Spotlight: Ricky Tims, Musician and Contemporary Quiltmaker
Ricky Tims never met a creative endeavor he didn’t fully embrace. This multi-talented artist – musician, art quilter, instructor, entertainer and, now, novelist – must have found a way to get more than 24 hours out of a day because he has welcomed each new passion without abandoning the others.
What did you do BQ (Before Quilting)?
Music was my original passion and it was part of my life from a very early age. I started formal lessons/training at the age of three. I was (and still am) a performing artist, producer, composer, conductor, and arranger. The music element blended with my quilting career and I perform for events around the world. Quilting didn’t enter my world until I was thirty-five years old, and I was forty-two when it became my career focus.
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How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
Creativity has lived inside of me since before I knew I was a “me”. The biggest surprise from it all was the teaching aspect. I never trained as a teacher, and yet for the past 20 years I’ve presented multi-day seminars, lecturing and entertaining groups from 200 -700. The hardest aspect for a creative such as myself is juggling creative time with administrative time and trying to find balance.
What inspires you to create?
That’s always a hard question because I don’t feel I’m “inspired” to create. I create because I have the passion to create—a need to create. The most successful endeavors are prompted by an ‘idea’ and if that idea takes root, then it can grow to an obsession until completed. After a mountain wildfire burned all of my my land, and nearly burned my home, I was sad. Being pensive I sat at the keyboard and composed. The results were healing and uplifting.
Thoughts of hope or strife or moments of light or darkness can all spur me toward the creative journey. But in the end, I have more inside of me than I will ever be able to get out. The key is to let the ’thing’ drive the vision, and for me to step back and facilitate the creative endeavor—so that it is not ‘mine’ but rather, a thing that needed to come into existence. I need to stay out of the way.
What prompted you to write fiction for the middle school to young adult age group?
My co-author, Kat Bowser, had the idea to create a children’s story that would get kids interacting with the typical quilting demographic and to generate additional ancillary products within the quilting industry that would appeal to youth. The bulk of dedicated quilters are 55 and older—who are committed to the art of quilting.
We wanted to inspire a new generation with the story. While it was originally going to be a small picture book, the idea grew into a self-sustaining novel that had a small quilting aspect to it. Lizzy Albright and the Attic Window isn’t about a quilt. The story is about bravery, courage, betrayal, and consequences. It empowers youth (especially girls) who might otherwise feel they are incapable or unimportant.
What sparked the story? Is there a real quilt behind it?
At a quilting convention, I shared the names of quilt blocks with Kat. She instantly thought of the names as characters in a story; Flying Geese, Bear Paw, Honey Bee, Scottie Dog, etc. That was the seed for the concept.
The “real quilt” is a quilt that I designed. I also designed the fabric for this nostalgic, 1930s depression era quilt, printed by Benartex and available in quilt shops. While the quilt in the story is a fictitious quilt from 1930, it has become ‘real’ because I’ve created it. The pattern book, Granny’s 1930 Sampler, and the Lizzy Albright fabrics are available so that quilters and youngsters can become connected to the quilt.
I should mention, the quilt in the story is a literary device. It is the catalyst that takes Lizzy from her 1964 world in Kansas to the Kingdom of Ailear where the main story takes place. It’s like the tornado in the Wizard of Oz. The tornado gets Dorothy from the farm to Oz – but the story is not about a tornado.
Was it a difficult stretch to write from the point of view of a 10-year-old? How did you get yourself into that frame of mind?
Kat started writing from her own point of view from her childhood in Overland Park, Kansas. Kat set the stage from her own experiences. The fantasy portion of the story is a collaborative synopsis, but I wrote much of that.
As crazy as it might seem, I was a dungeon master for a group playing Dungeons and Dragons during my college and post college years. So fantasy and make-believe worlds have been a part of my imagination for a long time. The combination of our combined life experiences led us along the journey of writing Lizzy Albright.
What are the joys and challenges of collaborating with a co-author?
It was very rare that Kat and I bumped heads on anything. We kept “the story” at the foremost of our minds…asking constantly—what is best for the story?
In a fantasy such as this, it was important for me to make sure everything seemed plausible…even if Lizzy rides on a goose—and living beings are turned to stone statues. I also wanted it to be a visual book, trying to walk a tightrope between overly descriptive – and not providing enough. I wanted the story to read like a movie! The hardest thing wasn’t our collaboration, but fitting the puzzle pieces together so that the twists we set up were delivered at just the right time and that there were no plotholes left in the story at the end.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Lizzy Albright & the Attic Window?
Since this is our first novel, it’s the only book to glean takeaways. The main takeaway comes from the title of the final chapter…Not Everything is as it Seems. Most of this story on the surface is fun and light – but it has a very dark side that is revealed.
Like life, sometimes we have to dig deeper to realize the value of an individual or to learn the benefit of a particular situation. For example, Lizzy encounters a creature who is very odd-looking and confusing, and yet she eventually comes to admire him and she trusts him as a protector. As mentioned earlier, empowerment is another key concept in the story.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
Truly – that made me laugh! When I’m in my creative space for quilting, it can get very cluttered during the work. I want to create. I don’t want to organize and clean. But when the thing is done – I tidy up the mess and get ready to make another one.
Regarding writing, I live very remotely in the mountains of Southern Colorado. Some days I would write in a small reading nook with a small fireplace. Other days, I chose the family room with the dogs lounging on the couch next to me. I floated around a lot to just be where I felt most comfortable on any given day.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
For music, my keyboard and the music recording and editing software are most critical. After playing and recording, I can go into the recorded file and rearrange or fine tune the performance.
For quilting, I have to have my sewing machine and fabrics, but the number one tool I must have is freezer paper—Reynold’s freezer paper. For quilters, it’s an amazing tool because it irons onto fabric (waxy side down), and then peels off without leaving residue—and it can be reapplied over and over. It allows for extremely accurate work when using templates…especially odd shape templates that are indicative of my contemporary art quilts.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
All of the above. Writing – mostly silence…although there are times that I allow nebulous, drifting, super-soft ambient music in the background.
For quilting, usually the TV, showing a documentary of sorts, so I don’t have to look up. The narrative carries the message and I absorb the information by listening…only looking up when necessary. Audiobooks are good quilting companions, but I mostly listen to those when traveling. When composing and arranging music – nothing can be on distracting me.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
My website is www.rickytims.com. There is a contact us link there to assist in getting connected and it provides some information. For email: [email protected]. Keep in mind, all of my 2020 events have been postposed to 2021 due to Covid 19. Doing live, in-person events will continue to be challenging for a while. I’m technical, so online options are a good choice. I do need to mention www.lizzyalbright.com for those wanting all things Lizzy.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
TOTALLY IMPROVISER! If I were to create a quilt, for example, in the computer, then I’ve already made all the creative decisions. Making that thing that is already now created becomes ‘work’. For me, I start with an idea/concept and let it grow and build. Yes, I may have to create a road map for various elements, but I want the thing to be what it wants to be. The more I plan, the more I am in control, and the less the thing gets to be what it wants to be. Being in charge never yields the best results for me.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
At the present, I would love a face to face with either Lin-Manuel Miranda or Lady Gaga. I admire both of them for their creativity and human spirits. There is a great gift that we get to receive on the surface, but I feel with each of them there is a connection to something much deeper. It’s how I think—and how I operate, too—so I feel there would be a good connection and honest exchange of ideas.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
People have within themselves the ability to do more than they ever imagined. But they fight against time, self-doubt, and lack of confidence. There may be demons from their past that moulded their views of themselves. Yes, to some it comes easier – and to others, it might take more work. But the sky is the limit for those who want to reach for the stars. I believe in the unbelievable and will always reach for the impossible.
What do you learn about who you are through your creative endeavors?
I learn to problem solve. I learn patience. I grow with confidence. I have come to know who I am in one word…Creative.
Tell us about a time when you truly stretched yourself as an artist.
Writing Lizzy Albright! Because I’ve never written fiction. I’ve written articles, and how-to books. To create a story that had literary substance and would be fun, engaging, and hopefully have legs for years, was a huge challenge. Kat and I worked well together to get the pieces put in place. To finish this undertaking was a huge challenge. I hope those reading will forgive the few novice mistakes, but also be impressed that we pulled it off. I do know a good book—and while I may be biased— this is a good book.
How do you keep all the balls in the air? Is there one you wish you could drop? Which one will you never give up?
Wow – tough question. The year 2020 has been horrendous for someone like myself and my business. I keep the balls in the air because I have help. There is no creative endeavor I would want to let go. It would be like asking to give up an eye or a foot. They are all part of me. I will always pursue whatever creative vision that presents itself. I might find it hard to move forward because of the ‘juggling act’, but the vision will stay on the table as something to accomplish. So I will prioritize what I feel has to be done—and do that first.
Interview published October 2020
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