Paul Smith (September 21, 1921 – June 25, 2007) was born with Severe cerebral palsy, a serious condition that affects the brain.
It limited his ability to speak and move. The loss of fine motor control of his face and hands made it impossible for him to perform the most basics of tasks, like eating, bathing, clothing himself or even expressing himself.
Back in those days, people with the condition didn’t have as much of a life expectancy, and, as a result, Paul was also illiterate.
When he turned 16, he learned to speak, and at 32 he learned to walk. However, there’s one thing very particular about this man.
Early in life Paul discovered the typewriter and a technique for using it to create pictures. He was creating typewriter art from age 15, and steadily refined his technique.
He would use his left hand to steady his right hand. He spent 2-3 hours a day typing away on his typewriter while listening to Classical music, and each of his artworks would take him around 2 weeks to 3 months.
Paul’s images, perhaps surprisingly, were created using only a handful of symbol keys – !, @, #, %, ^, _, (, &, ) – which were accessible along the top row of his typewriter keyboard. Remarkable, when a person considers that manual typewriters required the ribbons to be positioned, the roller to be adjusted, and the paper to be secured.
Typewriters, of that era, left no room for error since erasing mistaken keystrokes was not a clean option.
Across seven decades, Paul created hundreds of pictures. He often gave the originals away. Sometimes, but not always, he kept or received a copy for his own records.
As his mastery of the typewriter grew, he developed techniques to create shadings, colors, and textures that made his work resemble pencil or charcoal drawings.
It’s interesting to see how he gradually refined his use of perspective and coloring, and how his subject matter reflected the events and personalities of the times.
It’s impossible to know how many pictures Paul created during his long life – some estimate over 400 pieces.
That work remains an inspiration to artists everywhere; especially among those that accommodate for disability.
Now watch the amazing video below;
If you find typewriter art fascinating, you might want to check out Keira Rathbone’s work as well.
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