Illustrating 'Moby-Dick,' and 4 Other Art Projects Inspired by Classic Books

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Beloved works of literature, re-imagined for the 21st century

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Art inspires art, often crossing boundary lines in magnificent cross-disciplinary manifestations. As a lover of remix culture and a hopeless bookworm, I revel in the cross-pollination of visual art and literature. Here are five wonderful art and design projects, inspired by literary classics.

1. Wake in Progress

In February of 2010, Paris-based designer and illustrator Stephen Crowe set out on an ambitious project -- to not only read James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, considered one of the most difficult works of fiction in the English language, but to also illustrate it. The result is Wake in Progress -- a creative feat that's part Saul Bass, part Edward Gorey, part Lynd Ward, and yet entirely its own and entirely terrific.

wakeinprogress1.jpgFirst Line



wakeinprogress2.jpgPage 22



wakeinprogress3.jpgPage 25



wakeinprogress4.jpgPage 75



wakeinprogress5.jpgPage 76



wakeinprogress6.jpgPage 79: Kate Strong, a widow

"Nothing that appears in Finnegans Wake is ever just one thing. How exactly do you draw a talking fox which is also a mouse, one of two arguing brothers, a pope, and modernist author Wyndham Lewis?" ~ Stephen Crowe

2. Every Page of Moby-Dick

Since 2009, former high school English teacher and self-taught artist Matt Kish has been drawing every page of the 552-page Signet Classics paperback edition of Herman Melville's iconic Moby-Dick, methodically producing one gorgeous, obsessive drawing per day for 552 days using pages from discarded books and a variety of drawing tools, from ballpoint pen to crayon to ink and watercolor. Last year, the project became Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page -- one of the 11 best art and design books of 2011, gathering Kish's magnificent lo-fi drawings in a 600-page visual masterpiece of bold, breathtaking full-page illustrations that captivate eye, heart, and mind, inviting you to rediscover the Melville classic in entirely new ways.

"I've read the book eight or nine times [...] Each and every reading has revealed more and more to me and hinted tantalizingly at even greater truths and revelations that I have yet to reach. Friends often question my obsession with the novel, especially since I am not a scholar or even an educator any longer, and the best explanation I have been able to come up with is that, to me, Moby-Dick is a book about everything. God. Love. Hate. Identity. Race. Sex. Humor. Obsession. History. Work. Capitalism [...] I see every aspect of life reflected in the bizarre mosaic of this book." ~ Matt Kish


everypagemobydick1.jpg'...Jonah feels the heralding presentiment of that stifling hour, when the whale shall hold him in the smallest of his bowel's wards.'

Ballpoint pen on paper, September 17, 2009

everypagemobydick2.jpg'But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive.'

Colored pencil and ink on found paper, August 6, 2009

everypagemobydick3.jpg'Hearing the tremendous rush of the sea-crashing boat, the whale wheeled round to present his blank forehead at bay; but in that evolution, catching sight of the nearing black hull of the ship; seemingly seeing in it the source of all his persecutions; bethinking it - it may be - a larger and nobler foe; of a sudden, he bore down upon its advancing prow, smiting his jaws amid fiery showers of foam'

Ink on watercolor paper, January 22, 2011

everypagemobydick5.jpg'...and when the ship was gliding by, like a flash he darted out; gained her side; with one backward dash of his foot capsized and sank his canoe; climbed up the chains...'

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Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

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