Alice (Terrell 1904) by Leslie Nichols

A Process Note

In the series Textual Portraits, images of contemporary women emerge from historic words. The work begins with a photograph of a woman, often a scholar, artist, or student, who has made an impression on me. Based on our interaction and my knowledge of the woman, I find a historic text with a meaningful relationship to her life or work.

With image and text prepared, I begin typing. A manual typewriter is my primary medium as a visual artist. I use this early tool of secretaries to craft images of women with words. The typewriter, a machine with a gendered and technological history, is a cue to a developing metaphor and conversation through time. Alluding to the idea that our lives are the creations of our minds and social construction, portraits materialize from the typed text.

As I layer words to create a portrait, I balance literary meaning with the visual character of letterforms. Portions of the text remain readable, although at times unusual due to irregular spacing. Most of the excerpts and history become obscured as an image appears and words transform into visual material embedded with literary content.

Leslie Nichols uses a variety of found and original text to create visual imagery. Her experiments with text and image led to an NEA Studio Residency Grant from Women’s Studio Workshop where she created her first letterpress prints. Additional granting organizations include the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation, the American Association of University Women, and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. Her work is in public collections, including the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, the Evansville Museum, and Liquitex Artist Materials. Notable publications featuring her work include Typewriter Art: A Modern Anthology (2014) and The Art of Typewriting (2015). For further information, visit