Artist creates images and portraits with a typewriter

The typewriter may be a thing of the past, but one UK-based artist has found a creative way to use this vintage technology. 23-year-old architecture student James Cook has created some wonderful artworks using manual typewriters — and more and more people are becoming interested in them.

James renders detailed landscapes and portraits by typing a careful assemblage of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks onto sheets of paper. It’s taken him the better part of six years honing this skill on age-old machines, producing over 100 detailed drawings. James became interested in typewriters when he read a news story about a man who suffered from cerebral palsy. 

“My work is inspired by Paul Smith, an American typewriter artist who suffered [from] cerebral palsy. His condition restricted his ability to make precise hand movements; however, he found control in the use of a typewriter. His portfolio of work spans more than 70 years and his legacy of work is primarily the inspiration for the drawings that I make.”

James Cook typewriter art

So far, James has collected almost 30 typewriters that range from mechanical portable machines from the 1950s to early electronic typewriters from the 90s. He alternates between these machines to complete commissions for album covers, celebrity and pet portraits, as well as architectural illustrations.

“There is something fascinating about using the 43 keys of a typewriter and using the various shapes of the punctuation, letters, and numbers to arrange and configure onto a piece of paper to create a desired shape or type of shading,” James explains.

While typewriter art can be very time-consuming and might feel like learning a new language, James says that he loves spending time to make his drawings proportionally correct and thinking of tiny details. The time it takes to make one drawing depends on various factors: each drawing varies in size, scale and complexity. However, he’s restricted to using standard A4 paper — mostly because this was the most common size of paper a typewriter would take. Each drawing can take between 9 to 30 hours.

Portrait created using letters, numbers and punctuation marks

Most of his work is created indoors from memory, however, he occasionally takes his portable typewriters outside to produce art en plein air. There he has captured windmills, classical buildings, and even ships with his clever assortment of characters.

“My earliest works were a little unsteady and rough. I started with a typewriter drawing of the Woolworth Building in New York. It was like learning a whole new language (literally) made up of punctuation marks, letters, and numbers. It was how I assembled these marks on the page that would reveal the image once you stepped back from the drawing.”

James recently completed a commission of a lady which is his largest drawing to date. It measures in at roughly 4 feet by 3 feet and, unofficially, is probably the largest typewriter drawing ever done. It’s made of three rolls of paper and contains more than 100,000 letters, numbers, and punctuation marks overlaid and configured to create the portrait. Inside her clothing are carefully concealed type-written messages.

Typewriter portrait created with 100,000 letters, numbers, and punctuation marks
Portrait close-up shows hidden messages

Scroll down to see more of James’ typewriter art and follow the artist on Instagram to keep up to date with his latest creations and upcoming exhibitions.

Ship drawing using a typewriter
Portrait art
Typewriter architectural drawings