The anonymous street artist, Wrdsmith — a transplant from the Midwest following his dream in L.A. — jokingly calls himself a cliché. A few years ago, he was working in advertising in Chicago when he realized he just wasn’t happy. His job was creative but it wasn’t enough.
He wanted to live the dream. He wanted to be a writer.
“I decided to quit my job and move west,” he says. “My family and friends all thought I was crazy.”
Deciding he’d rather struggle financially than continue down a path that didn’t bring him happiness, Wrdsmth made the leap. And while his L.A. life has had its share of challenges, he couldn’t be happier with his choice. He’s found success in various writing fields, and most surprisingly, has become a renowned street artist.
I talked to Wrdsmith recently about his unlikely journey, how positivity drives him to inspire others, and his superhero origin story.
So you moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, why L.A.?
I actually had friends who — when they knew I wasn’t happy in Chicago — they were like, hey if you wanna be a writer you should move to Los Angeles. For a while I was like “there’s no way I’m doing that. It’s not my kind of city.” But I decided one day just to do it and I moved here.
And just a couple months in, I remember being in Runyon Canyon and I was like this place, Los Angeles, is awesome! You know what I mean? It gets a bad rap but it’s just so … creative and conducive, the weather’s great, and I just realized: I love it. I’ve been here long enough that I call it home. I absolutely adore Los Angeles. I have no desire to move anywhere else.
What gave you the idea to begin putting words and phrases around the city?
I started just wanting to say things to people in Los Angeles that I wish they would’ve said to me when I first moved here. Just positive stuff, motivational stuff. Like “If you’re gonna chase your dream, chase it — one hundred percent. Don’t doubt yourself,” and just things like that.
But what I realized really early on is that it wasn’t just about Los Angeles. Everybody has a dream. There are stock brokers in Chicago who dream about writing a book, and there are dentists in the Carolinas who want to be actors. These are people that came here, and I started talking to them, saying, “put your head down and put in the work.” You’re not going to be sitting on the porch when you’re older sipping lemonade going, God, I wish I wouldn’t have chased my dream when I was young. It’s gonna be quite the opposite.
When you first started putting up pieces around the city, did you get immediate satisfaction or feedback?
I started off doing it for me. I just love writing, period. And I like writing in a lot of different mediums. In 2013, I had a really creative year, a good year but that meant I was sitting in front of the computer all the time. So I had this day that I realized, wow, I need an active hobby. I need something that gets me away from the computer for stretches of time. But I know myself, if I took up photography, I would also be resenting it because I just love to write.
I’d always loved street art. I’d been inspired by it even when I was a kid, and it’s just such a part of the city. But I never in a million years thought I could do it. I actually thought superheroes did it because these things appear overnight, and they’re on top of roof tops and on buildings and it’s like, “Who did that?”
But I needed an active hobby and thought, maybe I could try street art. And if I did street art, it would be word based. I had the thought of a typewriter painted with a page made of wheat paste coming out of it … I loved the idea so much that I actually had to google to find out if anybody had done it before. and when I discovered nobody had, I was like, “Oh my god I have to do this.”
So I got over the fear. I just learned how to make stencils. I learned how to wheat paste. I just taught myself. That’s the great thing about the internet, you can really discover how to do almost anything. I just packed up a backpack one day with words that I printed up and a stencil and some paint, and I went a couple blocks from my house and I put up my first piece. And I was hooked.
How did that first piece make you feel?
It fit the bill of everything I was looking for. It reinvigorated me, it energized me, and the adrenaline rush was unbelievable. I was just having so much fun.
And to come back to your earlier question, really early on I saw that the words were resonating with people. They were popping up on my feed with tags and I was like wow, people are finding this and they’re finding it motivational, they’re finding them romantic, they’re finding them funny. It was, I don’t know what to call it, a snow ball effect — like this is so lucky. It just started taking off and now I do it full time. It’s very gratifying.
That’s cool! How did it become a full time job? What was that evolution?
I was having so much fun that I put a lot of time into it. Like there is no formula, there is no path, there is nothing with this. It’s people that go out in the middle of the night and put up a message that they think is going to affect other people, but there’s no guarantee that it’s gonna be seen. It could be painted over in 20 minutes or it just might not resonate with people.
I was very lucky in the sense that the messages I was putting up were well received. I’m a very positive person and I think my messages were universal and motivational. With everything going on in the world I think that positivity, was needed.
What are some of your favorite phrases that you’ve written?
I have a lot of them. They’re so personal and they’re so rooted in things in my life. “Aspire to inspire others and the universe will take note” was something that I wrote a long time ago and I think that it’s taken on a life of its own, where it is the thought behind WRDSMTH. I totally believe in that, in the good karma of just aiming to inspire others and motivate others and I think that, that word has taken wings far beyond what the original intention was when I wrote it.
The other one is: “The only lie I ever told you, is that I liked you when I already knew I loved you.” I feel like I wrote a pop song because it resonates with so many people. It was rooted in my life and means something to me but it’s this universal thing that again, has become something else. I’ve done so many commissions for that piece and that’s fantastic, I mean I love that. Any writer is gonna love that they write something that’s speaks to that many people.
What’s the most recent piece you’ve done?
I did a utility box on Hollywood and La Brea. I love utility boxes, they’re these ugly gray boxes that are this blank canvas. And when people are stuck in traffic, you can reach them, you can talk to them. I put up a word that is just motivational and it’s: “Follow your calling, trust in your talent, chase your dream, believe in yourself.” So again, really things that I think anybody in any walk of life can adhere but the it’s a message that really resonates here in Los Angeles.
You can follow Wrdsmth on Instagram!