Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Interview with artist Tim Clary

Tim Clary, who enriches Julia Kay's Portrait Party with his impressive ink drawings, is going to teach his first portrait class this summer...

Kai: Would you tell me a little about yourself, your education, your profession?

Tim: I studied graphic design at the School of Art & Design at Alfred University. The first year there consisted of a fairly rigorous Foundation program that exposed me to many different mediums and approaches to art from traditional drawing, painting and sculpture to some pretty out there conceptual work. It was kind of an artistic bootcamp which I was more or less totally unprepared for! I did a few more drawing courses my sophmore year before focusing on graphic design.

A few years ago I got the bug to get back to the traditional drawing that originally drove my interest in art and I've been at it ever since.

Kai: I've read that you are a ski instructor and a race coach. What's the difference between these jobs?

Tim: Instructing is teaching casual skiers usually in single lessons, whereas coaching is training a team of competitive athletes over the course of an entire season. I grew up ski racing in high school and college (Slalom and Giant Slalom) so once I started instructing I had always hoped I'd be able to coach a team. I got that opportunity at Hunter Mountain, working first with the 7-10 year old kids for two seasons before moving up to the J1-2 division (15-19 year olds).

Kai: What are you doing in the summer season?

Tim: I try to keep myself busy. I do freelance design and illustration work and I'll be teaching my very first art class later this summer.

Kai: What will you teach your students? Are there any “main skills” one should learn?

Tim: I’m going to try and give my students a solid foundation of skills to be able to capture an accurate, realistic portrait, achieving a likeness and a sense of life and spirit. I’ll be covering things like proportion, understanding the planes of the head, measuring and sighting techniques, rendering tone and value, as well as color theory and basic painting techniques.

Kai: What have you learned from your art teachers?

Tim: I don’t think I had any idea of the breadth and scope of ‘Art’ until I went to college. I was exposed to so much that I never would have discovered on my own. In addition my best teachers always challenged me to push myself further and to work through difficulties.

Kai: Are there any parallels in teaching drawing and skiing?

Tim: I think so. For many people who see a beautiful painting or a great athlete it looks like magic, that they have some great ‘natural ability’. I think that’s a bit of a myth. Both drawing and athletics require disciplined study of fundamental skills and dedicated work at building on those skills. I think anyone can draw and anyone can’s a question of whether or not you are willing to put the work in.

Kai: What is your main interest in drawing portraits?

Tim: Portraits are fascinating! No two faces are alike and it's a real challenge to try to capture the essence of a person.

Kai: On your flickr photostream you also show figure drawings, mandalas, giraffes, urban landscapes, abstract comics, collages. Where do you get your ideas from?

Tim: Ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere. Things I read, things I see, music I hear, etc. The best advice I can give to any artist is to keep a sketchbook handy and keep an eye out for inspiration. I mostly draw from life or from photographs. Some of the more abstract work are experiments to get me out of my comfort zone and are usually reactions to seeing another artist's work.

Kai: What artists do you think have influenced you most in your way of drawing portraits?

Tim: My initial entry into art was through comics and I still love many of the artists who work in that medium. Artists like Paul Pope and Charles Burns (his portraits for the Believer magazine, in particular) who work in ink are very influential. From the Portrait Party I particularly enjoy the work of N.C. Mallory, Wally Torta, Marty Harris and Nicole Little among many others.

Kai: You got your motto from Ibn Arabi, an andalusian sufi mystic and philosopher, who lived 800 years ago. He said "If you engage in travel, you will arrive." What does this slogan mean to you?

Tim: I think ‘engage’ is the key word in that line. We are all on a journey in this life. But I think only those who truly work to engage in that journey, to see and understand the world and to work towards their objectives will ever get there.

Kai: How does drawing (e.g. portraits) help to see and understand the world?

Tim: I think really studying another person's face will hopefully give you some insight into who they are. More specifically, doing portraits for Julia Kay’s group has brought me into contact (at least virtually) with a vast community of artists from all over the world. The feedback and encouragement I’ve received from you all has been invaluable.

Kai: Did you already “arrive”?

Tim: No, and I don’t know whether I will be able to say if I have or not until after I’m dead and gone! I like to think that on my best days I’m getting a little closer though.

Kai: Is it just a coincidence that your motto originates from the middle ages, or does your interest in the middle ages go deeper?

Tim: That quote is the epigraph to the video artist, Bill Viola's retrospective book, Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House: Writings 1973-1994 and while my copy of that book is long since lost...the quote has hung with me. Most of my sketchbooks have it written on the inside cover...kind of an inspirational (aspirational?) motto, I suppose.

I've never looked into Arabi beyond that quote, although I do wonder about him sometimes...

Link to Tim's portrait class

Link to Tim's ink portraits on flickr

Link to Tim's blog Escape Hatch


  1. Thanks both for this great interview! I wish I could attend the classes that Tim will give this summer!!

  2. Great interview and great set of portraits. It was interesting to learn about all the different kinds of teaching Tim engages in and the different influences on his art.

  3. great interview. thanks for sharing.

  4. Awesome portraits! Great interview =)