I’ve done my best not to play favorites with the artists I’ve interviewed - but with Tim, I just can’t help myself. I am a novice bookbinder and a librarian - Tim is a book artist and has a love of libraries that is irresistible to me. In fact, his relationship to libraries is strong and goes back to his childhood. Libraries (and librarians) shaped his reading habits, satiated his deep curiosity of the world, taught him how to problem-solve, and allowed him to study the physical attributes of the book. Exploring the library also got him into a bit of trouble with a teacher when he was in grade school. After “getting caught” in class with a science fiction book with a racy cover - a genre that was not acceptable to his 3rd grade teacher - he was henceforth banned from the sci-fi section of the library. Although his public librarian complied with the ban, I doubt it was willingly since she was the one who led him to the science fiction section in the first place!
Another reason I couldn’t help favoring Tim is because he lives in Colfax, which is in southeastern part of Washington state and just up the road in from Pullman, my place of birth. For most people this might not be a big deal, but for me it was a very big deal because I hadn’t been there since I was very small. It’s also in a part of Washington that is far off the beaten track. Even though Pullman is home to Washington State University, and it is a true college town with virtually everything in the town connected to the university in some way or another, there is no major freeway or interstate going through there. It is a very beautiful area and a number of people do come through to see The Palouse - a region that covers a large swath of land in Eastern Washington and western Idaho and is filled with beautiful rolling hills covered with wheat and various legumes - but this is not a high traffic tourist center. When Tim and I were setting up the interview over email he wrote that he was in the far reaches of Eastern Washington, nowhere near Seattle.... "Don’t worry," I happily assured him, "I know exactly where you are."
While I was traveling around Washington in August they were experiencing major fires all over the state. Not only did it break my heart, but the air was terrible. It was at its worst when I was in Pullman. The morning I went to go meet Tim it looked and felt like the apocalypse; the sky was darkened with smoke, no one was on the street, and it was eerily quiet. There was a split second of thinking - did the world end and someone forget to tell me? When I arrived at Tim’s house he took me up to his attic studio where we would conduct our interview. He was in the process of giving me a tour when his wife Ann popped up and told us to look outside. I had been only vaguely aware that it had gotten windy outside (Tim’s studio is a bit of a cocoon) but didn’t think much of it. When we looked outside it we were amazed: it was so windy that pine cones and various other sorts of debris were being blown sideways. That mixed with the smoke - well, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it. We even joked about it at the start of our interview and referred to the apocalyptic feel of mayhem outside.
Tim’s studio is located in the attic of his beautiful Victorian house. The staircase leading up there is lined with books, artwork, and guitars, which is just an introduction for all of the fun things that await you. The attic has lots of angles and nooks and crannies, as Victorians often do, and provides an effect that is fitting for this room full of wonders. This room is home to three generations of tools, bottles of inks and dyes, decades of sketchbooks and artwork, flat files of papers and other book-making materials, cabinets full of curiosities. It was a feast for the eyes and senses! I took many pictures, but I’m not sure I have the capability of capturing the true magic I felt when I was there.
I have been advised by several oral historians that and hour to an hour and a half was about what most people could handle per interview session. After interviewing 20 people I found that to be true - with just a couple of exceptions. Tim was one of them. The three hours of recorded interview only represents a portion of our day together. After an hour of poking around his studio we recorded about an hour and a half session, went for a lovely lunch and coffee break with his wife, and then went back for another hour and a half session. It was a truly awesome day and I was awed by his interview stamina.
This is not the only reason Tim is a dream oral history narrator. He is also a born storyteller and has an amazing ability to weave a memory into a narrative that included great detail. He could begin a story, tell a little side story to give more detail, and then come right back to the original story without my prompting. He can also recall names of people, events, and locations that have had important influences on him and his work. That librarian from his childhood that introduced him to science fiction? Her name was Lilian Trapp, in case you were wondering.
On making art
Artist and art critics alike spend a lot of time discussing the process of making art - what goes into it, challenges, on and on. And of course I have great interest in discussing these matters with artists and there is plenty to say. Many artists agonize over the creative process and can often turn the simplest of tasks into a complex puzzle. (I’m speaking from experience here….) However, he described the art-making process like this: “Sometimes [making art] is hard and sometimes it’s not.” I just loved the simplicity of that statement. Because it’s true of so many things and of life in general, just boiled down to an essence. I try now to remember this when things feel hard - right now it’s hard, but it won’t always be, so keep working.
His thoughts on inspiration also resonated with me. Tim shared that over the course of his career he has trained inspiration to show up, but then once it does it’s ungovernable. This made me see inspiration and creativity like a partnership, we provide the space for it to come, but then the ideas and the things that are created from it may not be what we expected and we may just simply have to follow it to see what happens.
Tim began developing his skills as an artist at an early age. He would draw with pencils and ballpoint pens on any surface or materials that were accessible to him, including school notebooks, paper bags, or scrap pieces of paper. These rudimentary materials were used not because he was impoverished, but because this was what was available to him in his remote hometown of Snohomish, Washington where there were no art supplies stores. So, he used the materials that were on hand and easily available to him; he was a driven young artist - nothing would stop him and he would use whatever was in arm’s reach to make art. These experiences also helped him to develop a reverence for fine tools and supplies. He remembers with great affection when his mother purchased an expensive fountain pen for him when he was a teenager.
These experiences also developed a philosophy about materials and creating art - Tim still likes to use whatever crosses his path. Even as a successful artist who has access to plenty of fancy supplies and materials, you are just as likely to see a weird plastic toy as you are sheets of expensive paper. And dirt has been incorporated in the covers of his books. I interviewed him right after I interviewed Leo Adams, who is another artist that doesn’t get hung up on buying and expensive materials. Both Tim and Leo enjoy bringing new life into old objects and have the ability to see striking beauty in everyday things. They both provide lessons in paying attention to your surroundings, what comes across your path, and always looking to see things in a beautiful light.
I did my best to capture the magic of his studio...