Keira Rathbone types out an artwork at the Sharjah festival. She started seeing letters as shapes and textures 20 years ago. Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: A Londoner who creates art using letters, numbers and symbols typed on an old-fashioned manual typewriter showcased her works during demonstrations at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival.

Keira Rathbone uses a manual typewriter that she discovered in a charity store to create drawings. When the typewritten characters are placed closely together, the resulting artwork appears like pen-and-ink drawings from a distance, with the typewritten characters becoming visible to the viewer only when observed up close.

Her portfolio includes cityscapes and skylines, street views, portraits, including those of celebrities, nature - and even typewriters themselves.

During the Sharjah festival, Rathbone exhibited her works, which included depictions of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai skyline, and the Al Wasl Dome in Expo City Dubai. Her rendition of the world’s tallest tower required 10 hours to complete.

Samples of her work on exhibit at SCRF 2023 Image Credit: Supplied

“I use an old manual typewriter, using the characters and visualising them as shapes and textures. When I’m studying a subject, I plan which characters to use. For example, for drawing an eye, I use brackets, underscores, and hyphens,” she said.

“Typewriter art allows me another way of expression, of freedom from words, while using letters at the same time, when I first started seeing them as shapes and textures 20 years ago. The limitations of using this form of art also helped me push against it.”

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Going with the flow

The artist, who conducted live art demonstrations at the festival, noted that her creative process is highly spontaneous.

“I just go with the flow. If it’s a street scene, for instance, I’ll find the angle, sit down in the street on a chair and start typing the buildings. Then I look for the transient elements; the people, vehicles, anything that’s entering the scene, the changing lights and shadows, the clouds etc.”

The most complex piece she has created is a myriad of wrist-watch mechanics in an “exploded” view, with every individual part presented in its beauty. “Portraits can also be quite challenging to get right, but I also feel that it doesn’t need to be as perfect as a photo.

“At the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, I’ve been capturing the general scenes, the people and a collection of moments in one-hour sessions, and it’s been quite a novel experience,” Rathbone said.