Bikes, Art, and Dreams: Tim Brown

By Jason Hanson, Communications Manager, Saskatoon Cycles

When I moved from small town Saskatchewan to Saskatoon in 1990, I came with big ideas. I was going to become an artist. I would write a novel or two. Direct some movies. There would be no particular order to these creative achievements, of course, I would just gradually complete them one by one as the muses guided me until – voila – I would arrive as the universe intended. Fame and fortune awaited, as surely as the sun rose in the east. My mom bought me a drafting table for my artwork, I bought good pens and paper, read a lot of comics and wore out VHS tapes for inspiration, and got down to work.

In early 1991, I realized that I did not have the “luxury” to fully develop my crafts: there were bills to pay, obligations to fulfill, relationships to develop, and as a result my frivolous hobbies would have to wait. I got a job delivering pizza, and threw myself into the work. Lurking just below the surface was the truth; I lacked the discipline and disposition to be a proper artist. I was impatient with my own lack of skill, easily distracted with ideas, while alternately uninspired. I drew a handful of doodles and stopped. The drafting table collected dust and my pens dried out.

A few years later I came across the work of Tim Brown, a local artist who was making comics (or minicomics). It was clever, irreverent stuff, and I loved the idea that someone could do what I’d always dreamed of doing. As I rose through the ranks of pizza store management, I lived my secret life vicariously through Tim, the creative, prolific wizard who published his own comic book! If he could do it, I thought, perhaps there was still hope for me. 

I met Tim a couple of times back then and probably embarrassed him with my adulation. He was always with his bike, which really impressed me. I was a then-inveterate motorist driving pizzas around, long removed from my youthful cycling. He was creating art, I was filling my evenings with movies and TV. He would modestly thank me for my interest, but always offered a dose of reality; he wasn’t making a living selling art. His content even reflected this as being a labor of love, something one would do regardless of monetary outcomes. He was resolutely humble. Still, I admired his effort and talent.

For a while, he scaled back his art projects. He was building a family with partner Amanda, home-schooling their kids (and doing so without owning a car), sitting on boards, volunteering for the City of Saskatoon’s Cycling Advisory Group/Active Transportation Advisory Group, and picking up odd jobs. Even though he still drew comics (and even collaborated on projects with his kids), life kept him busier elsewhere.

Fast forward to 2022, when I started seeing Tim posting a lot of new artwork online. “Critters on Bikes” was one of his major themes, revisited from a concept he’d started in 2009. By now I had regained my love of getting around by bicycle, and the new art tied in to my new job and my personal feelings about cycling in Saskatoon: fun, quirky, and colorful. The “Critters on Bikes” images posted on the Saskatoon Cycles social media platforms were instant hits, and they encouraged me to reach out and catch up with him. 

During our visits, I was reminded of his year-round cycling, commitments to social justice, love of gaming, and the plan to pursue his artwork again with renewed dedication. He was still the guy getting stuff done, or as I interpreted it for my own selfish purposes, “keeping the dream alive”. I realized that almost 30 years on, Tim Brown still inspires me, not just to cycle as if I don’t have a car, but to devote time to art as if I loved it for its own sake.

I may yet finish that novel.

You can read my Q and A with Tim below, and/or visit his blog or Instagram anytime to see his vast collection of artwork.

What first got you on a bike?

I’ve been riding since I was a wee tyke. I got my first two-wheel bike at the age of four or five and that’s just how I’ve gotten around for most of my life since then. With the first bike I would just ride up and down my block on the sidewalk. When I was 6 or 7 I had this blue bike with a banana seat that I would ride all over town (High River, Alberta) to visit friends’ houses. By the time I moved to Saskatoon in grade three (1980) I had a 5-speed road bike and would ride that around College Park and the adjoining neighbourhoods and to Wildwood mall. Later I got a BMX bike and rode that all the same places, but also on dirt. By grade 7 I had my first mountain bike and within a year I was riding that as far as Broadway and downtown… 

It’s always just been a way to get around, that was fun. I didn’t have to wait for someone to give me a ride or wait for a bus, I could just GO. 

What philosophy and/or motivations has kept you on a bike throughout your adult life?

I kind of like to joke that it’s “Laziness and Impatience”. Laziness, in that I’m too lazy to walk places and too lazy to work harder to make enough money to own a car. And too impatient to wait around for buses – when I can get there in less time, year-round by bike AND in theory on time – no worries about missed connections because the bus was late. 

I just like riding a bike and being outdoors and moving my body and fresh air and I get to see so much that people driving around in cars never see. 

What bike (or bikes) do you currently use?

I have a Surly Big Fat Dummy – fat tired cargo bike – that I usually ride through the winter.

I have a Yuba Boda Boda which is the cargo bike which I use for most rides around town in the summer. 

I have a Salsa Fargo off-road touring bike that I use for my gravel-back-road rambles through the summer. I like to get out of town and just ride around on the grid roads and look at birds and stuff.

I have a few other bikes for various different specific purposes, but these three are the ones I use most.

Do you have a favorite (or favorites) cycling adventure?

I used to love going out to the mountains and mountain biking around Canmore but, right now, I just love my summer backroad rambles in the countryside. 

I like the IDEA of going touring… but haven’t managed to do much of that.  

Tell me about “Critters on Bikes”. What was your inspiration? How many have you done? Will there be more?

I think the critters started with these frames Amanda bought. “IT WAS A GOOD DEAL!” which Amanda uses to explain any strange purchase. She hung the 6 frames – each with multiple spots for pictures – on the wall with their generic black and white stock photos still in place as “motivation” to get them done, figuring she would get sick of looking at them and DO SOMETHING to fill them. They hung on the wall long enough that people thought they might have been pictures of her sister and family. 

Eventually, I realized she was never going to get around to filling those. So, for her birthday one year, I painted a tiny picture of a critter on a bike and slipped it into one of the frames. I can’t even remember which one it was. I’m not sure how long it took her to notice I’d done that (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t right away!). Then for every other gift-giving holiday or sometimes at random, I’d fill one or two of the spots. I completed that in 2010.

I can’t remember if it was her or me that originally came up with the idea of doing critters on bicycles. I mean, I grew up reading Richard Scarry and LOVED that there were little animals riding around on bicycles, so it might have been me, and she latched on to the idea and has been hounding me ever since to do more.

After that initial project, I did a few larger paintings over the years, these were mostly acrylic paintings on board – where the others had just been on paper. Some of them were just larger reiterations of the smaller ones I’d originally done, the Bison on the Mountain Bike, the Touring Dromedary, and the Cyclocross Moose. Others were done as gifts for friends and family, like Piggy Rides with her Violin, which was for our violin instructor, and Big Brown Bear rides a Trike for my dad. I painted Richardson Ground Squirrels Rule the Hardcourt for the Wild in the City exhibition as part of the Nature City Festival.

I didn’t do much for a few years after that, but started up again during the pandemic when I started making art on a more regular basis again, but these new ones were done with ink on paper. I did a few here and there over the last few years. Some were part of the October 2021 drawing challenge. Then the entire October 2022 Drawing Challenge was devoted to Critter on Bicycles.

Will there be more? Oh, for sure!

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