Walt Whitman’s iconic collection of poems Leaves of Grass has earned a reputation as a sacred American text. Whitman himself made such comparisons, going so far as to use biblical verse as a model for his own. So it’s only appropriate that artist and illustrator Allen Crawford has chosen to illuminate—like medieval monks with their own holy scriptures—Whitman’s masterpiece and the core of his poetic vision, “Song of Myself.” Crawford has turned the original 60-page poem from Whitman’s 1855 edition into a sprawling 234-page work of art, published as Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself by Tin House Books in 2014. In this artist’s talk, Allen Crawford shares his process of creating Whitman Illuminated. He discusses his year-long voyage through Walt Whitman’s poem, describing his approach to creating parallel visual narrative to the text and his relationship with Whitman’s work.
Allen Crawford is an artist, illustrator, designer, and writer. He and his wife Susan founded the design and illustration studio Plankton Art Co. in 1996. Their studio’s most notable project to date is the collection of 400 species identification illustrations that are on permanent display at the American Museum of Natural History’s Milstein Hall of Ocean Life in New York. Under the pseudonym “Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy” Allen wrote, designed, and illustrated The Affected Provincial’s Companion, Volume One (Bloomsbury 2006), which was soon optioned for film by Johnny Depp’s production company, Infinitum Nihil. Allen has appeared in American Illustration, The New York Times, Interview, Orion, Frieze, Vice, Tin House, and Art in America. His latest book, Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself (Tin House Books, 2014) is an illustrated, hand-lettered, 256-page edition of Walt Whitman’s iconic poem.