Tim Downey - What advice would you give your 18 year old self?
Tim talks to Lighting Magazine about what advice he would offer his younger self.
I started out in Australia in 1985 as an electrical engineer and knew nothing about lighting design. What got me interested was the way in which lighting design combined art with science – the atmosphere and emotion you could bring to a lighting project within a discipline governed by rules and structure. But at that time the lighting design profession barely existed, and the first thing I would tell my younger self is to persevere, because it’s going to be a fantastic profession. In Australia it was very difficult to be heard in a construction industry ruled by engineers and construction managers who were opposed to creativity. I came to London in 1990 to get a job with the only lighting design consultancy that existed – LDP. It was hard sometimes – it felt like we were a lone voice fighting against a lot of people who thought we were being unnecessarily dramatic. Being told that I would get there if I used my imagination and perseverance would have been music to my ears. The second thing I would say is trust fate. If you believe in yourself you will find opportunities – as one door closes another opens. I didn’t know that and I had a hell of a journey. In the early 90s, LDP hit the financial buffers, the work dried up and they had to retrench. After just a year and a half, my career seemed to be over. I was set to go back to Oz, but decided to stay and was offered a job as a disco lighting designer – something I knew nothing about. But then LDP called – someone had left the company and they offered me a job in Edinburgh. That was exactly the job I wanted. So, hang on, and if you meet a road block find a way round it. Find your creativity, find an audience, find your voice. Of course it’s completely different now for young people coming into the profession. There is much more structure. We look for interns and apprentices who show a feeling for both science and art. Everyone is stronger in one than the other, but we can build that other side up. What is essential in our trainees is the ability to understand technicalities while being able to express themselves artistically. They must be able to describe emotion, put it into words – that’s a very difficult thing to do. No course, no computer program will teach that. You have to find your own vocabulary.