Timothy Joe lives life of an artist

Photographs by Joshua Berry

Timothy Joe is a mechanical engineer with a wife and children. After work and family time, however, after tucking his children into bed, Joe works hours into the night on what he said is his true passion: soft pastels and acrylic and oil paints.

Joe often uses nostalgia to bring meaning to his artwork. He creates images of places and objects that remind him of his and others’ childhoods and special moments. An example of such a place is a small area in his parents’ backyard, where he spent a great deal of his childhood playing. Objects he uses as a focus are often old, like weathered buildings and forgotten, rusted items – things many would overlook. He uses objects that have meaning if he can, like a rose from his mother’s garden.

“I want people to see this ordinary thing that they probably walk past all the time, and I want them to stop and take another look at it – the more ordinary the better,” Joe said.

One of his greatest accomplishments was when someone who knew his artistic process showed a picture of and described their grandmother’s porch: what they did, what they ate, what they felt. The vivid description fueled inspiration, and the result was an emotional one. The grandmother whose porch he recreated cried at the sight of it. She was given the ability to hang her memory on the wall to forever be reminded.

Many of the people who buy Joe’s work buy it for the personal connections they make with the pieces. “The ones that sell the fastest are those ones that people have that strange connection to, where somebody is like, ‘I remember something like this from my youth’ – and that’s what makes it amazing,” he explained.

Joe said it is difficult for him to let go of many of his personally-inspired pieces. “I feel sad because I kind of want to keep my work, but I know I need to sell it, too, because that’s what keeps it going. There are times when I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to sell this,’ but they want it so bad. The ones that are really special to me, the ones I hope don’t sell, those are the ones that go,” he said with a laugh.

Some artists amend giving away personalized art by duplicating the same piece. Joe said he did this at first but soon stopped. “All artwork is unique,” he said. “Once you make something, you can’t recreate it. It’s like lighting hitting the same place twice. Your mindset is different, too. You might run into the pitfall of needing to make it exactly like the first one and not letting the new have its own personality and its own voice. You’re too busy trying to clone it, and I think art doesn’t like to be cloned, in my opinion. It likes to be what it is. It makes it original, and you can say, ‘Hey, I made this special for you, and there’s nothing like it on the planet.’ It feels good to say that.”

The connections people make with Joe’s artwork surface in other ways, as well. Not only do they connect with the scenes or focal objects, they also connect to his process of creating the artwork.

“I do plein air painting, which is painting outdoors, and it’s fun to see people’s reactions. I’m just painting something, and older people come by, little kids come by, just to see what I’m doing. I think art draws people like that,” Joe said. “I was at a family vacation in Gulf Shores and on a beach doing a pastel painting, and people were just in awe, like, ‘This guy is painting on the beach!’ And they just came around like, ‘Sir, I don’t mean to bother you. I just want to see what you’re doing.’” He invited his onlookers to watch him create his pieces and openly answered questions about his mediums and his life as an artist.

Joe spent his earlier years as an artist using paint but eventually transitioned to soft pastels as his primary medium. Switching between the mediums is not just about his preference of the day. Each medium is used with purpose, Joe explained.

“It depends on the subject matter,” he said. “There are some things I think look better if I make them into oil paintings instead of pastels, but when something needs to be colorful, and I want it to really scream light at you… It’s also a touching thing. It’s not just color only. It’s the feeling you get when you open (pastels) up, and you just pick out the ones you want.

“I have to be more careful with the oil paintings. It’s almost like brain surgery. If I don’t put this brush in the right place at the right time, it’s over. You’re going to lose your patience. But with pastels, it is like having fun, like opening up a box of crayons. There’s very little stress in it.”

Joe said the stress he feels using paints can, at least partially, be attributed to his engineer brain. “I’ve learned that my style with oil paints, I get too technical. I love doing it, but it’s still nerve-wracking.”

Joe is proof that being an engineer does not mean an incapacity for creativity. While his technical tendencies might sometimes get in the way of becoming absorbed in the work, he has found a way around it. For him, it was a specific medium. Painting strikes something deep in Joe. While he values his career as an engineer, his soul is in his artwork.