College for Creative Studies: Illustration


Tim Racer


While some audiences might gaze upon elaborate carousel carvings and reminisce about childhood memories, professional artist Tim Racer wants his specialized form of art to convey even more. He wants it to tell a story.

“As a former illustrator, the need to tell a story is very much at the heart of my work,” said Racer. “I draw and design and then, as my wife Donna Reynolds puts it (also a CCS alumni), I get to draw with my gouges. The tactile aspect is an immediate bonus to working in three dimensions.

“I love that the carving process is so multi-faceted: photography, drawing and design, blocking up the piece, roughing it out, sanding, finishing touches, priming, painting, pin stripping, gold leafing and varnishing. When I’ve hit the 400 hour mark on a carving and know I still have a lot more work ahead of me, that’s when I need to take a couple days off and take another look at it with a fresh eye. I’m not doing the exact same thing day after day and that keeps it interesting.”

The Bark, a national modern dog culture magazine, printed a seven-page spread of Racer’s work in 2004. Since then, he has enjoyed a list of clients willing to wait two years for his original artwork.

“The article really attracted my carving clientele initially and since then people end up at my Web site one way or another,” said Racer.

Twelve of Racer’s restoration pieces of 19th century antique Dare carousel animals are on permanent display in the New York State Museum in Albany. Other public projects include carousels at the San Francisco Zoo, San Francisco Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and Berkeley's Tilden Park. He is a regular guest lecturer at the annual Carousel West at Asilomar Conference in Pacific Grove, California.

Although Racer graduated with a degree in illustration, he took numerous courses in the industrial design and fine arts programs to round out his education. The experience still has an effect on his work today.

“All that hard work in college gave me self discipline.”

“I learned a ton from fellow students as well as my instructors. Developing a professional portfolio would have been very difficult for me without CCS.

“I met my wife, Donna, on the fourth day of school in 1984. It was a Thursday, a very special Thursday. I learned most of what I know about composition, visual movement, and sketching quickly from her, even though her art is radically different from mine.

“Mike Mikos was a favorite instructor who pointed several of us students to Chicago where Donna and I spent seven years before relocating to Oakland, California. I will be forever grateful to him for his influence.”

Racer’s passion for animals does not end with his carousel carvings. Eight years ago, he and Reynolds co-founded (Bay Area Dog Lovers Responsible About Pit Bulls). They offer pit bull only training classes every Saturday, organize a yearly conference, operate several week long training camps for trainers, oversee five kennels at Pit Bull Hall at the East Bay SPCA, and speak at events throughout the nation.