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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Paul Smith, Typewriter Artist

The Old Mill, Paul Smith
Something over fifty years ago, I did one of the smartest things I've ever done in life. I took a high school course in typing. That doesn't sound so remarkable in today's computer age, but at the time, it was something fifteen-year-old high school sophomores boys seldom did. I was one of only two, maybe three boys in a class with about fifteen girls. The other boys all took shop or agriculture classes instead. Quite apart from the highly attractive male/female ratio, typing was probably the most valuable skill I learned in high school (there were no art classes). In business college, after high school, I took another typing course to improve my speed (up to fifty words per minute). A year or so after that, upon joining the U.S. Air Force, I'm sure my "robust" typing skills played a part in landing me in USAFSS (air force intelligence). There it was almost like being a civilian with neat, clean, safe, and secure duties in Alaska and at Fort Meade, Maryland, rather than sweating out (both literally and figuratively) the Vietnam war in Southeast Asia. Later, in college, I learned to think and type at the same time all the written words demanded of an art education major. (A skill I still employ today.)
Paul Smith, Self-portrait. All this without a drop of Wite-Out.
Paul Smith, ca. 1940s
Paul Smith learned to type at about the same age as I did, although the year was about 1936. Paul was a man with extraordinary talent as an artist. He was born in Philadelphia on September 21, (also my birth date) only about 24 years earlier (1921) which would have made him about the same age as my mother. Paul was born with severe cerebral palsy, yet he beat all the odds. The life expectancy for cerebral palsy sufferers is roughly thirty to sixty years. Paul died in 2007 at the age of eighty-six. Cer-ebral palsy is a disability that impedes speech, small muscle control, and mo-bility. As a teenager, when Paul found himself unable to hold, or control a pencil, he taught himself to draw using a typewriter. He gradually became quite a master of the machine. Paul was not in any way mentally impaired. He was also a chess master despite having been devoid of a formal education as a child.
Paul Smith's surprisingly accurate Mona Lisa. Only in close-up detail (right), is one aware of Smith's unconventional art tool.
In typing, Paul used his left hand to steady his right hand. Since he couldn't press two keys at the same time, he almost always locked the shift key down and made his pictures using the symbols at the top of the number keys. His pictures were based on the characters, @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) _ . As his mastery of the typewriter improved, Paul developed techniques to create shadings, colors, and textures allowing his work to resemble pencil or charcoal drawings (fresh typewriter ink smears easily). Today, the extraordinary art of Paul Smith, all created on a typewriter, is now known all around the world.
Paul Smith was fond of drawing animals and famous celebrities
with his typewriter.
During the 1940s, Paul's family moved to Hollywood, Florida. He never married or had children. In 1967 Paul entered the retirement facility of Rose Haven in Roseburg, Oregon, where he lived until his death. The video (bottom) was made there in 2004 shortly before age (but not his infirmity) forced him to give up his art. The captures far better than words (mine or anyone else's) the dogged determination of an artist that, in itself, is as inspiring as his art.

Collie, Paul Smith
My Pet, "Fifi", Paul Smith

Click above to watch Paul at work.


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