Wednesday, August 7, 2013

An Interview withTimothy Botts

"As a visual artist I am particularly aware that what we take in through our eyes has the power to affect our whole being. I believe the language of visual art can sometimes communicate to deaf ears."

     Nearly a decade ago, my wife and I were fortunate to enroll in a calligraphy workshop Timothy Botts was conducting at Cornerstone Festival. As the week unfolded I became increasingly aware of Timothy's commitment to glorifying God through the letterform, a steadfast example of excellence walked-out in real time. Timothy graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University where he studied under the legendary calligrapher Arnold Bank. Currently, Timothy is Senior Art Director at Tyndale House Publishers where he has designed more than 600 books. His work has been seen in Obernei, France, the Washington National Cathedral and one of his originals is in the permanent collection of the Newberry, Chicago, IL.  Timothy's most recent book, Bound For Glory, features 52 visual interpretations of African American spiritual songs (you can learn more by clicking here). 
Soon-A Will Be Done

     This week I had the privilege of asking Timothy a few questions. 

     I am impressed with the fact that in the first paragraph of your Web Bio you honor two of your teachers by name, Mrs. Stanton and Arnold Bank; a testimony to the influence teachers carry. Were you encouraged by family members to pursue art as a career?

     Yes, my parents encouraged me to paint murals in our home when I was in high school. They also had some of my artwork framed for the walls. Looking back, I'm sure it looked amateurish, but it sure affirmed my gift as an artist.

     What was it about the letterform that first attracted you? 

     My earliest memory was of a Currier & Ives calendar our family received each year at Christmas from our insurance salesman. The numbers were large and in what is called old-style—meaning that some numbers go above the line and others extend below. In sixth grade I found the Speedball lettering book in our art room and was fascinated by the various styles of letters. Even then, I realized that different styles conveyed a vast range of moods.

     When referring to Arnold Bank, your teacher at Carnegie-Mellon University, you use the descriptive 'child-like wonder'. Will you elaborate on that? 
     We sometimes walked to the cafeteria together at lunch time. Along the way he would notice a crack in the sidewalk or a pattern made by the intersection of branches in a tree and stop to talk about the metaphor he saw there. I am sorry to say that I didn't always appreciate it because I was hungry—and immature!

     How would you describe the difference between a calligrapher and a typographer/font designer?

     I am a designer when I make sketches, sometimes multiple times, before I commit to good paper. But when I am a calligrapher, I am dancing with my pen.

     Have you designed or considered designing a font for digital use? 
     My son Jeremy created a font based on some of my writing. It was made exclusively for the Botts Illustrated Bible which was published in 2000 by Tyndale House. But I don't have the patience for the technical requirements of that process.

     Who is your favorite type designer? 
     Hermann Zapf, like many type designers, first studied calligraphy and later began creating typefaces including Palatino, named after a Renaissance writing master, whose work provided the inspiration. Another of Zapf's greatest typefaces is Optima, a sans serif which preserves the thick and thin of serifed type so that it feels less mechanical than the more popular Helvetica.

     I am excited about Masterpiece Ministries, a program you've helped develop for High School students. How did that come about? 

     Another couple in our church who also had artistic children noticed that many of them did not fit into the traditional sports-oriented, competitive youth ministry. The Rogers started inviting these young people to their home on Sunday evenings for a more relational experience. Then we conducted "Outside the Box" events on weekends in large churches, and finally began what has become our twelfth year of week-long camps.

     I like your expression 'Imaginative Appropriateness'. In a culture that is re-defining 'appropriate', how do you convey the concept of Imaginative Appropriateness in light of a Biblical worldview to your students? 

     This phrase comes from Arnold Bank who was thinking about a message to be conveyed and challenging us to look for an original way to give that expression, while at the same time, communicating faithfully the content. I remember back in the seventies when T-shirts were sold with expletives written in exquisite calligraphy and it grieved me. We cannot improve on the apostle Paul's advice in Philippians 4:8 to dwell on what is true and right—which God has already placed in our hearts.

     As you've progressed from your first book to your most recent, what changes have you noticed in your style? 

     Like many calligraphers in the past 40 years, my work has become less direct and more painterly. I still have great words I want to communicate, but I am realizing that subtlety and mystery, like Jesus' parables, is a better way for people to catch the truth.

     What advice do you give a young person who says to you, “I think God has called me to be an artist”? 

     Practice your gift and share it freely. As you open yourself to God's Spirit, he will present the opportunities.

To learn more about Masterpiece Ministries, click here.

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