From badge to brush – a Whitby artist’s journey

Tim Packer in his art gallery in Oshawa. Photo credit: Janis Williams

As a Toronto cop for almost 20 years, Tim Packer came across many people who had brushes with the law.

However, in 2000, Packer traded his gun for a paint brush and replaced his badge for an easel. The decision has led to a prolific career as an artist, selling some pieces for as much as $15,000.

The Whitby resident of 29 years initially chose policing because he craved a steady paycheque. Packer climbed the figurative career ladder. He started as a uniformed cop, moved to the crime unit, and finished his career on the fraud squad, where he says he reviewed cases involving millions of dollars.

He spent 1996 to 1998, as a Toronto police sergeant at 31 Division, covering the Jane and Finch area in Toronto.

“I had my gun out more in those two years than I did in my whole career,” says the 57-year-old.

He wasn’t always a man in uniform.

Packer started off as a graphic design graduate from Toronto’s George Brown College in 1980. After being laid off from three consecutive jobs, he turned to policing to ensure a secure future.

He found his career path after a conversation with his uncle, a member of the police service. According to Packer, he was told within three years, he would earn an annual salary of $40,000. So he trimmed his hair, shaved his beard and abandoned his childhood dream of becoming an artist.

“I just really kind of turned my back on art for a while and just threw myself in my career as a police officer,” Packer says.

Along the way, art slowly began creeping back into his life.

He made caricature cards for fellow employees, to celebrate promotions or retirements.

Packer says in 1993, he created a large water colour caricature for a Toronto Police Service and Toronto Maple Leafs charity golf tournament which benefited Sick Kids Hospital. It sold for $500.

The next year, Packer says he made a print of four Toronto Maple Leafs’ hockey players, the last time the team came close to the Stanley Cup. The piece sold for $2,700.

After a painting of Wendel Clark sold for $4,000, his friends on the service questioned why he didn’t pursue art on a full-time basis.

His wife Diane Packer, supported his passion. Years earlier, he says, she had asked him not to give up his secure career – they had two young sons with looming post-secondary education fees. In time, it became obvious to Diane, her husband’s artistic abilities were more than a hobby – they could also be channeled into a successful business.

At the turn of the millennium, Packer threw himself into the art scene like paint on a canvas.

“I went from doing this job I really, really liked to being with this group of people who were doing what I wanted to do and pursuing what I loved,” he says.

He served on the board of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour (CSPWC), a huge coup in the art world. He subsequently led the CSPWC as president for two years.

He went from idolizing the work of the Group of Seven, to having a beer with Doris McCarthy, who painted with the Group of Seven. She was considered by many in the art community as the most famous living Canadian artist, before her death in 2010.

“I got to meet so many other successful artists and I looked at that as my master’s degree on how to become a professional artist,” Packer says. “I picked their brains and I was a sponge.”

He was focused on portraits during this part of his art career but his true passion is painting landscapes.

“I guess I’ll paint portraits to make a living and I’ll paint landscapes for fun,” is how he reflects on his artistic mindset at the time.

The transition to landscapes proved to be personally and professionally fulfilling.

Packer says he experimented with everything, from throwing paint to working with acrylics, oils and watercolours.

“Eventually, my current style just started sort of coming out and then when it did, I just knew it was it,” he says.

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Tim Packer sits in front of a few of his favourite pieces in his art gallery in Oshawa. Photo credit: Janis Williams

How does Packer describe his landscapes?

Bright. Colourful. Composed. Mosaic. Intense.

The true-to-life suns in each of his paintings are his signature.

“I really believed in the new work but I also knew this was kind of make it or break it time,” says Packer, “if something didn’t happen in the next six months, I was going to be putting on a suit and looking for a job in corporate security.”

After he spent $3,000 on his credit card for a booth at the weekend-long Toronto Art Expo, Packer’s risk turned into a reward.

His van-full of paintings sold out and by Sunday he says, he was searching his basement for “B pieces” to bring for the last day of the expo. The weekend earned him $28,000 in sales.

Packer now has a studio in his Whitby home and opened an art gallery on William Street West in downtown Oshawa in 2018. It is a family affair with Diane at the helm of finance and administration and his son Cameron Packer, helping with photography, videos and social media. Cameron also sells giclees (pronounced jhee-clays, a french word meaning “to squirt”) which are reproductions of original paintings, made from digital images and inkjet printers.

Since the business aspect is a family affair, Packer’s time is freed up to paint. He often listens to music, groups like matchbox 20, while he spends his time his favourite way, in front of the easel.

Packer says he enjoys sharing what’s he’s learned with other artists. He posts how-to-paint tutorials on his YouTube channel and hosts high-end paint along events at the gallery.

A wave of a magic wand didn’t bring him his talent, Packer says.

“I got here through a series of things that I did, that any other artist can do to live their dream.”

Packer’s artwork hangs on walls around the world, including Australia, New Zealand and Germany.

Much like picking a favourite child, Packer says he can’t choose just one painting he likes best but can narrow it down “to about 50.

“My favourite is always the one I’m working on now,” Packer says with a coy smile.