Using only a typewriter as his tool, a young British architecture student is making waves in the art world with his incredible renditions of country and cityscapes.
James Cook, 24, of Braintree in Essex, England, hand-renders each “typicition” in ink using skillful combinations of the keys on a typewriter. For Cook, experimenting with typewriters began while at college studying fine art seven years ago.
“I have always been intrigued with the connection between technology—both new and obsolete—and its potential to produce new and innovative forms of artwork,” Cook told The Epoch Times in an interview.
“I quickly learnt from a young age that painting just wasn’t for me, but I loved to draw and wanted to explore new methods.”
Inspired by British artist David Hockney’s “Arrival of Spring in Woldgate,” a landscape drawn using an iPad painting app, Cook picked up his iPhone 5 to create some of his very own digital paintings.
However, after familiarizing himself with Paul Smith, an American artist with cerebral palsy who used the characters of a typewriter to render his subjects, Cook realized that “counter-innovative” technologies intrigued him more.
“Something analogue and discontinued and no longer worthy of its position in the workplace,” he said, “that being the typewriter.”
Living between Braintree and London, Cook often takes a typewriter—from his prized collection of 30, many of which are donated—on location.
(Courtesy of James Cook Artwork)
Cook begins each piece by penciling in a subtle silhouette. “Typing-up” classical buildings with seemingly infinite detail, he says, allows him to get inventive.
“Gargoyles and carved stonework will get reimagined with 0’s, L’s, ‘()’s, and meanwhile, the raggedy brickwork of a Tudor manor is recreated in I’s and ‘-‘s,” he said.
“The experimentation of the language using the 44 keys of the typewriter, for me personally, keeps the work original and fresh.
“Conventionally, typewriters like to move in a linear way. So getting a good grip on the levers and switches which disengage some of its features, if only temporarily, allows you to take back-steps and re-type over existing text more than once. You can also vary the darkness and lightness by how heavy you press the keys onto the paper.”
This “limited pallet” of 44 keys, says Cook, has “unlimited possibilities.”
He has rendered over 110 artworks to date, preferring three typewriters, his “workhorses,” on rotation: his first-ever machine, a 1952 Oliver Courier; a 1971 Silver Reed 200; and a 1973 Olympia SG3 typewriter that can hold larger than A4 document paper to create bigger-scale artworks.
An A4-sized portrait takes Cook anywhere between three and four days to complete. A larger landscape drawing can take up to a week. Cook’s more recent architectural works measure 2 by 3 feet in size.
Cook said that, normally, at any given point, only two or three typewriters are fully working, “with the rest being in an almost-state of disrepair.” Admitting the limitations of his technology-based tools, he said typewriters are “an incredibly precise piece of engineering.”
“When you take them outside of their comfort zone, such as an office desk or an antiques shop, you have to deal with the unpredictable reality of them breaking whilst pitched up in the middle of a field, creating a drawing,” he added. Thankfully, he said, this has only happened to him twice.
While moved by his surroundings, Cook is also inspired by commissions from customers.
“One poignant commission for me was by a gentleman that had recently lost his mother, and after clearing her property, had discovered the wedding speech that she read on his wedding day,” he said.
The gentleman asked Cook to recreate a portrait from a cherished photograph and incorporate segments of the wedding speech into the picture. “I estimated that there was in excess of 100,000 letters, numbers, and punctuation marks stamped into the drawing, measuring roughly 4 feet by 5 feet,” he recalled.
The commission took Cook one month to complete and became his first-ever “hidden message” artwork. He has since used the same technique to camouflage the names of the sites he visits within a picture, and copyright his artwork by “concealing messages which only the original creator of the work can find.”
Despite honing his craft, Cook claims that making art using a typewriter has never gotten easier. Unlike painting, he says, there is no second attempt or way of covering his mistakes up.
“Accepting mistakes has been the toughest challenge,” he said. “Any errors that I make in the artwork, such as an out-of-place letter or number, as I see it, those mistakes stick out like a sore thumb on the page, but I bet that no one else will ever even notice them!”
Cook is currently on the lookout for city-dwellers around the world willing to grant him access to a rooftop or balcony with “incredible views” from which to work for a day. In return, he pledges to gift a signed, framed print of the completed drawing plus any of his existing prints for free.
“For as long as people are interested in my passion, then I will continue,” Cook said. “It’s the joy and delight of listening and speaking to other people that appreciate my work which also drives my ambition to create even bigger and more ambitious type-written drawings.”
Watch two of his videos below:
(Courtesy of James Cook Artwork)