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

Ducky Discovery

What if you discover a duck in your fridge? What if you discover ducks all over your HOUSE? With this easy printable project and hilarious picture book, you can do just that!

We read Duck in the Fridge by Jeff Mack (Two Lions, 2014). When a little boy asks his Dad a bedtime question about a Mother Goose book, Dad recalls the time he was a kid and found a duck in the fridge. And how more ducks begin appearing in various rooms of the house. The crowd quickly expands to include sheep, dogs, cows…until NO ONE is getting any sleep! Finally, clever Dad contrives to read Mother Goose, which does the trick. Don’t miss the final page of the book. It will make you laugh out loud!

You’ll need:

  • A ducky discovery template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ paper
  • A couple toilet paper or paper towel tubes
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

Color and cut the ducks from the template, then tape them to snippets of toilet paper or paper towel tubes so they stand upright. Then hide the ducks in various parts of your house and wait for them to be discovered! Duck in the Closet…

Duck on the Pillow…

Duck in the Tub…

Annnnnnd Duck in the Studio (look carefully!)…

One Two Books

It’s a story line, an illustration exercise, and an optical illusion all wrapped into one simple project! “One Two Books” is an activity I like to do for Draw With Dr. Dana, our Zoom illustration program (you can sign up for it here)!

You’ll need:

  • 1 piece of paper
  • Markers and/or pens

To begin, fold a piece of paper in half like a card (I use the heavier stock 9″ x 6″ paper from the inexpensive sketch books Target sells in their office supply section). Label the front of the card with a number 1:

Then open the card and, in the exact same position in the interior, label it with a number 2:

Now decide the story you want to tell. One Two Books only have 2 pages, so I encourage kids to think about a simple action, reaction, or scenario. The younger the artist, the simpler it should be. So here we have a sleeping dog and a grumpy bird on a window sill…hmmm…

Flip open the card for the action…a shouting bird and a shocked, no longer sleeping dog!

One Two Books are a great way to think sequentially, but they are also a terrific way to teach you to think logically and visually. For example, in order for the image to work, the window, rug, and floor line need to occur in the same place on both pages. If color is used, it needs to be consistent between pages. Your characters need to be in somewhat similar orientations or the story won’t make sense. And for the older kids, I show how dialogue or emotive lines adds to the scene (example: the “zzzzz” for the dog on page 1, and its surprised reaction lines on page 2).

The books are also optical illusions! Flip them quickly open and shut to see your characters in motion. Here’s the bird dog story:


And here’s a goldfish story I did with another young illustrator…


The visual action of One Two Books are similar to thaumatropes, which are fantastic optical toys from the Victorian era. Check out this post, which features our awesome Alice in Wonderland thaumatrope project, complete with instructions and printable templates!

thaumatrope demo

Unlike thaumatropes, however, One Two Books allow you more space to create. You can have several action sequences happening on the page at once, for example. Or more elaborate backgrounds. You can have dialogue between two characters as well.

Another interesting storytelling form to try is kamishibai, which originated in Japan. You can find more information about its history and instructions on how to illustrate stories here.

just the cards

There’s also a Japanese version of thaumatropes called tachi-e puppets. You’ll find instructions for those here!