D.I.Y. Typewriter Art


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.


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is a unique artifact in that it’s entirely framed by the appearance of the personal computer – a book on a soon-to-be-outdated technology framed by its impending replacement by a new technology.


15 thoughts on “D.I.Y. Typewriter Art

  1. goto80

    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/

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  3. barbaraneill

    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

    1. Lori Emerson

      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!

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  6. Andrew Belsey

    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

    1. Lori Emerson

      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.

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