Editor – Justin Howard @Jthnomad
Photographer – WRDSMTH @WRDSMTH
Like any good story this one starts with an obsession. The obsession might be a tad unusual as it revolves around a typewriter, a wall and the mysterious man behind them. If you have ever wandered around Los Angeles, you might have seen a wall with a typewriter stenciled on it with an inspired quote unwinding above it. Something like “Face it, You are lovely, And that has nothing, To do with your beautiful face.” If you have encountered this mysterious typewriter on a wall, then you might be wondering who the artist behind it is. This is where our story begins, my encounter with WRDSMTH, the street artist with the soul of a poet who is bringing a sense of romance to the streets of Hollywood.
The Man Behind The Words
Justin Howard – It is funny how I discovered you. It was at Runyon, with the typewriter and this amazing quote. So I Instagramed it, and I believe you replied back to me. Then I was over by Swingers and saw your work and I was like “Who The F*** IS This Guy?” Because for me as a writer I love words. Words have power, they reflect reality. A lot of street art is very visual and you lose that element. That element of a tangible reality. You stuff is… I won’t describe myself as a fan boy per say. But I definitely like your shit.
WRDSMTH – Thanks. I can talk at length about this so I will. That’s the only reason I am doing street art. I am a former advertiser copywriter, that is what I was doing before in Chicago, before I realized I just wasn’t happy. I quit my job and I am that cliche, I came here to pursue my dreams. To just write. All my friends thought I was crazy. My family thought I was crazy. I guess I was good at advertising, I was getting paid a lot of money. But I had a realization one day that I wasn’t happy so I walked away from it and came to Los Angeles. I thought I would hate LA. I had friends who said if you want to write you should come to Los Angeles. I was like I am not moving here. It is sprawling, it is ugly, the people are weird. The city completely surprised me. Three or four months in I was at Runyon Canyon. I just thought ‘This place is really awesome!’ It was a really good feeling. Now it is years later and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I love the weather, the people, I mean there are weird people everywhere. But there is such a creative vibe here that you feed off of it. I don’t understand people who don’t feed off of it. In all walks of life, being an artist, being a writer, I hear ‘Oh I am so sick of LA and everyone is talking about their screen play and their art’ I am like then why are you here? You know what I mean? Because I love that!
My story goes that about three years ago I had a really good year creatively which means I was sitting in front of a computer the whole time. Just like when I was in Chicago, this time I had a realization that I am happy and I am doing well but I need an active hobby. I could have taken up photography but I would have ultimately come to resent it. So if I back up in the story a bunch of years I have always been inspired by street art. Even when I was a kid I would see scrawling on the wall that would say “Tony Hawk IS God” and I was like, what does that mean? Who did that? Why did they do that? I was just fascinated by it. Then of course moving to Los Angeles, I was just blown away by it all. The street art scene here is incredible! I was just totally inspired by it. The one artist I noticed was Morley – he does word based art. That was the first time I looked at something and said ‘WOW, maybe people will read something they see on the wall.” So budding up against that day when I was like I need an active hobby, and always being inspired by street art. I thought maybe I will do street art. Honestly, I did not think I could do it before that moment because I have never considered myself an artist of the paint and brush variety. Like I am a writer and that is artistic. But I always thought that I did not have that in me. I always thought people who did street art were super heroes. I just got this crazy notion I would just try it, and it was just a domino effect. I was like if I did it, it would be word based and if it was word based, then maybe there would be an image of a typewriter. The words would be coming out of it. The moment I realized that you could combine the two basic methods of street art, that the typewriter would be painted with a stencil, and the page would be paper coming out of it. When I get excited about something I make it a reality. I had to google first to see if anyone had done it. Because it was such a simple yet powerful concept. When I saw no one had done it yet, then I was like I am going to do this, I am going to make this happen. Even though again I didn’t know if I could. But when I set my mind to something I give it a 110%. Two weeks later I had all the elements together. I learned how to make stencils just by talking to people and googling. It was all very DIY. The beautiful thing about my story was I started doing it just for me. It fit the bill, it energized me, and it reinvigorated me.
Justin Howard – It was your outlet.
WRDSMTH – Yeah, yeah. I love writing in different mediums. I don’t believe in writers block. I believe in project block. When I am blocked I just shift gears and do something else. The art was beautiful. I could be writing and be like ‘ehh’ and I just went and did some ‘word smithing’, just art. It was therapeutic, it was energetic. I was addicted to it. A couple months in I started getting noticed because I put everything on Instagram from the beginning. I don’t want to say it was calculating. But because I was in advertising, I understand the market. So I was like I am going to take fun pictures because I do like photography. I am going to take fun pictures and throw them up on the internet, on social media. I started seeing that it started to resonate with people. My followers started growing, people started regramming. It just started taking off. I thought ‘wow, this is crazy.’ The real turn as far as the art was when people started, it was in February 2014 around Valentines day. People started asking for commissions. I thought shit, I had to take a step back because if people want to own these words, to have them in their life and in their home. I want to make what I make look nicer. So I took a step back and figured out how to make better stencils and bigger stencils. I experimented more with spray paint. Now it is two years later, I am very modest, but I do feel that the art has risen to the level that it stands out with the work. People always gravitate to the words I put out there. It is amazing I am a writer. I love that. People are also appreciating the art. When I am able to do 8 foot and 10 foot, and now 13 foot pieces I am growing as an artist. I am very proud of the commissioned pieces I do and now I do gallery shows. It is just insane and it is amazing. Long story short, I guess for something I thought I couldn’t do, it is just amazing that the human spirit. The things you find within yourself. It is just a big part of my story. And I love that. I always say that if I only had 500 followers I would still be doing what I am doing. I am having so much fun!
Justin Howard – It started out as a passion project for you.
WRDSMTH – I am still passionate about it! I mean just hearing from people like yourself, fans that I meet, or who email me. I mean I constantly get emails every day. I love hearing that, that is fuel for the creativity fire. It just keeps me going. I hear some people say “I am sick of talking to the fans” I don’t understand that as I feed off it. And if I ever don’t love it I feel like I did something wrong along the way. That brings us to today. The beautiful thing about my story is that is that it just sky rocketed over the last year as far as the awareness of my art and my fanbase. Now I am getting written up on a daily basis all over the world. For any body, for a writer that is living the dream. Again this is just another kickass medium to create in. It has been an incredible ride!
JTH – Well you definitely have a joyous air about you.
WRDSMTH – Well my success has been so unexpected that I constantly pay it forward and give back. Like if you ever see a t-shirt or a print, it always has a charitable overlay. I get messages from people, and their words are just so genuine that I am like ‘pick a piece, I want to give you a piece. I want to send it to you.’ I think that is good. It goes back to one of my most popular words “Aspire to inspire others and the universe will take note.” That’s not bullshit. The reason I think that people gravitate towards a lot of my words is that they all come from something real. That is really a belief of mine and the foundation of WRDSMTH. It’s that I just want to inspire people and if good karma comes my way then the universe is paying attention. I think people of all walks of life need to believe that. It is not that I deserve it. Nobody is entitled to anything, you have to earn it. You also can’t be calculating. Another reason why people like my words is that they are all genuine. That is because I will never write something think this will be popular and look great on a t-shirt. I don’t want to do that. It all comes from my path in life, from things I am inspired by, from conversations I have with people. My muses, the girls in my life, the girls that muse me. It is a romantic muse or a creative muse. That fuels into the work I put out there. It is all a foundation in something I believe in.
One of the secrets of the creative world is “Do it for yourself and hope that it resonates with others.” I think if you go about it the other way it doesn’t work. Like a musician who wants to be the next ‘so and so’ or wants to sound like ‘so and so’ is doing it wrong. It is like writing a book, write the book you want to write and hope that people gravitate towards it. You really have to enjoy the journey every day and you have to be inspired by what you are doing, then if it resonates with other people on any level then that is the secret to it. That is what puts a smile on your face. I don’t need affirmation but I get tons of affirmation because of this. Because of the way it resonates with people, how it affects people. It’s just awesome.
JTH – Why the name ‘WRDSMTH?’
WRDSMTH – Because I am a writer it is so iconic and it seemed to go along with the typewriter. It is so classic and so old school. Part of it started out as a joke, no offense to LA because I do love it, I looked for ‘wordsmith LA’ and it made me laugh because I don’t associate word smiths with LA. I associate them with the old school writers in New York. It is quality writing verses the Hollywood type writing which is a whole other animal. It is fantastic but ‘wordsmith LA’ was just tongue and cheek to me. As I searched for a name, I came across wordsmith with no vowels, it looked cool and was no longer funny. It just seemed to be memorable and eye catching. It comes back to the typewriter and that it is classic. I don’t want to seem old school. But people know that image and now I have heard that when people see the typewriter they want to see what is above it. They want to read the words above it. That makes me happy, that was the whole thinking behind it. I wanted something iconic. That sounds pretentious because you’re not iconic until time and luck are on your side. I just wanted to come up with something simple and iconic and that just seemed to make sense.
JTH – Words… You say you draw them from your personal life like all good writers who write what they know. How do you choose the finale phrases?
WRDSMTH – It is really part of a process. I write a lot for WRDSMTH, things I hear, bits of conversation, like something from our conversation might end up on a wall. It is about a new way to approach a thought. If you notice I do three different types of words. I do motivational & inspirational, romantic and funny. So all of them are just approaching it from a different side. It is just about finding new ways to inspire, romanticize or to make people laugh. I am not political, I never want to be political. There are people who do that and do it very well, that is not what I want to do with my art. I just want to affect people. I think the world needs that. It started off small for me. I just wanted to put up messages in LA, because LA needs it. It is for all the people doing time in Hollywood. I call it doing time for the dreamers who come here to be musicians, actors, writers and directors whatever it may be. I just started saying things to them that I wish people would have said to me when I came here. Then I very quickly realized it isn’t just doing time in Hollywood, it is ‘doing time’ anywhere, that feeling, no matter what walk of life you are in, it’s world wide. Everyone has a dream. Even if they have been a dentist for thirty years they think they want to write a book someday. I just came to realize it was much larger then I originally thought. Words are what I do. I just wanted to affect people, never thought it would be world wide. Just thought it would be here in LA. I just wanted to affect them, where I put a smile on their face. If someone turns a corner or see a piece of mine when they are in gridlock and smiles, they have a moment they then share with others and those people smile. There is the incredible butterfly effect.
Social media is incredible, I totally embrace social media. I wanted to hit on something you said, I have a little bit of right place, right time going on. Word based art is one thing, but because of social media I am in the right place at the right time. In a time when most people are texting as their main form of communication. They are texting short sentences on expressing themselves, and that is our culture right now. The amazing thing is when they find a picture and send it to someone, they are being unique. Usually it is ‘BRB’ or ‘Love U.’ It is expressing themselves even more. I am in that thing. People love taking pictures of my stuff, and using my pictures to send it to someone to express how they are feeling. It is just in that social media culture, in that texting culture that text art is very popular.
I will tell you a fun story because it still makes me laugh. Every time I put up a romantic piece, my comment section just goes crazy. It turns into ‘get a room’ scenario, I know I am getting people laid which is awesome. But there is something funny that happens so I will put a romantic word up and some guy will tag @sueq and a couple minutes later @sueq will come tag back at that guy and be like ‘you are the most romantic man I know.’ This makes me laugh, because I think of a unique phrase, I craft it, I mold it, I perfect it. Then I print it up, go out in the middle of the night and find an awesome spot for it. Risk everything, getting arrested, my livelihood to put that piece up. Then I return a couple hours later to the scene of the crime, to take a kickass photo of it to post to Instagram. But that guy who just tags his girlfriend is the ‘most romantic guy in the world,’ it is not me it is that guy. And that makes me laugh like crazy.
JTH – You just hit on something. With all forms of street art there is a criminal element. Yours is a faceless art. As an artist, you have ego. Do you like being faceless?
WRDSMTH – Yes, I start out with the anonymous thing because of the legality. I never going to sit there and say ‘Blank is WRDSMTH.’ I am never going to put that out there. It would be stupid. I never want my face associated with it. There is a rumor that with city workers, when they come to paint over things, to prove they are doing their jobs they take a photo of the piece. Apparently those images go into a file. There is a big WRDSMTH file because of all the work I have done. I used to care about the legality more. I don’t worry about it as much now because I know there are a bunch of artists who just throw their names out there. Street art is becoming accepted. The city of LA hired me to post inspirational messages along the route of the LA marathon. When shit like that is happening I am not going to worry so much about the legality. I have even had cops roll up on me, right when I first started. I was extremely lucky and I hope to keep on being lucky. I was nervous at the time and the cops were like “don’t be nervous we like what you are doing.” That is awesome too because you can always have a not happy cop, or just a person who doesn’t like street art. Then it can turn into a ticket or a trip to jail. I am aware of that. The anonymous factor I still embrace because the mystery works in my favor. It romanticizes what I am doing. There is this thought, “who is going out at 4am in the morning, who is writing these inspirational words all over the world?” I love that. I am not Banksy, Banksy does an incredible job with the anonymous thing. If I meet anybody, any time when I am putting up a piece, at a gallery or when I am dropping off a commission, I don’t have a problem saying “Hey, I am WRDSMTH.” But I am not going to advertise it. I never want to link the two because there is a very genuine, altruistic thing going on with it. I want that to remain. It is more that the mystery works in my favor. Even when I did the LA Marathon, a bunch of runners wanted to take selfies with me so I put the mask back on. They were like ‘yeah man’ it was like taking a photo with Batman, to bring the super hero thing back into it. I feel like a super hero now. When I go out in the morning, I call it ‘fighting crime.’ My friends are like ‘hey, what are you doing?’ I am like ‘I just got done fighting crime.’ So it is funny.
JTH – Let’s go back to your comment about ‘doing time.’ You just got done ‘doing time’ in London. Talk to me about the different cultures and the experiences you had.
WRDSMTH – I have an incurable case of wanderlust. I will travel any time. That had been great for WRDSMTH, because very early on I was going to London a lot. You mentioned about the question of who is this guy WRDSMTH, and how long is he going to last? You know it is funny, we all have bench marks. Doing a billboard was one of them for me, going overseas is another. To go back to your question, I love wanderlusting, and since I started WRDSMTH’ing it has just added that element to any where I go. I love looking at neighborhood in a different way and I look at cities in a whole different way as well. Let’s take London, I have always loved being there and WRDSMTH’ing there is just so awesome because it is a romantic great city that embraces street art. Areas like Shoreditch and Brick Lane absolutely love it, so you can paint any time of the day for the most part. You still have to be smart about it. Melbourne, Australia is even more so because a couple years ago the city accepted that as part of their culture and they embraced it as a creativity thing. Down any alley you can see awesome art, and that is beautiful. You just have to respect the private property thing which I always do anywhere. There is this line we dance, but street art is becoming more accepted. It is very cool, to go to other parts of the world and experience it. A good example is when I went to New Orleans, I was there a couple weeks with all these things I wanted to paste. But after experiencing the city, I totally ended up letting that influence me and just put up things unique to that experience. New Orleans completely embraced it, right after I left it came out WRDSMTH was just here and there were tons of articles about it. People kept contacting me wanting commissions and would I come back. I did a t-shirt with it, a phrase that New Orleans specific. Stuff like that just happens. Going different places is great.
I have learned to do everything in English, because I went to France and had friends who grow up in Paris help translate phrases, then pasted them up. I still had people saying ‘that isn’t how you say that.’ So I just do things in English now. They embrace it, they like it better if an American does it in English than if they do it in French.
JTH – Let’s talk commissions… What is your favorite commissioned piece? Best commission story?
WRDSMTH – There is a lot in that question. My favorite commission piece isn’t the most popular, though I like the most popular too. I wrote one a bunch of months ago that was a romantic one, “The only lie I ever told you was that I liked you when I already knew I loved you.” And I am very modest, but I feel like I wrote a hit song because I have done so many commissions of it and now it is in a print. The prints keep selling out. It is awesome because it is expressing a feeling we all have in a way that is on the line. Because it is on the street 10 to 12 feet high, people love it. It added a certain coolness to it. People will say ‘I love these words’, then I will talk them through do you want a commission this size or this size? We can do reclaimed material, then we go through all the prices to figure out what is in their budget. No matter what I will always try to give a person a piece. Because it isn’t about the money for me. But in the commercial art work, you can’t be the cheap guy on the block. I will say that if people are gravitating towards the words, and want to own them I want to find a way. There is a beautiful catch all, if they can’t afford the art on the wall there is the prints. They then can at least have the words. That is a big part of my audience too. People doing time can’t afford for the most part the art on the wall in the gallery.
My favorites are all about the stories. Once I wrote one for a girl “I love the way you blush, when I tell you how you shine.” It just fitted perfect. I was so excited because that so fitted her and how I felt about her. I put the piece up on Fairfax on a Tuesday. I was going to premier it on a Wednesday. I literally had the picture in my pocket. She just texted me, saying “I just saw blush shine!” I was like “what do you mean you just saw blush shine” She wrote back “I was just driving down Fairfax, as I stopped there it was.” She saw it the day before the world was to see it. So that was very special for me.
Stories… I have this special ability to make people cry. I think I am up to 15 right now, mostly girls but a couple guys when they come to pick up their art or when they meet me at gallery shows. They break down, but it is awesome because it just shows the affect the words are having. Again as a writer or a person who ‘aspires to inspire’ it is awesome to hear those stories. I have heard everything from you got me through a tough day to my friend had thoughts of suicide, and I showed him some of your stuff and now he is doing well. There isn’t a person on the planet who won’t be moved by hearing that. It happens a lot, and honestly that something I started just for me resonates with other people is awesome. Sometimes I sit here and think ‘Holy Crap, how did this happen?’
Follow WRDSMTH @WRDSMTH