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'In Conversation' with James Cook Typewriter Artist

"I’m so excited about exhibiting the latest work from James, and it was an honour to go out on location with James to get an insight into how he prepares for his drawings. So while we were on location we had a conversation around this work and about James the artist. Here is my 'In Conversation with James Cook ….



Q: What do you love most about creating your drawings on the typewriter?


The one thing I love most about creating typewriter art is that you can enjoy the work from two entirely different perspectives; up close when you notice all the tiny letters and numbers (sometimes sentences of writing), and secondly when you stand back as the image is realised once visible from a certain distance. I enjoy the fact that all the letters, numbers and punctuation marks are like ingredients that are separated out and laid out onto the page when observed from up close.


The second thing that I love about typewriter art is being outdoors, on-location and visiting lots of really interesting places around the UK. I’ve got typewriters which are literally scattered all across the house. I’ve got typewriters in storage, under the bed, hidden away in cupboards and now they’re also in the back of my car because I’ve completely run out of space to put them anywhere else. So even if I’m out driving somewhere, I literally drag my typewriters along for the ride which actually gave me this great idea back in 2019 of visiting parts of the UK and creating typewriter art, actually on-location. I’ve been visiting scenic landscapes, picturesque villages and historic landmarks, taking a fold out a chair and a couple of typewriters with me and spending somewhere in-between three to four hours on-location and by the end of the day, returning home with a bunch of type-written drawings. I am very much looking forward to the new on-location drawings which will feature in my next exhibition at The Wonky Wheel Gallery.


Q: What have you learned about yourself and your drawings on the typewriter?


I had my very first exhibition last summer in the very picturesque village of Thaxted which is in my home county of Essex and I was blown away by the response and number of people that visited- even with eased COVID restrictions in place, and at a time when unfortunately, so many small venues, financially had to close their doors, we were able to safely have a couple of hundred people turn up in small groups and we put together what was a completely free exhibition for the general public. For me, it put into perspective the national-reach and enthusiasm of individuals out there who travelled far and wide who equally share a love of art, typewriters and the work that I have been creating for the past 7 years. And what was great about doing this exhibition was that it couldn’t have been achieved without the generosity of the village and the help of friends and family and it was great way of bringing back a little bit of normality to the town of Thaxted during COVID, even if the exhibition lasted for only a few days. I am incredibly excited about showcasing my new work at The Wonky Wheel Gallery and I look forward to meeting impassioned visitors who also share a love of antiquated writing devices and artwork.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?


As a student of architecture, ‘typing-up’ classical buildings with scale and seemingly-infinite detail has allowed me to get inventive with the arrangement and composition of letters, numbers and punctuation marks on the page. I will be typing up gargoyles and carved stonework and they will get re-imagined with ‘0’s, L’s, ‘()’ as well as various other typewriter characters. And meanwhile, the raggedy brickwork of a Tudor manor is recreated in ‘I’s and ‘-’s. The experimentation of the language using the 44 keys of the typewriter, for me personally, keeps the work original and fresh.


Aside from my passion for buildings, my inspiration is also motivated by the storeys of those individuals and customers who commission drawings from me. The global reach of my work has been amazing and this has led to a rich and diverse range of interests and enquiries that only supplement the originality of the final type-written result.


For example, one customer from the United States wanted to capture their career as a paddle steamer captain on the Mississippi river, and a French customer’s great grandfather flew the first ever hot air balloon over France, and thus, wanted to commemorate his love of aviation. Family coat of arms, wedding anniversary presents, recently-passed family pets; all of these customers from Germany, South America, Australia and all over have impassioned back storeys. You feel a great sense of responsibility and respect for the people putting their trust in my ability to capture the best likeness possible with the limitations of a somewhat stubborn, obsolete writing device.

Q. We have been on location for some of your drawings for the exhibitions. During that day you took pictures on your phone. Can you explain the preparation process for some of your drawing?


It’s good to suss out the location long before you start the typing process. The one defining feature of typewriter art which brings the work to life is the use of tonal shading. Therefore, scouting out a location where it’s possible to work at an oblique angle in relation to the subject matter is important when building up shading to visually-lift the artwork off the page. It most cases, there are time limitations to being on site; largely due to the unpredictability of the British weather. Therefore, I might pencil in a silhouette just to help with scaling the subject onto the page. It is almost essential to the artwork when creating a drawing that is constructed from more than one piece of paper.


Q. How do you get the depth and contrast in the drawing by using the typewriter?


· 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. This allows you to define darker areas of the drawing. You can also vary the darkness and lightness by how heavy you press the keys onto the paper. It’s important to have a mental image of those parts of the drawing which requires no ink at all, as these will act as your highlights.

Q: What do you personally find the most challenging thing about your typewriting drawings?


· Since I have started creating typewriter art in 2014, I have produced more than 100 pieces of work, and I can honestly say that with time, these drawings have never gotten any easier to create. Unlike painting, there is no second attempt or way of covering my mistakes up. Accepting mistakes has been the toughest challenge. 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! Thankfully, with the much larger scale typicitions, those mistakes blend in with the rest of the artwork. Unfortunately, I’ve found that there are no ‘happy accidents’ to be made with typewriter art. Unlike paint, those accidents can’t be easily-blended in with different letters or numbers, and I refuse to cover up with tippex.


From a technical standpoint, keeping my collection of 30 typewriters in good service is somewhat of a balancing act. At any given point, there are normally two or three typewriters that are fully working, with the rest being in an almost-state of disrepair. Like some pets, typewriters don’t tend to travel very well in cars either. They are an incredibly precise piece of engineering and 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. Thankfully, those events have happened only on two occasions, and normally, it’s the weather that lets me down long before the typewriter falls to pieces.

Q: What is the highlight of your career so far, or your proudest moment?


It is really difficult to pinpoint any specific highlights because each one has been completely unexpected. Being able to have an online presence through social media as well as being contacted by international news teams has helped me reach out to other typewriter enthusiasts and also other artists that use typewriters. You are able to create a global audience and sell your work internationally which has just been such an amazing opportunity to make connections with celebrities, television productions and people from all different parts of the world- and to find out their stories and connections with typewriters and what it means to them.

Q: Who is your favourite artist, and why?


That is a really difficult question to answer. I am secretly an admirer of the ‘great’ art forgers; John Myatt, Tom Keating, specifically, his take on Constable’s The Hay Wain in Reverse. I like the backstories and their trade secrets of closely-imitating the old masters and, in the spirit of Bob Ross, their television productions which instructed audiences to create their very own masterpieces. I should also give a mention to Turner, as it has been researched, although not 100% guaranteed, is potentially a very, very distant descendent on my fathers, great-grandmothers side.

Q: The collection of work on display will be drawings of Horeham Hall, The Moot Hall, Finchingfield Green and a few more still to be announced? Which one are you most excited about seen on the wall in the gallery?


Collectively, I am most excited by working on the larger scale drawings which will be an exceptional challenge and rely heavily, once again, on the great British weather. The Moot Hall is an exciting opportunity at creating my first rooftop scene looking over Maldon. Equally, all the historic properties that I will be visiting have an exceptional history and wonderful, generous team of owners / families who are happy for me to give it my best shot at recreating their property in type-written form.

Q: Normally I would ask you to write a note to your younger self and explain what it’s like to be an artist, but I want to turn this question around. Is there one famous building or a portrait of a famous person you would like to do a typewriting drawing off?


It has been a long term goal to somehow, get in contact with Tom Hank who shares a passion for typewriters and he has his own personal collection of them. I have previously created a portrait of him but I think I could probably do a much better job of it now that I have a wider variety of typewriters to choose from. One benefit to meeting visitors / people interested in my work is I will tend to ask them if they know of any particular good buildings to do drawings of, or perhaps, if they happen own a beautiful property themselves. This has helped me to visit some truly amazing buildings in and around the UK; otherwise closed to the general public.


Q: What do you love most about creating your drawings on the typewriter?


The one thing I love most about creating typewriter art is that you can enjoy the work from two entirely different perspectives; up close when you notice all the tiny letters and numbers (sometimes sentences of writing), and secondly when you stand back as the image is realised once visible from a certain distance. I enjoy the fact that all the letters, numbers and punctuation marks are like ingredients that are separated out and laid out onto the page when observed from up close.


The second thing that I love about typewriter art is being outdoors, on-location and visiting lots of really interesting places around the UK. I’ve got typewriters which are literally scattered all across the house. I’ve got typewriters in storage, under the bed, hidden away in cupboards and now they’re also in the back of my car because I’ve completely run out of space to put them anywhere else. So even if I’m out driving somewhere, I literally drag my typewriters along for the ride which actually gave me this great idea back in 2019 of visiting parts of the UK and creating typewriter art, actually on-location. I’ve been visiting scenic landscapes, picturesque villages and historic landmarks, taking a fold out a chair and a couple of typewriters with me and spending somewhere in-between three to four hours on-location and by the end of the day, returning home with a bunch of type-written drawings. I am very much looking forward to the new on-location drawings which will feature in my next exhibition at The Wonky Wheel Gallery.


Q: What have you learned about yourself and your drawings on the typewriter?


I had my very first exhibition last summer in the very picturesque village of Thaxted which is in my home county of Essex and I was blown away by the response and number of people that visited- even with eased COVID restrictions in place, and at a time when unfortunately, so many small venues, financially had to close their doors, we were able to safely have a couple of hundred people turn up in small groups and we put together what was a completely free exhibition for the general public. For me, it put into perspective the national-reach and enthusiasm of individuals out there who travelled far and wide who equally share a love of art, typewriters and the work that I have been creating for the past 7 years. And what was great about doing this exhibition was that it couldn’t have been achieved without the generosity of the village and the help of friends and family and it was great way of bringing back a little bit of normality to the town of Thaxted during COVID, even if the exhibition lasted for only a few days. I am incredibly excited about showcasing my new work at The Wonky Wheel Gallery and I look forward to meeting impassioned visitors who also share a love of antiquated writing devices and artwork.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?


As a student of architecture, ‘typing-up’ classical buildings with scale and seemingly-infinite detail has allowed me to get inventive with the arrangement and composition of letters, numbers and punctuation marks on the page. I will be typing up gargoyles and carved stonework and they will get re-imagined with ‘0’s, L’s, ‘()’ as well as various other typewriter characters. And meanwhile, the raggedy brickwork of a Tudor manor is recreated in ‘I’s and ‘-’s. The experimentation of the language using the 44 keys of the typewriter, for me personally, keeps the work original and fresh.


Aside from my passion for buildings, my inspiration is also motivated by the storeys of those individuals and customers who commission drawings from me. The global reach of my work has been amazing and this has led to a rich and diverse range of interests and enquiries that only supplement the originality of the final type-written result.


For example, one customer from the United States wanted to capture their career as a paddle steamer captain on the Mississippi river, and a French customer’s great grandfather flew the first ever hot air balloon over France, and thus, wanted to commemorate his love of aviation. Family coat of arms, wedding anniversary presents, recently-passed family pets; all of these customers from Germany, South America, Australia and all over have impassioned back storeys. You feel a great sense of responsibility and respect for the people putting their trust in my ability to capture the best likeness possible with the limitations of a somewhat stubborn, obsolete writing device.

Q. We have been on location for some of your drawings for the exhibitions. During that day you took pictures on your phone. Can you explain the preparation process for some of your drawing?


It’s good to suss out the location long before you start the typing process. The one defining feature of typewriter art which brings the work to life is the use of tonal shading. Therefore, scouting out a location where it’s possible to work at an oblique angle in relation to the subject matter is important when building up shading to visually-lift the artwork off the page. It most cases, there are time limitations to being on site; largely due to the unpredictability of the British weather. Therefore, I might pencil in a silhouette just to help with scaling the subject onto the page. It is almost essential to the artwork when creating a drawing that is constructed from more than one piece of paper.


Q. How do you get the depth and contrast in the drawing by using the typewriter?


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. This allows you to define darker areas of the drawing. You can also vary the darkness and lightness by how heavy you press the keys onto the paper. It’s important to have a mental image of those parts of the drawing which requires no ink at all, as these will act as your highlights.

Q: What do you personally find the most challenging thing about your typewriting drawings?


Since I have started creating typewriter art in 2014, I have produced more than 100 pieces of work, and I can honestly say that with time, these drawings have never gotten any easier to create. Unlike painting, there is no second attempt or way of covering my mistakes up. Accepting mistakes has been the toughest challenge. 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! Thankfully, with the much larger scale typicitions, those mistakes blend in with the rest of the artwork. Unfortunately, I’ve found that there are no ‘happy accidents’ to be made with typewriter art. Unlike paint, those accidents can’t be easily-blended in with different letters or numbers, and I refuse to cover up with tippex.


From a technical standpoint, keeping my collection of 30 typewriters in good service is somewhat of a balancing act. At any given point, there are normally two or three typewriters that are fully working, with the rest being in an almost-state of disrepair. Like some pets, typewriters don’t tend to travel very well in cars either. They are an incredibly precise piece of engineering and 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. Thankfully, those events have happened only on two occasions, and normally, it’s the weather that lets me down long before the typewriter falls to pieces.

Q: What is the highlight of your career so far, or your proudest moment?


It is really difficult to pinpoint any specific highlights because each one has been completely unexpected. Being able to have an online presence through social media as well as being contacted by international news teams has helped me reach out to other typewriter enthusiasts and also other artists that use typewriters. You are able to create a global audience and sell your work internationally which has just been such an amazing opportunity to make connections with celebrities, television productions and people from all different parts of the world- and to find out their stories and connections with typewriters and what it means to them.


Q: Who is your favourite artist, and why?


That is a really difficult question to answer. I am secretly an admirer of the ‘great’ art forgers; John Myatt, Tom Keating, specifically, his take on Constable’s The Hay Wain in Reverse. I like the backstories and their trade secrets of closely-imitating the old masters and, in the spirit of Bob Ross, their television productions which instructed audiences to create their very own masterpieces. I should also give a mention to Turner, as it has been researched, although not 100% guaranteed, is potentially a very, very distant descendent on my fathers, great-grandmothers side.

Q: The collection of work on display will be drawings of Horeham Hall, The Moot Hall, Finchingfield Green and a few more still to be announced? Which one are you most excited about seen on the wall in the gallery?


Collectively, I am most excited by working on the larger scale drawings which will be an exceptional challenge and rely heavily, once again, on the great British weather. The Moot Hall is an exciting opportunity at creating my first rooftop scene looking over Maldon. Equally, all the historic properties that I will be visiting have an exceptional history and wonderful, generous team of owners / families who are happy for me to give it my best shot at recreating their property in type-written form.

Q: Normally I would ask you to write a note to your younger self and explain what it’s like to be an artist, but I want to turn this question around. Is there one famous building or a portrait of a famous person you would like to do a typewriting drawing off?


It has been a long term goal to somehow, get in contact with Tom Hank who shares a passion for typewriters and he has his own personal collection of them. I have previously created a portrait of him but I think I could probably do a much better job of it now that I have a wider variety of typewriters to choose from. One benefit to meeting visitors / people interested in my work is I will tend to ask them if they know of any particular good buildings to do drawings of, or perhaps, if they happen own a beautiful property themselves. This has helped me to visit some truly amazing buildings in and around the UK; otherwise closed to the general public.


James' exhibition opens on 2nd July at 18:30 for a preview evening, if you wish to attend the preview evening it is bookable via our website - click here to book (this is inline with current government guidelines) The Exhibition will include a collection of James typewriters on display and also James will be in the gallery during the weekends of the Exhibition answering any questions you may have. The Exhibition runs from 3rd to 31st July from 10am to 5pm Wednesday to Saturday and Sunday 11am to 5pm .

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