ART & QWERTY

b_1Daily, we lay our fingers on our QWERTY keyboards. But while we type out words, German artist Robert Dörfler conjures portraits, buildings, animals, and landscapes. An artist with a mechanical easel and alphabetic brushes, his Instagram is both fascinating and unexpected. I was delighted to catch up with Robert to chat about his amazing process…
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How did this interesting art form develop for you?

As a child I played around with my sister’s electric typewriter, doodling little stickmen in tiny landscapes while laying out make-believe newspaper pages. As time marched on I forgot about doing things like that and began to learn programming and playing different musical instruments. Back in the old pre-Windows days of widespread text-based home computer use, people might occasionally encounter illustrations up on the screen made out of text characters — called ASCII art! — and I thought that it looked like fun. I made several pictures in that style, some of which even won art competitions!
d_1But one day I came across other specimens of the older typewriter art again and realised that there might be some logical connection between the two styles, figuring that some ASCII art techniques could be applied to the typewriter, and I could apply what I had learned from the newer style to the older… with mixed success. Of course, the paper page isn’t limited to columns and rows the way a fixed-width screen of text is on a computer, so you can still manage to go outside of the box and push boundaries outside a strict grid even typing with straight lines.
n_1Typewriter drawing can feel like you’re using some analogue Photoshop with layers and a wide range of colours, except of course without any “undo” function for erasing mistakes that might come up.
i_1How do you translate landscapes and buildings to typewriter keys?
There are a number of ways to adapt an image, depending on the aesthetic style you’re hoping to achieve. You could make a picture simply by typing a single key over and over again, but an easy technique for building up an illustration is to sketch it out like an artist might do with a pencil in their notebook: every building has edges that could first be translated into lines by typing exclamation marks for vertical or dashes for horizontal lines. Slanted edges such as rooftops could be typed with a slash or, if it is available, the backslash.
k_1What is the most difficult thing about creating a piece?
Maybe the most difficult part is simply getting a new picture started without knowing how much further work — sometimes weeks’ worth! — remains ahead until it is completed. To be honest it all depends on what the typist is aspiring to achieve in terms of the look of the piece. For instance, I like to type portraits to look as realistic as possible, and that just might be the most difficult thing for me… because if it doesn’t look the way I’m hoping for, I just start over again and again and again. I’ve learned to begin with the eyes, because I always want them to look perfect, and many times I’ve almost finished lovely portraits and then ruined everything typing in the eyes wrong.
a_1What brands of typewriters do you use?
My favourite typewriter is a Brother Deluxe 1300 that is actually already so broken that it can’t even be used to compose a letter, as every capital letter is out of place. Usually I like to stick to the typewriters of my homeland like those made by Continental or the so-called “Erika” typewriters from Saxony in Germany. It may not be obvious, but every typewriter has its own distinct typeface and so they aren’t all just interchangeable for different applications. I also enjoy using my Olympia Traveller with its Cyrillic typeface — the Russian alphabet has dense letters that can turn a lot of blank space black just by typing a single letter!
h_1Name your top 5 typewriter keys to use, and tell us why!
I can’t quite get it down to five, but here are seven of the keys I use the most: _ . – ! and ` for drawing outlines, and % and m fill space like nobody’s business. Ding!

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Images courtesy of Robert Dörfler

In accordance with State and Princeton University measures to contain the spread of coronavirus, the gallery of the Cotsen Children’s Library is closed until further notice, and our children’s programming as been suspended during this closure. Until our library reopens, the blog will post once a week. So every Tuesday, please check in to see what we’re up to…from story time projects to awesome interviews!

Teeter Tower

teeter tower

Balance the animals in a teetering, tottering tower…but will your stack stick the landing?

We read Chicken Cheeks, written by Michael Ian Black, and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Simon & Schuster, 2009). When a bear spots a honey-laden hive at the top of a very tall tree, he enlists a number of friends to attempt the reach it. The funny thing about this book, however, is that the narrative is driven by the…ah, alliterative body part each animal must balance on to stack upwards. Hence, “Chicken cheeks.” We’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

You’ll need:

  • An assortment of oatmeal containers, small boxes, and tubes
  • A selection of construction paper
  • A selection of eye stickers (optional)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

This project consists of a set of critters constructed out of tubes, boxes, and construction paper. We used eye stickers, but you can draw eyes on with markers as well. Any combination of animals will do, but here’s our story time stack:


MOOSE

The moose was the biggest and heaviest, and thus at the bottom of the stacking tower. This was a large oatmeal container wrapped in construction paper.

stack moose


DOG

This was a small box wrapped with paper. We went with a grey dog since there was already a lot of red and brown in the stack.

stack dog


TOUCAN

Our toucan was a round packing tape core, though a small box can easily be substituted. We used a cone water cup for the beak, but a cylinder of construction paper works as well. Feather crest optional!

stack toucan


POLAR BEAR

We decided to go easy with this one…the polar bear is a white craft box with a face. Done!

stack polar bear


TURKEY

Everyone’s surprise favorite was the turkey! It has a tape core body, but the tail is kids’ hands repeatedly traced onto construction paper. In other words, the classic kiddie turkey drawing, rendered in 3-D!

stack turkey


GIRAFFE

This is the same paper towel tube giraffe we created at our Don’t Rock the Boat story time. And if you want to add a tiger, turtle, parrot, ladybug, monkey, skunk, or elephant to your stack, you’ll find that post as well!

stack giraffe


BEE

By the time we got to the bee we were almost out of time. So I handed these to the kids almost fully constructed. They just had to add the pre-cut construction paper stripes (or draw them on with marker), choose a twisteez wire antennae, and stick the eyes on.

stack bee


Yes, this project was a lot of critter-building, but it was well worth the work. Especially when the artistic towers started growing taller and taller. Just look at this awesomeness!

Sleepless in the Southwest

sleepless in the southwestSettle down Southwestern critters! As the moon rises over the cacti in this lovely construction paper landscape, it’s time for the birds, animals, and reptiles to find their special spots. Turn off the lights, and your moon and stars glow in the dark!

glowing moon in the southwestWe read Bedtime in the Southwest by Mona Hodgson, illustrated by Renée Graef (Rising Moon, 2004). Twilight has come to the Southwest, and it’s time to go to bed. But is everyone ready? The little hare is hopping on his bed, the skunk appears to be ignoring Mama, and the porcupine is poking quills in his pillow in protest. But eventually, everyone scoots, snuggles, and nestles down to sleep.

You’ll need:

  • A large, flat piece of corrugated cardboard (ours was 22″ x 25″)
  • Dark blue poster board
  • Orange poster board
  • Brown, green, white, and gray construction paper
  • Several pieces of green self-adhesive foam for cacti (optional)
  • A southwest critter template color printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • Scissors, glue and tape for construction

This project was a step-by-step endeavor, as opposed to our more go-crazy-with-the-supplies-and do-anything-you-want projects (here’s looking at you, Roy). And while crazy art is fun, there’s also something soothing about methodical projects. That was definitely true of this project. It was very mellow. We even removed all the tables and chairs and worked in a big, relaxed circle.

working circleWe also prepped all the project items in advance, so it would be easier for the entire group to progress through the project together.

First, the backdrop boards! Glue a 7.5″ x 22″ piece of dark blue poster board to the top of the backdrop board. Then, cut mountain ridges in the top of a similarly-sized piece of orange poster board, overlap it a little with the blue poster board, and glue it in place. Glue a white card stock moon and stars to the night sky. Next up, your critter habitats!

sleepless in the southwestBut first, a word about the little pockets each critter gets tucked into. We had a ton of old archival mylar lying around, so we used that to create clear pockets. Overhead projector transparency sheets work too. But you can opt for non-transparent pockets and use good old construction paper. Also, your pockets needs a little wiggle room at the top for sliding the critters in and out. So leave 0.75″ of the pocket un-taped.

pronghornAs you can see, the pronghorn habitat is a small bump of brown construction paper with a pocket taped in front of it. Super easy! The coyote habitat is 3 brown dirt mounds, one cut to look like the entrance to a burrow. The pocket is taped behind one of the mounds.

coyoteThe roadrunner habitat is a big spiky green bush with a little construction paper nest in front of it (the pocket is under the nest). Then we we then covered the nest with (optional) brown raffia pieces.

roadrunnerThe gila monster habitat is 4 gray rocks, with the pocket behind 3 overlapping rocks.

gila monsterFor the hummingbird habitat, cut a branched tree trunk out of brown construction paper, then tape the pocket over a fork in one of the branches. Cut a tree canopy with a big hole in it, then glue it over the top of the tree trunk and the pocket, leaving plenty of room to slide the hummingbird in and out. The hare habitat is at the bottom of the tree. It’s a pocket covered by a fringed 6″ piece of green crepe paper (or just use construction paper).

hummingbird and hareFinally, the elf owl. Did you know that elf owls live in cacti? We wanted to capture that awesomeness, so Katie painstakingly cut holes in 2 dozen cacti. Tape the owl’s pocket directly to the board, slide the owl in the pocket, and then position the hole in the cactus directly over the owl’s face.

elf owlBecause you need to retrieve your owl, you only want to attach the bottom section of the cactus to the board. We used self-adhesive foam for our cacti, and solved the problem by leaving the paper backing on the top part of the cactus, but peeling and sticking the rest:

peeled cactusWe used self-adhesive foam for all our cacti. It gave them a terrific texture, and it was fun for the kids to peel and stick them wherever they wanted. But construction paper works too! At the very bottom of our background boards was a long mylar pocket to store the animals when they’re not tucked into their habitats. We slid some cool Southwestern patterned paper into the pocket too.

critters in bottom pocketYou might have noticed that we kept the names of the critters on our template cut outs. I also broke from tradition and presented them to the kids already colored in. That’s because we wanted the kids to see what the various Southwestern critters looked like, and to learn their names. However, if you’d like the same template in black & white, here it is!

critters with namesThe very last thing Katie and I did was go around with a bit of glow-in-the-dark paint and fill in their moon and stars. We also added optional shooting stars (by painting glowing lines behind one of the stars on the board).

painting the moon and starsAnd that’s it! I like to think that, later that night, little Southwestern landscapes were glowing softly across town as kids tucked the animals in and went to sleep. Goodnight, sweet Southwest.

glowing moon in the southwest