Timothy Goodman’s words are all over the place — literally. His thoughtful sayings and textual murals adorn walls in major cities like New York and Hong Kong, are featured on his highly celebrated Instagram account, and even grace a new line of UNIQLO t-shirts. Because of this, we caught up with Timothy to learn more about his inspiration, process, and future endeavors.
Can you tell us about your background? Were you creative as a child?
My name is Timothy Goodman. I’m a New York-based designer, illustrator, muralist, author, and all-around creative person — though my grandma calls me an artist. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and moved to New York City about 13 years ago to attend art school at the School of Visual Arts. As a kid, I experienced a lot of creativity around me because both of my grandparents are artists. However, I rejected that for sports and partying until I was about 20.
Did you have a job before you started pursuing creativity full-time?
After barely graduating from high school, I started working for a guy named Dave, who ran a painting and home improvement company in Cleveland. For three years, I worked full-time painting homes and doing faux finishing on walls while taking night classes at a local community college. Then I moved to NYC to pursue design. After I graduated, I worked as a book jacket designer at Simon & Schuster for a year. Then, I worked at a branding agency for two years before moving to San Francisco, where I worked for Apple for a year. I left a couple of years later to work for myself.
When did you know you wanted to dive into the art world?
While I was working at Apple, about 7 or 8 years ago, I designed my first mural. Later, after connecting the dots, I saw how much I enjoyed the physicality of creating and transforming the way a space feels through my work. It was the first time I did something that felt completely right. Other people seemed to really respond to it, too, and I knew then that I had to do everything I could to pursue it.
How do you conceptualize what you make?
I always try to create work that’s driven by an idea first. I want to make things that are meaningful to both myself and others. I’ve always loved writing, and through the years, I’ve pushed myself to author my own work — whether that’s a mural for a large corporate client like Target or Google, my book Sharpie Art Workshop, art for Instagram (like my Memories of a Girl I Never Knew series), or social experiments with my creative partner Jessica Walsh (such as 40 Days of Dating and 12 Kinds of Kindness). Everything I do is centered on writing and owning my voice.
Can you explain the relationship between your creative work and your social media presence?
Most everything I post originates from my creative work. That said, when I started publicizing my personal projects and writing through Instagram, it brought in a new audience. So, sometimes I make things solely for Instagram. But I still see my creative work and my social media as one. I’m also very vocal about social and political issues, and am not interested in a separation between the two.
How do you combat creator’s drought?
An old teacher of mine used to always say: “There’s no such thing as a creative block. If you’re blocked, just turn around and go a different way.”
I always think about that. I’m a big believer in having mentors, and I think it’s paramount to find someone who will help guide you in a way that also teaches you more about life. I’ve been lucky to latch on to many people through the years, which has helped me rethink the way I do things. I always tell my students at SVA, “Don’t worry about what you want to do as much as who you want to work for.”
What are some of your favorite projects?
There’s a three-way tie between our Build Kindness Not Wall protest at Trump Tower; my global Uniqlo clothing collection that launched in December, featuring much of the writing I do on Instagram; and People of Craft, a project and resource website I recently launched with my friend Amélie Lamont that showcases creatives of color.
The current creative community seems highly focused on images and videos — how do you see the written word maintaining a stronghold?
I’ve made plenty of videos via my 40 Days of Dating and 12 Kinds of Kindness projects with my friend Jessica Walsh, but I believe that words are images, too. And at some point I realized that if I can get my words up on walls, there’s a longevity to it. That’s the thing: social media is ephemeral, but walls will always last.
What does the near future hold for you?
Recently, I’ve come to a realization that my greatest personal resource is my time. I want to preserve this as much as I can. Nothing is possible without time; having and utilizing my time in the right way is a great privilege. I’ve been going very hard the past four or five years, and that was important for my trajectory. Now, I want to take a step back and focus on my craft and rethink the way I want my work to live in the world.
Where do you see your work taking you?
I want to keep making work like People of Craft and the pro bono project I did for an all-girls school in NYC that champions at-risk women. I want to continue to use my platform and my skills to give back to the art community, and to use my privilege to start dialogues around important topics such as diversity in the creative world.