Meet typewriter artist Robert Doerfler

I met Robert Doerfler on Instagram a few days ago when I posted a photo of my old typewriter.He “liked” it and, as I didn’t know him, I checked out his account only to find out that he is a typewriter artist, based in Germany. To be honest, I had never heard of this art before, but I spent a good amount of time meticulously looking at his pictures. Then, I decided to interview him.

Robert, I discovered you on Instagram. Do you think social media open doors for artists? Is there a possibility that the constant exposure on a medium backfires?

Of course it does! Social media seem to be THE place for reaching a large audience within seconds. It is like shouting on a huge and busy market place. Some people will hear you scream and some will not. If your speech is interesting or inflammatory, they will probably listen and may talk about it later on. Unlike the experience on a real marketplace: the bigger the audience of the internet, the faster your posting will be forgotten.

I’ve once had an experience with a picture of a typewritten Karl Marx (my city was formerly called Karl-Marx-Stadt). It got more than 250,000 views within a day and just a couple days later, the count of views stumbled down to less than 5 a day. Nearly no talk and feedback. It was like throwing your work into a fan. It’s been awesomely spread, but it was gone with the wind right at the same time.

That’s why I like posting my work within a smaller audience now and let the followers take part in the whole process. It leads to interesting talks and the feedback keeps me going.

I wouldn’t call it a constant exposure of my art and myself. It’s more like a documentary of a big travel with companions.

How did you find out you were good at creating typewriter art?

I always liked drawing pictures using pixels or characters and one day I saw a video of the typewriter artist Keira Rathbone (the website will be available again soon). She was sitting there at some interview and she was typing the eye of the reporter. I just thought that I needed to try it too, but I failed awfully most of the time. I kept practicing as it felt like the logical path to me from doing ASCII-art before.

Since then, I have found a lot of artists around the world drawing with typewriters. Each of them got their very unique and recognizable style: Rachel Mulder, Leslie NicholsJorike van Werven, Mart Grisha, Lenka Clayton.

What is the process you follow? Is it rigid or you may sit down and improvise?

I wouldn’t call it rigid right now. It seems like improvisation each time I’m drawing something. Depending on the size and the amount of details, I need to do a draft, what the layout will look like. I usually put the drafts up on the wall in my working room and start typing. If it’s something easy with clear shapes and only few details, I just start typing (see the video below).

Anyway, I’m pretty clueless as to how to do it right because I haven’t learnt drawing nor painting at a university class. I’ve just picked up the basics two decades back, during my time at school. Luckily, we’ve had an awesome teacher in arts! That’s for sure!

What do you find particularly difficult in your art?

The missing undo or delete function. Each keystroke results to something that is there and can not be undone. If you make a mistake, you will have to deal with it, do some workaround or start over. That’s why typewriter-art is so thrilling and exciting for me; the more you’re working on a typewritten picture, the more unsure and excited you get about pressing another keystroke. You may ruin the whole thing in a second. The work of several days ruined within a blink of an eye.

How many typewriters do you own and which one is your favourite?

Currently I own five typewriters and I promised to my wife not to buy some more. :) There is one big Erika typewriter which was made back in the GDR (East Germany), one Princess 300 and three Brother Deluxe typewriters. My main machine is a Brother Deluxe 1300. It is a tiny portable and pretty precise machine and has all the features I like. Like the feature I call the “free mode” where you can freely move the platen and the carriage without having to deal with the horizontal and vertical alignments of the characters. Ah, and I need to mention the Smith Corona Calypso I once had. I made some typewritten typewriter on a sheet of paper, in a typewritten typewriter on a sheet of paper, in a typewritten typewriter (if you’re confused, look carefully the picture below) and sold the picture together with the real typewriter as a part of the artwork.

Is this a full-time job or something you do on your spare time?

I’m doing this in my spare time as I’m a UNIX Systems Administrator for a living.

Are your artworks available for sale?

Of course they are! All of the pictures I have drawn are for sale. Just because I don’t want to have them lying around in a portfolio when people would like to own the original to hang it up on their wall. Most of the time people just messaged me for commissions or were asking if they could buy a certain original. Just for the sake of trying to open a web store, I’ve opened one on Etsy and will add some works and prints every now and then.

Visitors to your website can buy T-shirts featuring your art. Are you considering to expand to other merchandise?

I’m currently searching for printing shops that could do some good prints of my pictures in various sizes and especially in a quality that I would like to buy them myself. I’m still searching, but I promise to keep people up-to-date when I have found a good one.

What would you consider your biggest achievements to be?

Oh, that’s difficult. I don’t really know what I could call a big achievement. I have won competitions with ASCII-art and even took part at an exhibition, but at the end it was just about showcasing your artwork to an audience and if they liked it, you may have won the competition. We spent the prize money on a nice dinner at a restaurant and the trophy itself is getting dusty downstairs in the basement.

I have played big concerts with several bands and could have been “proud” of even doing a vinyl release, but while looking back I just remember all the hassle and the stage fright. Ah, no! Well, I’m still searching for that one big achievement, that I could consider as good. I think it is just the challenge of drawing with the typewriter and the artistic drive that keeps me busy.

I think all the people I’ve meet and the good friends I’ve found walking that path of creating art, may have already been the biggest achievement one could reach.

Robert Döerfler standing by his work at TEXTMODE ART Exhibition 2015
Robert Döerfler standing by his work at TEXTMODE ART Exhibition 2015

Robert Doerfler is a part-time typewriter artist based in Chemnitz, Germany. He is a Systems Administrator by day and an artist by night, so beware of his slogan: “Hitting the typewriter is more important than any neighbors sleep!

You can connect with Robert Döerfler on: FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube and on his website.