I’ve always been a doodler

A landscaper by trade, Tim Sparling creates colorful artwork influenced by the growth patterns of plants
Saturday, May 5, 2007 | 1:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:47 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Tim Sparling sits in front of his artwork displayed in Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream on Ninth Street. Sparling uses gel pens and watercolors to create his drawings, and some pieces can take up to two months to complete.

Tim Sparling has been drawing since he was in the first grade. He doodled on graph paper, dividing the squares into shapes such as triangles and then shading them in with pencil. The result was a coherent assembly of patterns and designs.

“I’ve always been a doodler,” Sparling said.


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When he was in the fifth and sixth grades, in Springfield, he would pass a piece of paper to his friend, and the two would re-create skateboard logos and the artwork of the punk bands they listened to.

In high school, Sparling started keeping his artwork in a drawing journal. “As far as I can remember, I’ve always had a notebook around,” he said.

Now a landscaper by trade, Sparling, 29, has a collection of vibrant drawings displayed on the walls of Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream, at 21 S. Ninth St.

It wasn’t until his senior year at MU that Sparling started to create artwork with the intent to display it publically. “I didn’t do any drawings larger than a piece of notebook paper (until then),” Sparling said.

He uses brightly colored gel pens in hot pink, orange, blue and green as well as watercolors that make his artwork pop. And it’s obvious his first-grade doodles have had a lasting influence on his style, as similar geometric patterns are woven into his work.

“I spend a lot of time on form and color,” Sparling said.

Sparling described his art in terms of gender: He has a “female, curvy, bubbly style and an angular, rigid, male style.”

Much of Sparling’s inspiration comes from the growth patterns of plants, and he incorporates his love and knowledge of fauna into his artwork. For example, after spending time in a tulip garden, Sparling noticed how well the colors orange and purple complemented each other. He then incorporated these colors among others into the intricacies of his drawings. His drawings are very detailed and often resemble drawings within drawings.

“You look at things from different angles and you see different things,” Lauralee Sparling said of her husband’s drawings.

His horticulture degree serves his profession as owner-operator of Greensmith LLC and his avocation of drawing. “I stare at plants all day,” Sparling said.

He has worked with plants since his junior year of high school in 1995. His horticulture teacher structured the class in a way that allowed students to work at their own pace, giving them more freedom. The students were required to work on an end-of-the-year project, and Sparling’s involved running a mock greenhouse business.

He ended up getting a scholarship to Ozarks Technical Community College, which he attended for two years before he transferred to MU in 1998. He has worked for a florist and in a greenhouse and studied abroad in Costa Rica, at the School of Agriculture in the Humid Tropics. “I got to see tropical plants in their natural environment,” he said.

As a couple, Tim and Lauralee are inclined to be creative. They grew many of the flowers for their wedding last year, and sometimes at night, the two make up bedtime stories to share with each other. Anytime something breaks and might need replacing, Tim comes up with an inventive way to fix it. “We always have projects going,” Lauralee said.

Tim also experiments with photography, and the two use cameras all the time. Currently, Tim is working on a photo experiment that will be on display in the “Figuratively Speaking” show at the Columbia Art League beginning Thursday.

The two met through mutual friends at several potluck dinners. Then one day, the two saw each other on the street and Tim asked for Lauralee’s address. A couple of days later, she received an envelope of his drawings and an assortment of oddities he had found on the ground.

This sparked a connection. Tim and Lauralee began sending each other letters and miscellaneous things, eventually getting their friends into mailing letters to one another. Everyone likes receiving a letter in the mail, Lauralee said.

The two spend much of their time working together on landscape projects for Greensmith. While it is relaxing and helps pay the bills, Tim looks at his job as a chance to spend time outdoors and gain inspiration. One of his favorite landscaping plants is the crab apple. “It’s like visual candy.”

At home, the Sparlings have a garden and they grow a variety of kitchen herbs like cilantro, sage and fennel.

When Tim’s not landscaping but drawing, he begins with a sketch on a notecard and translates that onto illustration board. He works on single drawings off and on, devoting about two hours at a time to one. For the larger drawings, it can take as long as two months to complete.

Often, Tim looks at people’s lives as art and incorporates them into his work; for example, a drum-playing woman whose face is abstracted by lines. He intends to make art that adds to the culture of the society.

“How you live,” he said, “is your art form.”

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