D.I.Y. Typewriter Art

typewriterArt

Download the pdf here.

This lovely oddity arrived in the mail yesterday – Bob Neill’s Book of Typewriter Art (with special computer program) from 1982. It’s so difficult to capture its lovely oddness is just a few sentences or images so I decided to scan the entirety of the book and make it available here (pdf). Inside you’ll find line-by-line instructions for creating charming portraits of everything from the British royal family to siamese cats and even Kojak.

typewriterArt2

I’ve long been interested in the way writers in the 1960s and 1970s were – once the typewriter had thoroughly become commonplace – finding ways to play with the limits and possibilities of this machine as a writing medium. I’ve also thought that we can look back on typestracts such as Steve McCaffery’s Carnival and see it as informed by a D.I.Y. and hacking sensibility. While this book of typewriter art is clearly invested in representationality and not particularly experimental, its content is entirely a D.I.Y. guide to creating typewriter art and is very much like computer magazines from the early 1980s such as Byte that would include BASIC programs. Here, instead of computer code, we’re given typewritten letters as code.  And in fact, the book includes an appendix with a Microsoft BASIC program for creating a “Prince Charles Portrait”, programmed for the Commodore PET. And since the second appendix is a chart showing “sizes of paper required for each picture on different kinds of typewriter,” I can’t help thinking this book is a unique artifact in that it’s entirely framed by the appearance of the personal computer – a book on a soon-to-be-outdated technology framed by its impending replacement by a new technology.

typewriterArt3

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Categories: bookbound, criticism, history of computing, media poetics

Author:Lori Emerson

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I'm the author of Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound and co-editor of the Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media.

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16 Comments on “D.I.Y. Typewriter Art”

  1. goto80
    January 20, 2013 at 11:14 AM #

    Wow, thanks for scanning and sharing! Will re-publish some of it at text-mode.tumblr.com. Despite what the introduction claims, these sort of step-by-step guidelines were around already in the 1940s with Julius Nelson’s “typewriter mystery games”. Just in case anyone cares. :)

    More typewriter art here: http://text-mode.tumblr.com/tagged/typewriter/

  2. January 25, 2013 at 3:27 PM #

    Hi there,

    I just wanted to let you know that I am Bob Neill’s daughter and I’m delighted that there is so much interest in his typewriter art book. For as long as I can remember he used to make pictures on the typewriter. Dad passed away in 2006 but I’m sure he would be delighted in the renewed interest in his book after so many years.

    Kind regards,
    Barbara Neill

    • January 25, 2013 at 3:33 PM #

      Barbara, thank you so much for your kind note – I’m glad to hear you’re happy about interest in his wonderfully fascinating book and I appreciate that you don’t mind me circulating a pdf. Thank you again for getting in touch!

      • January 26, 2013 at 6:01 AM #

        Hi Lori,

        Please let me know if I can help in any way, with information about my Dad or anything.

        Kind regards,
        Barbara

  3. January 31, 2013 at 4:32 AM #

    Hi Lori,

    Inspired by your blog about my Dad’s typewriter art, I thought I ought to write a post on my own blog. Here’s a link to it:

    http://barbaraneill.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/142/

    All the best,
    Barbara

  4. January 31, 2013 at 4:33 AM #

    …and here’s a link to my own blog post about my Dad’s typewriter art:

    http://barbaraneill.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/142/

  5. Andrew Belsey
    March 28, 2013 at 12:46 PM #

    I had the privilege and pleasure of discussing typewriter art with Bob in his house in Maidstone, Kent, on 6 August 2002. Bob was most generous with his time in showing me some of his work and explaining how it was done. I subsequently wrote about Bob’s work in relation to other examples of typewriter art on the message board of the BeforeAscii_ART group on 12 November 2002. It is true that there is at present a lot of interest in typewriter art, including Bob’s, for two reasons. First, two or three people are investigating the history of typewriter art, which goes back to the nineteenth century but is now largely forgotten or lost. Second, several current artists are still using typewriters to produce artworks, and so the history of typewriter art is still continuing. Andrew Belsey, Whitstable, Kent

    • March 29, 2013 at 8:30 AM #

      Thanks very much for your thoughtful note, Andrew. My students, who are in their late teens and early 20s, are also becoming more fascinated with the typewriter and a poet-friend of mine is even teaching a creative writing class using typewriters! It’s all quite wonderful to see.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    [...] (via lori emerson) [...]

  2. The Sharp End - January 31, 2013

    [...] There is an excellent blog from Lori Emerson, in which she reproduces patterns from Dad’s pictures so, if you have a typewriter and would like to have a go, you can access Lori’s blog here: http://loriemerson.net/2013/01/18/d-i-y-typewriter-art/ [...]

  3. A Different Kind of Writing Style | Two Voices, One Song - February 5, 2013

    [...] D.I.Y. Typewriter Art (loriemerson.net) [...]

  4. 5. typewriter tiger (: | *slurps - October 15, 2013

    […] make full use of this time. (: for my typewriter tiger i followed a pattern i found on this page: http://loriemerson.net/2013/01/18/d-i-y-typewriter-art/ it includes a link to a pdf file where you have instructions on how to make pictures from the book […]

  5. The Lost Ancestors of ASCII Art | ART GALLERIES - January 30, 2014

    […] at least aesthetically, is another book unearthed in Emerson’s Media Archaeology Lab: Bob Neill’s Book of Typewriter Art (with special computer program). Published in 1982, it stands almost directly astride the emergent world of computing and the […]

  6. The Lost Ancestors of ASCII Art | Bountolos.infoBountolos.info - February 5, 2014

    […] at least aesthetically, is another book unearthed in Emerson’s Media Archaeology Lab: Bob Neill’s Book of Typewriter Art (with special computer program). Published in 1982, it stands almost directly astride the emergent world of computing and the […]

  7. t3xtm0d3 - February 19, 2014

    […] Neill’s Book of Typewriter Art (1982), via Lori Emerson.With a computer programme to enable some of the pictures to be produced on a home computer (such as […]

  8. T3xtm0.de - February 24, 2014

    […] Neill’s Book of Typewriter Art (1982), via Lori Emerson.With a computer programme to enable some of the pictures to be produced on a home computer (such as […]

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