Ty Williams is a talented artist and surfer living in the Northeast. His quirky and original art is inspired by his surfing lifestyle and eclectic taste in music. Making people happy with his unique artwork is his mission. Ty was generous to spend some time answering a few questions.
What was life like growing up?
I grew up kind of moving around. I am from the US Virgin Islands, but grew up between there, Florida, and the northeast (Maine and NH). So, naturally, I got to see some cool places and experience different cultures.
I spent a lot of my time in the ocean—not really surfing. I was really into snorkeling; I wanted to be a marine biologist. I think I saw Flipper or something, and really was stoked on the thought of working underwater—either that or digging up dinosaurs.
My parents both are really creative people, so I was lucky to have that in my life.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young?
When I was young—Am I still young? I’m 25—I looked up to scientists and artists. I think it wasn’t long before I got the skateboard bug and then really got into the personalities of the skate world.
I looked up to my parents, for the most part, growing up. My mom was a creative woman, always making stuff, and my dad is an unimaginably talented builder/ designer.
When did you get your first surfboard?
After my family moved from the Virgin Islands, I got my first surfboard—ironically, in Maine. Yes, it’s cold. This was, like, 6th or 7th grade. It was a shortboard, a Charlie Baldwin with blue flames. It was kind of amazing, come to think of it.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I think I’m similar to most folks when I say that when I stood up on that board, in cold, mushy shore crumblers, I was hooked like the board had nicotine in it. I knew after that wave that surfing was the one thing that made me feel unconditionally happy.
Where did you interest in art come from?
I grew up drawing—mostly dinosaurs and anything related. I loved books with cool pictures, so I always tried to get ideas or draw like the artists in the books. I would get so frustrated; I remember when I couldn’t get the hang of drawing and just kept plugging away at it. Seeing the art in the skateboard world is what really kicked me in the pants and taught me that I didn’t need to draw realistically. Skateboard graphics like Neil Blender’s were the things I remember. I also really loved Ed Templeton’s boards when those came out.
What is your process when creating your art?
My process has changed a lot in the past couple years. When I first started out, I used to make stuff that I thought people would like or perhaps want to have—kind of became lame to me after while, especially after I saw so much of the surf art scene just cycle through itself.
So then I tried being more honest in my work and that meant making things that might be weirder or more of an inside joke—and things I’m interested in, not just what I felt would make for a good tee design. So, yeah, these days my process is making things I feel I want to make and trying to weed out the stuff I am not into making. I think everyone has that struggle if they do something creative for a living.
Recently, I have been doing more mixed media and I really like it and, just like before, in a couple years I might cycle that out and be doing something else. But the process, and my humor/voice, I hope is present in all of it.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
This past year, I got to spend three months in Japan for an art show I had in Tokyo, and I got to live in a place called Kamakura. It was great for me as it forced me to relax and really be shut out as I don’t speak Japanese. The people were the coolest and patient with me talking with my hands and trying to draw what I needed. The trip made for some great relationships and some wonderful projects that I have in the works.
Japan has things so much more dialed than we do, at least in terms of recycling and how they live their lives. It’s so clean and so organized. Naturally though, because of the strict work environment there, I’m sure it gets stressful like anywhere. They also have good waves. I surfed a place called Ebiji (spelling wrong I’m sure). That was just unreal wedgy, punchy surf.
What is it that makes you such a nice person? What code do you live by?
Boy, I definitely want to think I’m nice, but I know it’s a journey and it’s entirely my own. I do very much believe in the thought that we get what we put out there, and I also respect people that do things authentically and don’t intentionally copy someone. I think honesty is a big part. But I’m going to take this question as a big compliment. Thank you for thinking I’m nice.
Who/what inspires you?
My inspirations stem from a number of things, but I suppose the main ones are the ocean and sailing or any culture that is involved in or around those. Surfing really is an afterthought to my art as I try my best to refrain from limiting myself to “surf artist”. I think my friendships and past relationships inspire a lot of what I do. If it weren’t for that, I don’t think I’d feel the desire to make stuff.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
These are some heavy questions. Yikes! The greatest thing I’ve learned so far is to be as nice as possible, and to relax as best as possible. As with those two approaches, I like to think I’ll make out okay. But I have to say I’m still learning and sometimes I feel like I’m riding the short bus. It’s day to day.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
Of course I have regrets. I think the list could be very long. However, I believe they all fall into the category of wishing I had said or not said things to some people or had treated some people better, including myself. I also regret caring so much about what people thought early on when I started making work. Regrets are better as “forgets”—it’s over.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of some of the great things I’ve been able to do because of my work. I have been very fortunate to meet some great people and make cool things. Because of my work, I have been able to travel and perhaps not live a padded lifestyle by any means; but have been able to do what I wanted. I don’t think many people can say that and for that I’m proud.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing still is the same as it was the first day I tried it; it’s still the one thing that I don’t feel anxious while doing or care about how it looks or how it comes off to other people. Surfing will never change for me, I hope. Surfing is my lifejacket in life, I think. It’s there and I know I can turn to it. If I didn’t have that, I don’t know … I’d probably be a pretty miserable guy.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
The most happiness in the world to me? I would have to say is creating something that people really enjoy, but also creating it because you enjoy making it—whether that be art or music or sandwiches. And, for me, it’s art. When I make something that I like and people dig it, it’s win-win and I get jazzed off it.
Surfing is also something that has made me more happy than any other thing, minus seeing my family succeed or seeing my nephew grow up stoked on life. Oops, that’s first.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
The people I really like watching recently are Dane Reynolds and the Malloys—or any of the multi-talented surfers. I think it’s been said a lot that all of those guys have more lasting power as they have more to them than just surfing. It’s a real shame to me when the new surf personalities get the opportunity to say something and have nothing to say or just think it’s cool to play brain dead. Surfing today isn’t about being a burnout and that whole style should be left in the dust. I like surfers who can speak and have something to say, and I believe surfing today is about being more than some hot guy in the sun all day. We have responsibilities as surfers, so we should step up to the plate.
What is in your current quiver? What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
I have been riding for a shaper called Grasshopper for a few years. His boards are unreal. I have a 5’6” quad fish I use a lot; it’s good in bigger stuff and great for small East Coast mush. I also have a 6’0” single fin that I used in bigger stuff. I have a log that I got from Rob Kulisek. I’m not a logger, but it’s fun on occasion.
I also have some funky boards that I have acquired over the years—thrift store grabs and dumpster dives. I also have thrusters that have been collecting dust that need to get used. I have a Grain fish I built years ago when Grain was starting out; it’s more of a wall piece. So I guess I live on my grasshopper fish!!!
My favorite surf spot is Vilano Beach in Florida or Bingin Bali or Manzanillo, Costa Rica. No, it’s a secret spot in … Maine.
What’s your favorite meal?
It’s a toss-up between burritos, mashed potatoes or Indian food—and sushi if it’s in Japan.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I can’t emphasize how important music is to me and my creative process. My iPod has been the best gift, I think. My ex-girlfriend really hooked it up. Anyway, right now, it’s a mix of Talking Heads, Real Estate, Boy Without God, Ariel Pink, Washed Out, Arthur Russell, Animal Collective and old dancehall reggae. I live on music.
What causes/ projects/organizations do you support?
I support causes that do not have hidden agendas. That being said, I like the organizations working with the whale killings (Sea Shepard) and the people at Stoked are doing cool stuff for kids. I enjoyed working with them last year.
Rosa Loves is a cool one I like and was happy to help.
What are you most grateful for?
I’m most grateful for my friends and family. That being said, I’m also grateful that things can only get better.
What’s next for Ty Williams?
I just wrapped up a children’s book I’ve been working on. I also am helping some friends open a store in Japan called Buoys. It should be killer and I’ve been the designing side of that. I also recently just got asked to paint a hotel room at Ace Hotel in NYC, which is a massive, massive honor.
Boy, there is a lot coming up, but I hope that a vacation is coming up soon—that and maybe a date. (Laughs)
For more information about Ty Williams and his art visit his blog here.