no right or wrong here. If you’ve circled some words you decided you don’t want to use, now is the time to doodle over them.

You don’t have to be an artist. Black lines are striking on their own. Doodle with colors, making “rainbow” black out lines. Draw an image that matches the words you have chosen, then color in the lines from there. The possibilities are endless!

STEP EIGHT (optional)

What to do with your new poems? You can frame them. Or you can make them into note cards. I usually add stickers or cut outs from magazines, then paste it into a collage on the front of a blank card. (See photo.)

Laura Jean Whitcomb is the publisher and editor of Kid Stuff magazine. She lives in Grantham, N.H.

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