Ty Williams

An artist and illustrator with a love of the ocean

Jan 11, 2016Words By Justus ZimmerlyPhotos By Nick LaVecchia

Discovering, collecting, and appreciating art is a truck stop on the way to figuring out who you are. What you like. What you don't. The feelings you feel. The feelings you don't. Art makes your soul grow, as Vonnegut once said. It's why we've created the Huckberry Artist Series, in which we're partnering with some of our favorite artists to share their stories.

Our exclusive Huckberry Artist Series continues with Ty Williams, an artist, surfer, and wanderer who sometimes calls Maine home (but only sometimes). We paid him a visit to chat about travel, salt water, truck stops, and art — and to get some insight into the creative mind that led to the creation of his work.

"I seem to work better in a big hurricane of ink and paint"

Five Minutes with

Ty Williams

InterviewedNovember 2015

Ty Williams on travel...

Traveling in every sense is the thing that keeps me inspired and wanting to create things. I tend to not make a ton of work if I stay in the same place for an extended period of time, because I get stagnant or in a creative rut. While traveling, I meet people which often ends up leading to work. Meeting people in person is so refreshing rather than doing everything over the computer.

Japan is always high on my list of favorite places — over the past 6 years I have spent a lot of time there. This year I would love to check out somewhere I haven't been and get a good dose of culture shock. I'm pretty open to suggestions. I have always wanted to go to India and surf there.

Who are the artists you look up to?

I really love simple primitive art, like rug prints and tribal paintings — things that are very simple but also excite me and make me want to make art like it. In terms of notable artists, I have been fortunate in my life to have some of the people I look up to be my friends. Someone whose work I love is actually one of my best buds: Ramsey Dau. I also really love Saul Steinberg and Matisse.

Pick one of your favorite pieces and share the story behind it.

I change my mind constantly about things I make and whether or not I like them, but I painted these fish awhile ago and they happen to be up on my fridge while I’m doing this interview and I like them. I made them one morning at my counter while I was actually working on something else entirely. Sometimes what I intend to make leads me to doing something entirely different and in this case these fish turned out to be used as a nice pattern on a postcard and they feel refreshing to me. I always love fish and painting them.

How does your surfing background work itself into your art?

Surfing and making things are often interchangeable for me. If I don't do either for a while, I end up feeling pretty lousy. I also tend to make lots of designs and do jobs for surf-related outlets which happens organically.

Describe your workspace — what do you keep around to stay productive? 

I’m a book and magazine hoarder... so at any given time I have a stack of books around me. I pick them up everywhere, thrift stores, book stores, friends. So my work space always is cluttered with books about sharks or camping or old funky jungle books or old cartoons. It’s really kind of embarrassing at times, as I see fellow artists' photos of their work spaces and they're always so tidy. I seem to work better in a big hurricane of ink and paint and scanning stuff that looks like someone came and ransacked my table. It's what works for me though... out of the mess and anxiety sometimes comes an "OK" product.

Do you remember your first “outdoors” experience as a kid?

I was raised in the Caribbean for the first part of my life, so the ocean and being in and around it were natural for me. Being "indoors" was the foreign experience for me.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

Whimsical, simplistic, with a mixture of tropical and nautical themes.

What was your favorite toy as a kid?

By far my snorkel and my mask, because it was my ticket to a whole other world.

You walk into an I-80 truck stop at 2 in the morning, and leave with: 

A Clif bar and a coconut water (maybe a scratch ticket too, but only a 2 dollar one).

You've been handed the keys to a DeLorean. Who or what would you visit first? 

I would go surf some places like Malibu before they got crowded in the 60's, then maybe I would go to Jamaica and hang out at Studio One and watch some reggae legends play music.

Art matters because… 

...So many other things don't matter. [H]

Ty’s Social Hangouts

Tyby the numbers

  • 1960'sMalibuThe ideal time travel destination for surfing
  • 2DollarsThe most Ty will spend on scratch tickets at the truck stop
  • ThreeCore aesthetic principlesWhimsical, simplistic, with a mixture of tropical and nautical themes
  • 9SurfboardsThe total size of Ty's quiver
  • 3SurfboardsThat actually get used on the regular

Ty’sfavorite things

  • "I always have some tortoise sunglasses, my FairEnds cap, my OLBA nasal stick for stuffy allergies, my Makr wallet, and my very, very cheap cell phone. Maybe a Burt’s Bees chapstick if I’m living wildly."
  • "My workspace always is cluttered with books about sharks or camping or old funky jungle books or old cartoons"