London artist Keira Rathbone is acclaimed for her creative talent using typewriters to create beautiful portraits, landscapes and still life. Her fascination with the typewriter art technique she calls “Typeface” was sparked after she bought an orange Silver Reed 100 from a charity shop in 2003. Keira told BBC News, “I just had the typewriter in front of me and the desire to type but nothing to say…I just started pressing the same keys and looking at the marks to try and make something visual, rather than for making words.”
She types clusters of letters, numbers and symbols to build everything from little figures to elaborate landscapes. The smaller pieces can take just seconds for Keira to type out, while larger scale projects like the Hammersmith bridge, take between 10 to 12 3-hour sessions. The talented artist usually chooses her subject matter spontaneously and begins with basic shapes using smaller characters then using larger characters to fill in shadows. “It’s more like the essence of what you see rather than the detail, which I enjoy,” says Keira.
Typewriter art dates back to the 1800’s. Then at an early point in the digital age, ASCII art using computers took off. But Keira keeps it vintage and works solely with ink ribbon and paper. During her appearances, where she creates art live in front of audiences, she dresses in outfits inspired by the style popular during the year her typewriter was made. Keira also works out of a London café she’s fond of. The artist explained, “I find it really inspiring because of the reaction that it gets wherever I go. They first of all they think, ’What’s she doing there with a typewriter?’ And then if they want to pass, especially as the, a bit of a picture begins to build up they can see that I’m not just typing words, and then they feel safe to start asking questions.” Keira says that passerbys will often share sentimental stories telling her about their connection to typewriters. But she enjoys kids’ responses most saying, “When the kids come along and they’ve never seen a typewriter before. They’re kind of like, ‘What is it?!’”
Keira has a collection of 35 typewriters and when she gets a foreign typewriter, it opens up a new world. She told Deutsche Welle, “It’s like a whole different set of tools for me. It’s like a different pallet. So um, and then when I got this Cyrillic alphabet, it’s a whole new different set of marks, so it produces different effect overall. So that’s what excites me.” She’s attracted to the art form is not just because it subverts the conventional use of the writing machine, but also because she appreciates that the images are made up of smaller parts which are obvious, so the art can be experienced at different distances in new ways. With that, Keira says that in typewriter art there are rarely any typos, “Generally it’s just build up. I like the stray marks.”