Funny you should ask ... Tim Gamble

Do you have any hobbies?

As far back as I can remember, I was always doing something, staying busy with this, that, or the other. I never stood still long enough to get bored. The truth is, though, I was never really good at anything. My older brother by contrast was good at everything. My father would take us to the hobby shop and ask us to pick out a new project to work on, mostly from the vast wall of model airplanes. My brother would select some the most complicated projects. He would be so meticulous as he read the instructions and followed each of them to the letter. Me, not so much. My brother would, in the end, create these perfectly constructed replicas of whatever was shown on the box it came in, including all the decal graphics and paint schemes. My projects looked like they’d been involved in some horrible crash. He wasn’t just good at building model airplanes, he was exceptional at everything he ever did, school, music, scouting, crafts, you name it he stood alone without peers. I say this because he set a high bar for me that I could, in no way, reach or even come close to reaching. We were complete opposites. My natural talent was to create something out of nothing. I was more likely to create something out of the box it came in than I was to construct the model airplane. My mother recognized this about me early on and steered me to more artistic and creative activities like drawing, painting, and sculpting.

Although I was more Grandma Moses than Andy Warhol, I would come up with a few noteworthy pieces every now and again. I was 8 years old and in the 3rd grade at Kachina Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona. I was sitting in my weekly art class. The assignment was to make a colorful drawing on a piece of manila paper. The teacher then poured hot melted crayons on the surface of each paper, hiding the original drawing, she then smoothed out the molten crayon with a cloth and a hot iron. After the paper cooled down, we were instructed to etch out a new drawing with a safety pin revealing some of the underlying colors from the original artwork. Some of the projects were really quite remarkable. I especially liked the drawing of a rose that one of the girls in the class had done. I didn’t think my project was anything special, just another one of my crash landings. I chose to draw the likeness of a palm tree that was just outside the window of the classroom. At the end of the session the teacher collected all the assignments for grading, and I never gave it a second thought. A few months later the art teacher handed my project back to me. It had a second-place ribbon on it from the Children’s Art Fair at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Wow, who knew?

When I was 11 and in the 6th grade at Hopi Elementary, I was in art class, and was given the assignment to take a length of bus wire and bend it into a sculpture. I decided to fashion a baseball player in a batting stance. I worked that wire into a big ugly mess. It certainly had no resemblance to a baseball player with a bat, but I did learn something from my first attempt at wire sculpture. I learned that I should use a lot less wire and only try to capture the essence of the movement and leave the rest to the imagination of the beholder. I had a little bus wire left over as well as half the class time, so I tried my hand again. This time I sculpted a man walking. I used the bare minimum of wire necessary to accomplish the job. I used a small block of wood and a thumbtack to mount it. I turned in both the projects at the end of class and like before I never gave it another thought. A few months later I saw my project, my walking man, in the art room with a 3rd place ribbon from the Children’s Art Fair at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Again, wow, who knew?

The next year the school ran a contest to draw a mascot for our school. We were the Hopi Hawks. By then I had taken a few years of watercolor instruction at the William B. Schimmel Art Studio in Scottsdale. I painted a hawk landing with its talons open ready to capture its prey. It took me most of the night to finish. I turned it in the next morning with all the other entries. I didn’t win the contest. A simple cartoon drawing of a hawk carrying a lightning bolt took the honors. The art teacher came up to me later and said, “Your painting was by far and away the best work, but it would be impossible to put on a school uniform.” “Probably so,” I said. “I have something else that may interest you though. I’ve been telling some of my friends about you, and they would like to work with you and help you develop your artistic skills. What would you say to the idea of attending an art class one day a week at ASU?” After a bit of negotiation, I agreed. I found out I wasn’t the only kid living in his right brain. It was quite an experience. I learned to see the world in a different way, without boundaries.

Art to me is inherently introspective. While creating the outward manifestation of your work, you’re subconsciously, unknowingly having a conversation with yourself. The end product can be as surprising to the artist as it is to the beholder. More often than not when I’m “in the zone,” the final results have no resemblance to the original idea. You trust yourself and go where your instincts take you. By the time I started my freshman year in high school I could draw, I could paint, I could sculpt. I could express my world in my own unique way. I continued taking classes in art, crafts, drawing, and design throughout my years in high school and college. In the end I still couldn’t color between the lines, but it no longer mattered. I had a style of my own.

My mother introduced me to origami, the art of Japanese paper folding, when I was about 9 years old. Unlike my experience with building model airplanes, I did read and follow the instructions, mostly because the instructions were all in pictures but still my dear brother would have been proud. It was fascinating to me that you could turn a 6-inch square piece of paper into so many different things. I only bring this up because later in life, as an adult, I was introduced to the art of balloon sculpting. It was fascinating to me; it was origami in rubber. Again, I read all the books and followed all the instructions. In origami you only get so many folds before it’s impossible to make another. So too, balloons only give you so many twists before they burst. The trick is to fashion as many different things as you can within the physical limitations of the medium. I never created any original origami pieces, but I did create an impressive number of original balloon characters.

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Here are just a few of the dozens of original designs
Here are just a few of the dozens of original designs

Roary the tiger, Tiptoe the bunny, Hightail the monkey, and T.J. the raccoon
Roary the tiger, Tiptoe the bunny, Hightail the monkey, and T.J. the raccoon

I was always a shy person in a crowd, a fact my wife would vehemently disagree with from all the times I embarrassed her in public, but the ability to twist a balloon into something curious created many impromptu audiences that left my shy self a distant memory. I found that I enjoyed being the center of… I can’t say attention, it’s more random chaos and frivolity. I honed my “schtick” to a degree that I could captivate any audience any time anywhere and did. I don’t think I ever paid for another drink. I also turned my balloon characters into an avocation. I developed a line of quirky T-shirts, cards, and Mylar balloons. In addition, I also taught a beginner’s class at a local university. What fun!

It’s funny how things just build on things. Before balloon animals there was photography. When I was a teenager, I was friends with a fellow whose dad owned a camera store in Scottsdale. He mostly made his money on the rents from his tenants on 2nd Avenue and by selling copious amounts of film to the tourists. He was a great guy. Once he gave me a camera and a dozen rolls of film before I headed out on one of my many hitchhiking excursions. He wanted to see what it was that drew me to “the road” and asked me to document my trip. All I came back with was a hundred shots of my old high school sweetie. When he had the film developed all he said was, “I guess that answers that.” I did like taking pictures though I couldn’t afford the to take it up as a hobby. The best I could do is wrangle a few shots off my friends Instamatic every now and again and hope he’d give me the prints when he got the film developed.

In the late 1970s, Sandy and one of her old girlfriends from San Francisco decided to go on a shopping spree to Hong Kong. Sandy’s friend was a stewardess for Pan American Airlines and could get the airfares for free. I thought it strange to fly 8,000 miles to go shopping but what did I know? She told me she couldn’t find anything in her size in Denver, so it was either I pay for a trip to Dallas or not pay for a trip to China. China it is. Before she left, I asked her to see if she could pick me up a camera while she was there. After about a week or so I got a collect call from Sandy. She was stuck at the airport in San Francisco. She said she was “broke” and had no money left to pay for her flight back to Denver. She asked me if I could drive to Stapleton and buy her a ticket on a United flight that was leaving for Denver in a few hours. I hummed and hawed for a second or two before she exploded and said, “What is there to think about? I’m exhausted and tired and you’re just screwing around. The only reason I’m stuck here is because of your stupid camera.” “I’m just enjoying the moment,” I replied with a chuckle. “I’ll leave right now and get your ticket. See you in a few hours.”

Sandy bought me a Nikon FM 35 mm SLR. It was a heavy-duty copper alloy camera with manual-only focus and exposure controls. If you wanted to take a photo you had to learn how to operate the camera and why. It was a great teaching tool for learning the fine art of photography. I also later saw an advertisement in the newspaper for the same camera at a discount store in downtown Denver for ten dollars less than what Sandy spent in Hong Kong. Shush, don’t tell Sandy. Over the years I learned how to coax the best photos from that camera. I developed (no pun intended) my skills empirically by taking lots of shots at several different settings and seeing what worked the best. Composition came later. In the beginning I’d shoot a roll of film and I might get one or two photos worth keeping. Eventually I developed an “eye” for taking photos where the settings and the composition began to mesh. The photos were not only correctly exposed but were infinitely more interesting. From there I moved on to action shots, where my hands would instantaneously set, focus, and snap the shutter at whatever my eye was tracking. No more “say cheese” pictures. Now I was trying to capture the true nature of each subject as they moved in the moment. I used to call these candid shots, “capturing them in the wild.” I don’t have a lot of photos from those early days. Most of my efforts were work related, taking photos at corporate sponsored events where someone else was “footing the bill.”

In June 1988 I bought a new camera to take on our trip to Monaco. By then I was quite adept at photography and treated myself to the best Nikon had to offer the amateur market. I bought a Nikon 8008 with a speedlight and several fast lenses. I spent a little over $3000. What a camera. While I could still use the manual settings, everything on that camera was automated. You literally couldn’t take a poorly exposed photo. I used to tease some of my subjects with a double entendre, when I’d engage the shutter and nothing would happen, “At the price of this camera, it just won’t take a bad picture. Hang on a ‘sec’ and we’ll try it again.” When in reality I was either out of film or out of battery. Other than that, the camera worked flawlessly. I used that camera extensively both for work and pleasure over the next several years until the dawn of the information age forced me to abandon film photography altogether and learn an entirely new set of skills.

My youngest brother finally settled down, got married and set up shop in Long Island, New York. We’d speak with each other about once a week and catch up on the “crazy” in each other’s lives. He would invariably ask if I was “online” yet. I had an old DEC computer that my father had given me and had yet to figure out how to use it. My brother would chide me by saying, “Digital Equipment? Digital sucks! You need to get a MAC. We can send e-mails to each other instead of running up our phone bills each month.” I really had no idea what he was talking about. I put him off for a couple of years until my 50th birthday. My sister, my two younger brothers along with a few nieces came to Denver to wish me a happy birthday at a surprise party organized by my wife, Sandy. For my birthday present my youngest brother exclaimed with great pride, “I’m going to finally get you online. Get in the car. We’re going shopping.” We, my two brothers and I, rolled into the parking lot and walked through the doors of the “Disneyland of computers” Comp USA. Dave pulled out a shopping cart and said, “Here you’re going to need this.” He then proceeded to walk up and down each aisle filling my cart to overflowing with God knows what, repeating the phrase, “You’re going to need this” every time he threw something new in the cart. We finally made it to the cashier. I thought to myself, “This is a heck of a birthday present.” And asked my brother, “Are you sure you want to do this?” He answered, “I’m sure, now give me your credit card.” I said, “What?” “Oh, you thought I was buying this for you. Ah no, you’re buying it. I’m just going to set it up and get you online. Happy Birthday!” My other brother, Steve, just shook his head and cracked up laughing. The bill was $2200. I lamented, “Well at least I’ll cut down on my phone bill,” or so I thought. It turns out that you have to pay to get online, too.

Tims birthday
Terry, Steve, Dave, and Ruth (with her back to the camera) unpacking the new gear from Comp USA

Entering the digital age at that time was serendipitous. It was at the beginning of a never-ending series of new and wonderful gadgets, gizmos, and programs. I delved into it right away, not so much because I was interested in learning about computers, it was more of a defensive move not wanting to continually pay someone else to fix the daily onslaught of problems I seemed to encounter while trying to manage my way through the new technology. After taking my new computer in to the service desk at Comp USA so many times the tech finally suggested that I should probably invest in some training. I told him, “I never thought I’d have to learn how to build a computer just to operate one.” He laughed and said, “We’ve all been there. You don’t have to become a ‘techy’ you just have to learn what your machine does and doesn’t do. It’s like a musical instrument. You just have to learn how to play it before it makes music. Other than that, it’s just noise.” I took his advice and started reading all the manuals, mumbling to myself over and over again, “Wow, that would have been a good tip a few months back, or I wish I’d a had that little ‘nugget’ a bit sooner.” I finally realized why my brother had studied the instructions so diligently those many years ago.

Studying, for me, was still a hard slog until I discovered the vast array of training courses on DVD. I studied hard and eventually the training started to sink in. The technology changed so fast I had to take training classes for every new release. I eventually became proficient at digital editing. I decided to test my mettle and entered a series of international Photoshop skills contests through a group I found online advertised at www.photoshoptalent.com. The group consisted of about 2000 students, teachers, and artists from all over the world, each one competing weekly for top honors. Every Monday a series of new contests, typically about five or so, were posted on the group’s website. Each artist was given until Wednesday to pick one or more of the challenges and post their entry along with their work steps. The challenges were usually to create something on a subject from scratch or take an existing photo and turn it into some creative version of itself. On Thursday each of the entries posted were judged by all the other artists from around the world using a numerical score from 1 to 10. All the scores from all the projects were then listed each Friday on the website along with the comments from other artists. The entry in each contest with the highest score was paid a dollar. The second highest score was paid fifty cents. There were usually one to two hundred entries per contest. Each artist was also given a numerical ranking for their body of work. I started off at number 2200 or the “worst in the world,” a distinction given to all the newcomers to the group. Over a sixty-day period, I entered a total of 30 contests and graded untold thousands of individual entries. I eventually worked my way up the ladder from “worst in the world” to number 51. Over that period of time, I managed to win two third place honors, one second place honor, until I finally won first place on my 30th entry. I was done. I just had to prove to myself I could do it.

This was a “Mash-up Movie Poster" challenge - 3rd place
This was a “Mash-up Movie Poster" challenge  - 3rd place

Shortly thereafter I quit using my Nikon film camera and took up digital photography. My first digital camera was an inexpensive Olympus my brother begrudgingly lent me after a great deal of wrangling. It’s the only thing he forgot to throw in my shopping cart on my birthday. I used his camera to take snapshots of all the local social events. The whole exercise allowed me a reason to practice my new Photoshop skills. I would edit the photos and post the results on a neighborhood website for everyone to enjoy. Over the next several years my gear was in a never-ending state of flux, while I had to constantly update my camera equipment, my computers, and the attendant software just to try and stay current with the technology which also caused me to spend endless hours in training. It was a frustrating challenge. By the time I learned something new it was already becoming obsolete. Eventually my leisure pursuit had cost me tens of thousands of dollars with no end in sight. I knew if I was to continue, I would have to make it pay or at least bring in enough to offset some of the cost. As luck would have it, opportunities in the neighborhood started presenting themselves with regularity. It turns out the local homeowners association needed a photographer, a graphic designer, and a webmaster for their newly formed communications committee to help promote the area as it came out of bankruptcy. “Put me in coach! I can do all three jobs.” They did. The job didn’t pay much, after all it was just a homeowners association who was employing me, but the work experience was priceless. They did pay me by the hour, but I only charged them what I thought they could afford and still keep within their budget. I worked as a “volunteer,” off the books, most of the time. In the beginning I wasn’t very good at what I was tasked to do. My braggadocio got me the job, but I still had to prove my worth. It took me an inordinate amount of time to complete most of my tasks, at least to my satisfaction. Some things I would do over and over again until I thought them worthy of attribution. I learned there is simply no substitute for practical experience. I wasted a lot of time, but it was my time to waste. I never went to school on their dime. Eight years later I had the good fortune to be with a group of people, lead by a very talented woman who was starting a local newspaper. My job was simple. Do all the artwork, create the ads, fix all the photos for publication, cover the local events as a photojournalist, and post all the stories, photos, and slideshows to the website. Rinse and repeat every month. This time I wasn’t being paid by the hour. There were no half measures, no fallback plan, getting the job done was the only option. The whole endeavor was exhausting but at the same time richly rewarding, not so much financially but the positive effect we had on the community was indelible. We’re now finishing our 14th year (2009-2022).

I look back and it’s been 65 years since I first drew that palm tree everyone liked so much. It seems that everything I did, every class I took, every job experience I had, lead me on this extraordinary journey to now. I don’t do as much anymore for the newspaper. I find it difficult to sit in front of my computer for very long these days. My heart’s still in it but the rest of me seems to be in open rebellion. Don’t count me out just yet. I’m sure a new challenge will reveal itself soon, It always does. Maybe something I can do with my eyes closed. Maybe I can write a book.

Sandy and Tim (blink twice if you're being held against your will)
Sandy and Tim ( blink twice if you're being held against your will )


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