How to make cutout poems

Using a newspaper article, adding a layer of coloured paper with cut out spaces to reveal the words

Facing a blank piece of paper before you’ve started making art can feel very intimidating because where do you even start? An exercise to dive straight into art-making is to use an existing piece of art and edit that instead. Cutout poems are an easy way to make new art because the basic material you can find so easily – the printed text. Austin Kleon creates newspaper blackouts and encourages us that nothing is original. “Every new idea is just a remix or a mashup of one or two previous ideas.”

You will need: a magazine, newspapers, book, booklet or any printed material that contains text. A pencil/pen. Optional is a black marker or a scalpel and coloured paper.

  1. Select a small section of text and scan for the words that can connect together to form a new sentence
  2. Draw a box round the words you like and ‘cut-out’ the words you don’t need with your pen or black marker

Jeff Goins agrees that rearrangement is key for the creative mind: “There is a secret every professional artist knows that the amateurs don’t: being original is overrated. The most creative minds in the world are not especially creative; they’re just better at rearrangement.” By giving yourself constraints, you allow yourself to get more creative more easily.

The Sparkle Experiment Cutout Poem
The black marker approach to masking out unused words

A couple of variations you can try:

  • Use a layer of coloured paper and cut out the spaces to reveal the words – this is more time consuming than the pen method. Use window glass or light box as a surface to trace where the words, then finally scalpel cut out the boxes
  • Use different designs of paper as a layer or try painting paper to get a painted effect.
  • Start with a longer article and create a short story or beginning of a story, expanding on the idea of a poem
The Sparkle Experiment Cutout Poem
Different style of painted backgrounds to mask unused words

After some practice, a rhythm of making the poem emerges. It feels like you’ve cracked a code and you have a sense of satisfaction after finishing each poem. Because you are able to choose any combination of words, it feels like there’s no right or wrong result, just the one you end up with. Cutout poems are completely portable so can be created on the move and in ‘fringe’ times, all you need is some printed paper and a pen in your bag. It’s a quick, nourishing and creative form of ‘entertainment’ and fun and a welcomed alternative to checking your phone in any ‘waiting’ time.

“Transformation that is flattery – taking the things you’ve stolen and making them into your own thing… combine it with your own ideas and thoughts, transform it into something completely new, and then put it out into the world so that we can steal from you.” – Austin Kleon in Steal Like an Artist