St. Augustine, Florida
The graphic, tongue-in-cheek artworks belonging to the mixed media artist Ty Williams may imply that its creator is somewhat of a minimalist. In reality, Ty’s exuberance and energetic zest for life is truly what fuels him. A modern nomad who calls St. Augustine, Florida home, but is more often travelling the world to work on commissions, collaborations and other special projects, Ty’s gestural drawings, paintings and doodles can be found anywhere from murals in locales like Sri Lanka and Sydney, to t-shirts and caps for Patagonia, surf boards, bicycle saddle seats and bags as well. They even adorn a limited edition of wooden chairs by Fort Standard, which Ty painted by hand.
At his core, Ty is a surfer. Growing up in Maine, which he says ‘is not a place you would think of for waves, but there actually is very good surf there,’ Ty moved to St. Augustine to attend a small, conservative college (close proximity to the ocean, of course) studying communications and marketing before making the rounds to New York and eventually Los Angeles. While he’s reluctant to state that he lives anywhere full time, Ty does own a house in St. Augustine – a light-filled, urban surf cabin that he and his father built together, which he rents out on Airbnb for stays.
‘Most of my trips are work-related in some extent,’ Ty says, as we caught him in LA after returning from Alaska and about to head on to Hawaii. ‘On social media, it looks like I’m just hanging out, but I try to leverage it in some way, like having the trip covered. I’ve had to be really honest with myself and realize that this is what my dream was. When you get into your mid-30s, [you question] ‘Am I really doing the thing that I set out to do?’ And I guess this is kind of it. From what I’m hearing, I’m living the dream and I didn’t even realize it. That’s amazing.’
Every opportunity Ty gets, he goes surfing. He says, ‘I’m single, I don’t have a family, I have this house and these other things, but what I want is to surf. I want to be surfing and that’s what keeps me happy. I also always try to combine the trips with seeing people so that I don’t fall off the face of the earth.’
It comes as no surprise that Ty’s surf life and art practice are intertwined. Plied with art materials since he was a child, his parents proposed art to him as an outlet for entertainment, rather than allow him to buy action figures or video games. During his college years, Ty created art on the side of his studies, which he credits as protecting him from burning out, just as he watched other students and roommates do while rigorously studying art. ‘In some capacity of my life, I’ve always been drawing on stuff,’ he states. ‘It wasn’t until college that I had some friends that had left for the surf and skate and music industries who were taking some of the grab away from school. That’s when I was like, ‘Oh man, that’s a tangible thing?’ I’m totally a product of that.’
What does wellness mean to you?
Wellness to me is the ability to go through life with the least amount of static or gigantic setbacks. Or at least to be able to handle them, when you come to them, in a way that isn’t overwhelmingly painful.
What are some of your cherished daily/weekly/monthly rituals?
I’m due for some new ones because I’ve really run the gamut, but the ones that I actually do is making sure that I drink lots of water in the morning. Knowing myself, surfing is crucial on so many levels to me. If I don’t do it, I can tell. If it’s not happening, then water is so key to me. I’m also a huge bath freak – very much so into baths. They are amazing and having spent quite a lot of time travelling in Japan, to me bathing is the answer; taking the time to bathe and trying not to take your phone. Some version of the water experience is critically important to me.
When you take a salt bath in an old tub, which I have in Florida, it is an absolute reset button. It’s warm, it’s buoyant, hopefully you’re safe, and it’s really 100% quiet. If you’re able to get your head underwater, there really is a strong return feeling. I don’t know if there is something evolutionary to that, but I totally subscribe to it. You could have received the worst news of your life, but once you return to the water, you feel okay.
I am a total freegan with what I use in the bath. Everything from Trader Joe’s basic as F bath salts, to the Epsom salts, or when I get fancy stuff, I covet it. If I’m in a pinch, bachelor-style, I will squirt some Dr. Bronner’s in there. Or if I’m feeling crazy, just oranges. I just throw oranges in there. I went to an onsen in Japan ages ago where they had that. It’s phenomenal.
How often do you take a bath? Everyday?
I wish. If I was at home in St. Augustine, I would do it everyday. When I’m travelling, no way. Just because it’s a thing. Hotels I won’t really do it. Nothing will happen to you if you take a bath in a murdered bathroom in some roach motel, but we don’t want to do it. So to answer your question, probably not often enough.
How long do you stay in there?I will stay until it gets cold. I stay in for awhile. Like I said, I’m single and so no one else needs the bathroom. I’ll take magazines and books I haven’t looked at in there and try not to fall asleep. A lot of my books have that rippled bottom from getting dipped. Magazines suffer the worst.
Walk us through your morning ritual and how that sets you up for the day.
I’ve had quite a few that have come and gone. I’ve worked through the fads – coconut oil pulling and the like. For me, I’m a huge tea drinker – that’s a major one. I do it almost every morning, regardless of whether it’s just going to a 7-11 and getting a paper cup crappy chamomile tea. I’m caffeine-free, which is very bizarre. I run hyper, and I’m excited, if you can’t tell, so I shouldn’t have caffeine. Very much into herbal teas, it helps me to get going in the morning. I also find it very grounding.
How does this compare with how you end each day?
If I have an opportunity to do a later-in-the-day surf session, there’s something about a sunset vs. a sunrise for me. If I don’t surf, even just walking or biking around the neighbourhood is also huge for me.
What is your preferred mode of exercise?
Surfing, but I also do barefoot running. I did my first race last summer and I felt amazing after. I will come back to it like an old friend, but in terms of enjoyment, I would way rather surf than anything else. I use Bedrock sandals when I run. They are basically car tires tied with string. You are essentially nude.
Do you believe in supplements?
I will occasionally carry around a B-12 supplement because I feel like I’m crashing. In my travel kit, I’ll carry charcoal tablets for when I’m in India, Echinacea and things like that, but in terms of things that I take regularly, I’ll take B-12 and take CBD sometimes, just because I’m in California.
If you're feeling down or stressed, what's your surefire pick-me-up?Laughing. Laughing with friends. I’m also really into juices. I will go to a store and buy one. It just makes me feel like I did something good for myself. The more green the better. I try not to have as much sugar in terms of fruit juices in there. I was raised with the thought process of ‘the worse it tastes, the better it is for you’.
How do you regulate being on your phone?I have a timer counter thing that you activate on your phone that’s supposed to guilt into less usage. I’m definitely open to trying something else. It doesn’t really work and makes you feel shittier. I’m struggling like a lot of us are, but I will say, there are probably people who are worse.
What are some of the biggest issues on your mind today?One of the issues on my mind is definitely the longevity of what I’m doing. Having family, having loved ones around, making sure that the time that I’m spending with them is valuable, quality time, that I’m doing things right and letting people know that I care about them. The other stuff like gun violence and global warming, I’m really trying not to get into that too much, mine is more village-based, I guess. It’s more about my family and friends, and am I doing okay. Health is also a big one that I think about. I’m not a spitting image of health, but I’m also not the worse.
Words: Pei-Ru Keh
Photography: Chantal Andersonty-williams.com