Heather Timm is an emerging interdisciplinary artist known for her bold and experimental approach to digital art. Embracing her artist identity in 2020 after a two-decade hiatus, Heather returned to the art world with a renewed passion, blending traditional and digital media to create visually striking works. Despite facing significant challenges, such as losing her studio to a flood and a car accident that limited her physical ability to paint on canvas, Heather found solace in digital art, which allowed her to continue creating despite these limitations.
Her work is characterized by a rejection of preconceived notions about what art is or should be, and she does not limit herself to any single medium, style, or technique. Instead, she sees her work as a collaboration with everything and everyone around her and aims to transport viewers into a world of vibrant colors, beautiful patterns, and bold shapes that challenge the way we see the world around us.
In the past two years, Heather’s art has been exhibited in venues such as the University of Chicago Media Arts Data & Design (MADD) Center, The Crypt Gallery in New York City, Bang & Olufsen Soho, NFT.NYC, and international cities including Lisbon, Prague, Taipei, and Groningen. She has been an invited speaker at numerous events, including a private roundtable convened by the Creative Commons organization to discuss Generative AI, Artist Empowerment, and Copyright.
Heather Timm’s unwavering passion and commitment to her craft, along with her ability to transcend boundaries and make meaningful contributions to the art world, have solidified her status as a promising and influential emerging artist. She proudly calls the Pacific Northwest her home and continues to create bold, boundary-pushing works that inspire others to see the beauty and interconnectedness of all things and embrace the transformative power of creativity in their own lives.
Please enjoy our interview with Heather Timm.
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Introductions and Unusual Career Pathways
BW: Can you introduce yourself to our readers and listeners?
HT: Sure. My name is Heather Timm. I’m an interdisciplinary artist based in Seattle. I’ve always been an artist but spent two decades in the technology industry to make ends meet. A couple of years ago, my art and tech worlds collided, changing the trajectory of my life. I left my career and have dedicated myself to my art practice.
BW: That’s very cool. I had a similar experience. I ended up at MakersPlace when I saw that NFTs could bridge my tech background as a tech startup content manager and my previous life in the art and film world. What sparked your return to art in 2020? Were you doing art on the side during those 20 years?
HT: Yes, I did create some art while raising my two kids, but many things had to be shelved. I couldn’t balance everything. I had recently started painting again, primarily in acrylics, when a series of unfortunate events unfolded.
We lost the lower level of our house to a flood, forcing my kids to move into my art studio. Then, we had a high-speed car accident on I-5 that injured my right shoulder. I couldn’t lift it to paint on a canvas, even though I was finding art very cathartic at that time. I needed an outlet, and digital painting introduced through a class blew my mind.
Even though I was in tech, I was not on the design or art side. I was mostly in product and leadership. This intersection had never occurred before, and it was a game-changer. I dove into AI and multimedia, and it altered the course of my life.
Finding a Community: Crypto and Trash Art Movements
BW: That’s fascinating. I spoke to Dawnia Darkstone yesterday. Her shift into glitch art was partly motivated by car accidents, much like yours. I also interviewed Chazz Gold whose choice of medium was influenced by a home invasion that left him partially paralyzed. Technology, like AI for Chazz, can act as an accessibility tool, similar to a wheelchair ramp. It’s interesting to see how life circumstances shape the mediums artists gravitate towards. But tell me, why did you sideline art in the first place?
HT: The truth is, I was always creative and artistic, but I never saw it as a viable career. It was an outlet for my expression. The idea of mixing money with something so deeply personal felt like a level of vulnerability I couldn’t manage. I made art for myself and my friends, often gifting it to them.
The idea to pursue it as a career was influenced by people I met online, especially within the crypto art community. The trash art community was particularly influential. There’s a lot of gatekeeping and elitism in the art world. But everyone is inherently creative.
The trash art community resonated with me because it recognized forms of creativity that aren’t usually identified as high art. It felt honest and often acted as performance art against the culture they found themselves in.
BW: Did the trash and glitch art community help you fuse vulnerability and commerce?
HT: Absolutely. They inspired me to explore myself creatively without the noise of other distractions.
BW: What drew you to trash art?
HT: I believe we’re all inherently creative and that, apart from early cave paintings, all art is somewhat derivative. We’re expressing our experiences, and remixing art and being open about it was refreshing for me. Too often, communities guard and protect instead of inviting and including. I wanted to be part of a group that’s unabashedly open and welcoming.
BW: I love the trash art crew too. Their openness is wonderful.
HT: Yes, it feels right to be part of such an inclusive group.
Challenging Preconceived Notions in Art
BW: Pulling from your bio, it mentions that your work is characterized by rejecting preconceived notions about what art is or should be. Now that you’ve returned to visual art, have you discovered any unconscious preconceived notions that come up in your art? And if so, do you consciously overcome them or embrace them as a part of you?
HT: The answer is yes to all of it. I sometimes struggle with my own preconceived notions influenced by society and my experiences. This can lead to self-criticism and hiding my work. But I recently discovered experimental paintings by my grandmother, who was a landscape artist. These were my favorite works of hers. It was a powerful reminder that I need to share my work because there’s an audience for every type of art. There are many out there who need to know they’re not alone, and my art might speak to them.
BW: How do you balance artistic consistency, which can become a brand, with eclectic exploration, particularly as someone making a full-time career out of art?
HT: I believe there’s room for both. It really depends on what feels authentic to the artist. For me, while a consistent brand might be more marketable, I’m willing to take the risk to stay true to my creative instincts. That’s real creative freedom for me. It’s not about second-guessing or trying to sell an idea. Others may find a unique style that resonates with them and their audience, and that’s fantastic. But for me, my art practice often resembles how I read books. I start a book, find an interesting citation, and suddenly I’m down another rabbit hole. I believe in honoring the parts that make the whole, creating a gestalt.
BW: Your piece, “Grandmother Earth,” also known as “Unci Maka,” reflects Lakota Native American concepts. You also acknowledge the native tribe of Seattle on your website. Do you have a special interest in or relationship with native cultures?
HT: Absolutely. Acknowledging Native Americans is acknowledging the truth of our history; they are the stewards of our land. While I don’t have Native American heritage, I have friends who are indigenous, and I deeply respect their culture. My studies in comparative religions were my first introduction to understanding different indigenous cultures. The concept of earth stewardship, of the earth as our mother and life-giver, resonates with me personally.
Art as a Call to Action: Encouraging Allyship Through Creativity
BW: The “You Can’t Erase” series features diverse figures, including a Native American woman, a young Muslim girl, and a trans woman. Could you shed more light on this series, especially as we’re featuring it on MakersPlace soon?
HT: This series has been deeply personal to me, probably my most personal work. It was inspired by the anti-trans legislation in the US, the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the overall struggle for body autonomy. The attempt to erase certain communities is not limited to the US, and I explore this concept of erasure through my art.
My work also serves as a call to action for allies and marginalized communities to stand up for one another. Despite tackling grave circumstances, my art is infused with color and light, symbolizing the energy we need to shape the future we want. I see the current times as the last gasp of dying norms, making way for a future that celebrates diversity.
Exploring Bias in AI
BW: Could you describe other pieces in this series beyond the three I mentioned?
HT: Early pieces included the ones you mentioned. The series has evolved to include a trans woman outside a restroom and a Jewish father with his daughter, referencing anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. I’m using artificial intelligence in this series to uncover and document biases that are deeply ingrained in our culture. AI presents an opportunity for us to reflect on our power structures and biases. A simple example is the representation of people in AI. The world’s largest population is Asian, yet that’s not reflected in a generic prompt about people or couples. I use both specific and generic prompts to draw out the truths hidden in these AI systems.
BW: What kinds of biases do you see when you’re prompting? For instance, if you were to prompt with “Jewish dad” or “Native Americans,” how does the system respond?
HT: Stereotypes are definitely present, and sometimes even more concerning is the lack of diverse representation unless you’re explicitly asking for it. For instance, if you prompt for a busy sidewalk scene, the output is generally of white people, not a true reflection of diverse city streets. This issue comes from where we’re gathering the information and the focus of many media companies. There’s a great opportunity here to ensure more representation.
BW: I come from a background of screenwriting, and it’s interesting to see a similar trend. In screenplays, a character like ‘John, a man in his 50s’ is generally imagined as a white man unless otherwise specified. It’s fascinating and concerning that AI is reflecting this default white casting. You must also ensure the AI doesn’t produce wildly offensive residues of our past.
HT: That’s right, there’s a lot of cleanup to be done.
BW: It could be insightful to create a video showing the standard AI representations of Jews or other communities, how you navigate around that, and how it could inform those designing and training these systems.
HT: Yes, I also want to use tools like Clip Interrogator to understand where these representations originate from. It’s an interesting tool that can reveal the influences behind an image. I’ve used it on some of my physical paintings to understand my influences, and it’s been quite accurate.
BW: Fascinating. Could you also tell me about your piece, Echoes from the Merge?
HT: Echoes from the Merge explores the intersection of humans and machines, something that has been evolving for a long time. Our brains and the way we process information have been significantly altered by technology. I was also inspired by the transhuman community, the people who are experimenting with biohacking and augmenting themselves. This piece examines both the exciting and somewhat terrifying aspects of this reality.
Art, Science, and the Future
BW: There’s a lot to unpack there. Every week seems to bring some new development, like Apple’s Vision Pro, that has the potential to change life as we know it. Then, you project ten years into the future and it starts to look pretty strange.
HT: Absolutely. We’re heading towards a future with both genetically modified and organic humans.
BW: Yes, and I’ve been considering when we’ll reach the point where we grow a human that’s essentially a computer. I’ve seen research on using artificially grown brain matter as hardware because it’s more efficient than silicon.
HT: That’s true, our DNA, which is our code, has a much larger storage capacity. We’re already executing it.
BW: This morning I saw a news report about scientists growing an embryo without male or female input. It’s all fascinating. Now, as we’re discussing science and art, I’m intrigued by your art pieces ‘Echoes from the Merge’ and ‘For the Love of Machines’. Both have specific runtimes -—47 and 37 seconds respectively. Can you explain the reasoning behind this?
HT: Absolutely. I often use math to draw connections between different elements in my work. The 47 seconds in ‘Echoes from the Merge’ relates to a super prime, a concept in quantum math theory. The idea of math underpinning everything gives me comfort, but it’s also somewhat existentially unsettling.
BW: What makes it unsettling?
HT: I think it’s the realization of how much can be reduced to an algorithm. This has an impact on our understanding of the creative process, and raises questions about what it means to create. Despite this, I feel somewhat hopeful because we’re just replicating what we are. Everything is trying to propagate itself.
BW: It’s impressive how much you’ve accomplished in the past three to four years, considering that’s when you discovered digital art. You’ve produced a range of art, including ASCII, Glitch art, trash art, generative art, AI art, and even an augmented reality experiment. How do you balance creating and learning?
HT: That’s a great question. I think I’ve been so prolific because I spent almost two decades not doing much, so I had a lot pent up. As for the balance, it’s a process of expansion and contraction. I explore all the nooks and crannies that I haven’t before, but also periodically contract and go a bit deeper with some of my work.
BW: I’m curious, when do you find yourself experiencing an unproductive level of depth? Is that a result of over-planning or doing too much research? What are the signals that you pick up on?
HT: I think it’s an analysis paralysis. When I start to feel an excessive amount of existential dread, or when I start to over-criticize my own work, I know I’m going too deep. Being critical of one’s work is necessary but being overcritical can be detrimental. Artists often put deep parts of themselves into their work and can be very sensitive. This can lead to over-editing and self-criticism which can be counterproductive.
Career Building as a Creative Process
BW: Does your business background provide you with any useful tools or mental models?
HT: Not specifically from business, but I’ve learned the idea of “act as if and you will become”. Show up like you belong there and you will belong there. I applied this when I worked in technology where I was often the only woman in the room.
BW: What’s your creative process for career building?
HT: Honestly, I’m still figuring this out. I’ve been successful in business and life but being a career artist is a different challenge. I like your notion of treating it like a creative process. I believe this mindset can help me experience something different in my career.
BW: Could you share how you transitioned from being a teenage drug addict to having a successful career in technology?
HT: It wasn’t a direct transition. After falling ill, I returned home. It was a challenging time, but I had a spiritual experience that acted as a turning point in my life. That moment, I decided to change the course of my life. Eventually, I got a job at a tech company during the dot com bubble. I worked various jobs to get there. That was a recurring pattern in my life, rising when things seemed at their lowest.
BW: Can you talk about your view on spirituality?
HT: I’m not a fan of organized religion. I appreciate seeing connection and pattern. I believe in the connection that’s bigger than me, threading us all together. To me, that’s spirituality.
BW: How does frustration manifest in your creative practice, and how do you overcome it?
HT: When I hit that point of frustration, I find it helpful to step back and look at where it’s coming from. If I’m truly stuck, it’s time to take a walk outside and connect with nature. It helps me to regain my perspective.
BW: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self about art, creativity, and the creative life?
HT: I would say, find the glitch and trash artists because they will be your people. They will inspire you to explore things that you mig have otherwise neglected. Keep showing up for yourself and others and appreciate those who are part of the solution. That’s the energy you need to keep moving forward.