TREMONTON, Utah (ABC4) – Unlike the majority of us who remember the early days of the coronavirus pandemic as an awfully depressing time, one Utahn took the circumstances as an opportunity to cultivate his very own art empire.
Tim Bitner, who you may know on various social media platforms as “Mr. Rice Guy,” lives in the northern Utah city of Tremonton with his three young children and wife, Carly. Looking back to May of 2020, Bitner had just completed dental school and was setting out to move to Minnesota for a two-year residency program. Fast forward two years and the 31-year-old has made a name for himself across the globe, accumulating his first 1,000,000 TikTok followers in just five months. Today, the self-made artist with a passion for inspiring kids has over 2,800,000 followers and subscribers across his YouTube, TikTok and Instagram accounts, along with hundreds of millions of views. When he’s not creating visual masterpieces or hanging at home with family, you can find Tim at Edge Orthodontics in Tremonton and Brigham City where he works with both kids and adults.
Mr. Rice Guy, Tim’s creative alter ego came to be after one of his eight siblings challenged him to social media stardom. Intrigued, Tim took to the Internet, eventually coming across a video of a girl in Hawaii throwing an image of the word “Aloha” into the air made completely out of dry rice grains. “I saw that and thought, ‘Hey, maybe if I make an art piece out of rice and throw that it’ll go viral,’” Bitner told ABC4.
With his only experience in creating art being a high school ceramics class and some leisurely drawing, painting and woodworking, Tim took a leap of faith. “I chose Bob Marley as my first piece because I wanted to throw something everyone would recognize.”
After just one go, Bitner’s portrait of Bob had come out spot-on. The millions of views and abundance of love Tim’s Bob Marley rice throw received encouraged him to keep creating.
Soon enough, different companies and brands began to recognize Mr. Rice Guy and his artwork.
“The first company to contact me was the National Hockey League,” said Tim, adding that, “the Stanley Cup was coming up and they reached out and said ‘Hey, we want you to do rice throws for our finalists, the Dallas Stars and the Tampa Lightning.” For Bitner, the decision was easy. “I couldn’t say no.”
“It’s so exciting when these companies reach out and want me to represent them,” Bitner explained, “especially one like Amazon–the sixth largest company in the world!”
In partnership with Amazon, the artist created what he described as his “biggest and most difficult project yet” to promote Prime Video’s newly released “Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power” series. “This piece was extremely intricate and realistic. It involved shading and a lot of small details,” said Bitner.
Tim further expressed the experiences he has gained through his art, saying, “I’ve been given these amazing opportunities to work with and meet some really cool people.”
Reminiscing on the start of his journey, Bitner says BTS, the world-renowned South Korean boy band likely played a big part in growing his following so quickly. He shared that one of his first rice throws was a tribute to the band’s BT21 characters which represent the members. “I threw the bunny and the dog. That video quickly became my most viewed TikTok. It hit South Korea hard.” Interestingly, Tim noted that only 22% of his followers live in the U.S., while a large portion of his fan base lives in the Southeast Asia region.
Bitner said he was hoping for a like or comment on the post from one of the band members at most. “I was shocked when just a few months ago I received an email from a representative of BTS and they contracted me to do rice throws of characters to represent their three most voted on songs to commemorate the band’s nine years together. I ended up creating a bunny, dog and a little heart for the three songs that were chosen.”
Tim shared how meaningful working with BTS was to him. “I was so excited because they’re a huge part of my story and how I got started. It was so cool to see things come full circle.”
Other big names Bitner has worked with include the Utah Jazz Bear, Scott D. Henry, a Utah promoter of happiness and self love, along with Netflix’s Stranger Things’ Gaten Matarazzo.
“Gaten has a condition called Cleidocranial Dysplasia, or CCD. He is big on promoting awareness of it through various organizations, including CCD Smiles,” Bitner said. “This condition is one that affects the teeth and involves orthodontists.” Tim volunteered to go to an event for CCD Smiles in the Salt Lake area and perform a rice throw for the kids in the audience.
“Gaten just happened to be there. He’s a big promoter of that organization. The best part of the night was letting him throw the logo for CCD Smiles,” Tim shared.
Other than pieces like those that either offer a challenge, opportunity or connection, Tim told ABC4 that his favorite pieces to create, throw and film are those that incorporate his family.
“The art I do with my family is emotional–it tells a story,” he explained. “I started doing it for the experience. It’s fun, and it’s something that my whole family enjoys doing together,” Bitner smiled.
The father of three went on to share his greatest competition in the rice-throwing industry: his seven-year-old daughter!
“My most viewed video bar far is one of Olaf from Disney’s Frozen I did with her. That one video has over 130,000,000 views on YouTube. People love her, she gets more views than me a lot of the time!”
Bitner laughed, telling ABC4, “She knows she’s good, and definitely likes the spotlight. She always asks me, ‘Dad, am I famous?’”
The family man, orthodontist and now artistic trailblazer said he plans to continue creating rice art for the time being. “I’m just having fun with it right now. It’s a great hobby to have on the side. Maybe my kids will eventually take over, or maybe I’ll do this until I’m 90. Who knows!” he joked.
Tim also hinted as to what could come in the future of Mr. Rice Guy. “The sad thing is all of my art gets destroyed. I’ve started playing with resin and am going to attempt to preserve the ‘Lord of the Rings’ piece I did for Amazon. Eventually, I think it would be cool to preserve some of my art and sell those pieces. I also thought about the idea of making DIY rice-throw kits where I’ll have an image pre-drawn along with the pre-portioned rice all in one box, ready to go.”
To Bitner, one of the greatest feelings is inspiring kids through his artwork. “I’ve already had kids send me videos of them throwing their own pieces. I love kids, I work with them everyday through dentistry so it’s really meaningful to me to be promoting creativity in children.”
As Tim continues to influence young and old artists all over the word, it’s important to note that he does so with nature and sustainability in mind. “I throw my pieces over a tarp so that no wildlife can consume the grains, then I pour the rice back into a bag and save it all. Most of the rice I use to create is reused and redyed. I probably go through nine bags of rice a year at most.”
He laughed, telling ABC4, “I have a whole shelf lined with a bunch of bags of rice that are labeled with the pieces of art I made with them. I’m not sure what I’ll do with all of those memories, but I’m holding onto them for now.”