An artist who used a typewriter to create a portrait of Tom Hanks has said he was “blown away” when the artwork was signed by the actor.
James Cook, 25, from Braintree, Essex, creates “typicitions”, or typed-depictions, using a random assortment of letters, numbers and punctuation marks to form an image using a typewriter.
Mr Cook sent a portrait to the Oscar-winning actor, who is a fellow typewriter enthusiast, but admitted he “forgot about it” until he received an unexpected letter in the post.
“I appeared on a US programme called The Kelly Clarkson Show back in November 2020 and I was asked to do a portrait and they would have to guess who the celebrity was,” Mr Cook told the PA news agency.
“Tom Hanks had previously been a guest on the show and I said ‘you know he collects typewriters’ and they said they would have rescheduled his interview with mine if they had known.
“I thought I’d give it a shot and sent him the print of his portrait with a type-written letter explaining my profession, but after that I completely forgot about it.
“I was blown away when I got my print returned with his autograph and a short message.”
The message handwritten by Hanks, who reportedly owns more than 120 typewriters, read: “To James Cook. This is super! Tom Hanks.”
Mr Cook said he was inspired to first attempt typewriting art after he discovered the work of American artist Paul Smith while he was researching for his art A-level.
Despite producing art since 2014, his first work consisted predominantly of celebrity portraits and drawings of the cast of the BBC series Doctor Who, and it was not until January 2020 that he began to get noticed.
The architecture graduate has since gained more than 20,000 followers on Instagram and has produced 200 pictures of celebrities, landscapes and musicians.
Mr Cook now creates his unusual artworks as a full-time job at his studio in Trinity Buoy Wharf, east London, where people can visit to see his work and view his collection of close to 40 typewriters.
“I’ve only ever had to buy four typewriters and the rest, I think I now have close to 40, have been given to me by people who have heard about my work,” Mr Cook said.
“I was given one typewriter by a lady who used to work at Buckingham Palace and she was a private clerk to the Queen.
“She told me she estimated that she’d written somewhere between 17,000 to 20,000 letters and when she retired she decided to take her typewriter as a leaving present.
“She saw my work and got in contact with me to give me her typewriter and I did a portrait for her of the Queen.”
On average, one A4 work of art can take Mr Cook up to five days to complete and the larger pieces are formed of smaller strips of paper pieced together.
Mr Cook’s next exhibition from July 14 to August 17 at The Moot Hall in Maldon, Essex, will include the portrait of the Queen alongside the artwork signed by Hanks.
“What’s really nice about this job is that it’s not just the work that’s interesting, but also the backstories behind the people that have a connection to typewriters,” Mr Cook said.
“The slogan I use for my work is ‘a picture worth a thousand words’ because each drawing not only is a random assortment of letters, numbers and punctuation marks puzzle-pieced together, but I will also hide messages for the viewer to find when looking at the drawing up close.”
To find out more about Mr Cook’s artwork, visit www.instagram.com/jamescookartwork/