My name is James Cook, I am 25 years old and for the last 8 years, I have been a full-time artist creating drawings using a vintage machine which predates the invention of the computer, called a typewriter. A typewriter is a machine used in the 20th century to write letters and documents. These machines are now considered antiques. I have repurposed these machines to make drawings instead of writing letters.
A typewriter artist makes drawings using typewriters. I describe my work as being “a picture worth a thousand words” because each drawing is made by hand-typing many thousands of letters, numbers and punctuation marks to create the illusion of drawings. I will use the typewriter to conceal hidden messages or words throughout my artwork. I make it a game for the public to find all the hidden messages in my drawings. For example, from a distance, a member of the public may see a drawing, however, standing up-close to the artwork reveals the many thousands of keystrokes made onto the paper. I started typewriter art in 2014 when I was at college studying art. I was interested in how technology throughout the ages can be used in alternative ways to create drawings. I looked at a British artist called David Hockey who had previously made digital paintings on his iPad. I then found an artist from the early 20th century called Paul Smith who made drawings on typewriters. He passed away in 2007 but spent the best part of 70 years creating these masterpieces on his collection of typewriters. I was in awe of his work and found it impossible to imagine that these drawings were created from an antique writing device. So I was inspired to purchase one.
Many of my ideas are inspired by the typewriters themselves. I have been very fortunate to have been given most of my collection of typewriters. I have only ever had to purchase three typewriters, but the remaining 50 typewriters have been generously donated to me by people from different backgrounds and interests. It can be these individuals or their typewriters which inspire the drawings. For example, I was given a typewriter by a lady that used to work at Buckingham Palace where the Queen of Great Britain lives. This particular typewriter was used on a daily basis at the palace and when she retired, she took the machine home with her. I then decided to make a typewriter drawing of the Queen and gift the artwork to the former royal household employee as a way of saying thank you.
It is quite difficult for me to explain how I create my drawings because each project is so different from the next one. The whole drawing is made in the typewriter and there is very little preparation that I do. I have created more than 200 pictures since 2014 and so it is simply practice and patience which has got me so far in terms of the quality and accuracy of the drawings. Each drawing can take anywhere from 1 week to 2 months to complete depending on the size of the drawing. I have creates small pictures and also drawings in panoramic scale which are much more of a challenge to do. I like working outdoors and I have a studio in London, so it is quite easy for me to take a folding chair and a typewriter and physically sit on-location by a famous London landmark instead of working from a photograph. I do get some strange looks from the general public when they see me sitting with a typewriter on my lap.
I have 50 typewriters in total. They range from the very small 1970’s children’s typewriters such as a French Petite to 1920’s collectable machines such as a Remington Home Portable and even 1950’s – 1980’s office-size, clunky and big machines. Each machine has a different feel to it and as an artist, you become familiar with how a machine will feel or which particular machine should be used depending on the type of drawing you are going to create. For example, I will use a very mechanically-precise machine for typing portraits whereas a large-scale landscape drawing may require the use of a 1960’s machine with a larger paper-feed. ~ @jamescookartwork