If you spend a lot of time writing at a computer, you’ll discover that it doesn’t take long for keyboards to wear out. The average prolific writer can go through at least one of them per year, and some professionals end up using two or three because of how often they hit the keys.
Once the keyboards wear out or stop working, they enter the local trash stream in that person’s community. When they go through the recycling process, it’s possible for some units to get turned into another computer peripheral.
Erik Jensen wants to make sure that everyone knows a keyboard doesn’t need to go to the local landfill. He takes a creative approach to the recycling effort, turning the keys from worn-out units into impressive art displays.
Jensen Doesn’t Let His Disability Hold Him Back
Jensen experiences hearing challenges that make it difficult to approach some careers. After trying his hand at a few jobs, he settled on trying to create art in 2017 after graduating with a BS degree in Art Education from Utah Valley University.
As he explored what was possible, Jensen quickly discovered that recycled keyboards could get turned into interesting works of art. He says that he was inspired by technology, starting the creative process by using the keys to create pixelation. Since that discovery, he’s used over 135,000 individual keys from old keyboards to create impressive pieces.
Producing a mural from recycled keyboards is far from an easy process. It takes up to three months for Jensen to create a single work that is show-ready for display.
The first step is to prepare the keys for the mural. Jensen says that he pops them off of the keyboard and washes them since you never know what could be lurking underneath the plastic.
Once the items are clean, he starts the coloring process. Jensen uses a particular dye recipe that alters the color of the key itself without changing the characters. That means you can still see the condition of the product without it being hidden or smudged.
He tries to use the original colors whenever possible, which is why you find black, white, and gray tones dominating his work. When he needs other colors, he’ll use the proprietary dyeing process to create shades of blue, green, purple, red, and yellow.
Jensen Creates Art in Multiple Sizes
Jensen says that the size of his work is based on the design that he wants to create. Most of his custom pieces start at 1,000 keys, creating a retail price of approximately $1,100. Some of his smaller works only contain 400 units, but those items are typically reserved for personal projects.
When the art requires more detail, Jensen expands the mural’s size to accommodate the keys so that they display colors correctly. The size also depends on the availability of different frame types so that the product remains stable.
Perhaps the most unique element of Jensen’s keyboard art is how he charges people for it. Writers use a per-word flat-rate scheme to stay in business, while the artist charges for each key included in the piece. Although the price varies based on the type included, the average is about $1.15 per key.
With the various colors, shapes, and variations he includes with his keyboard art, the pieces look realistic even though you know it was made with recycled materials. Jensen has produced pieces from iconic national park images, animal shapes, and even the Statue of Liberty.
Jensen Says His Skills Are Your “Type” of Art
Since Jensen was born deaf, he says that art is his first language. He’s taught high school classes but found that his love for creating something new from something old came from a college class. His professor challenged everyone to take items that people didn’t want and turn them into something desirable.
That’s when Jensen discovered the idea of using computer keys as an art medium. He had a few from an old computer keyboard lying around, so he created a face that was coming out of a monitor.
The results intrigued him enough to experiment with different methodologies using old keyboards. At first, he was only using the natural color keycaps. Once he figured out the unique dyeing process, his work took off globally.
The pixelation concept is on a larger scale than what you’d see on a computer, but it doesn’t stop Jensen from creating realistic prints. He continues to work out of his studio in Salt Lake City.