They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but most of the time Timothy Goodman doesn’t need that many to get his point across. A designer by trade, his images often features simple lines woven into letters and shapes with a Sharpie marker, spelling out simple messages that all of us need to hear in a way that few people are able to articulate. His wildly popular 40 Days of Dating explores the fears everyone has surrounding love and relationships. Memories of a Girl I Never Knew forces us to confront and accept our insecurities. Now, 12 Kinds of Kindness seeks to transform the way we empathize with others.
Some people don’t know whether to call him a poet, a storyteller, or a graphic artist, but that’s what makes Goodman’s pieces so compelling. You have to approach design as a practice and not as a profession, he says. That mantra is raw and honest just like he is, and it is embodied in the process he uses to craft works that make people stop and pay attention.
For instance, when is the last time you willingly went to therapy with your significant other—and broadcasted the details to the public? Have you ever switched roles with someone you typically judge negatively? How often do we pass by someone in need without even thinking about it? Goodman’s practice often involves answering hard questions like these. It’s all about finding the voice he needs to connect with people. That’s why he flew to Arizona to meet his biological father for the first time. He once spent nine hours hand-lettering Tupac lyrics around a room. No matter the project, Goodman wants to let people know that they’re not alone in whatever they may be feeling. The bruises and the scars are something to be proud of.
Goodman is no stranger to bruises and scars. He grew up in a low-income home with a single mother and never had a clear direction in life growing up. He has always had a knack for visual creations, though, even before he realized it himself. In high school he would steal hall passes and replicate them in batches. After graduating, he worked with a mentor and father figure who taught him skills like painting and drywalling, as well as what it meant to work hard at something. It was during the evenings that he would take design classes at a community college in Cleveland before transferring to the School of Visual Arts in NYC, the school where he now gives back as a teacher. He’s worked for big names like AirBnB, Apple, J. Crew, and countless others, but he recently decided that he’s happier freelancing and working on his own projects.
Some people might wonder why he would leave a position at a place like Apple to go out on his own in the city. For Goodman, it’s never been about doing what people expect you to do. A role model for every kid who stole hall passes and barely made it out of high school, for every lover who’s felt the pain in being vulnerable, and for every artist wondering where to go next, Goodman reminds us of what’s important. Happiness and success doesn’t come from trying to fit in. Instead, life is so much more fruitful when you focus on discovering who you can be. When you find your voice, a picture doesn’t have to be worth a thousand words. Just a few can change the whole way we look at the world.
Timothy is seen here wearing a black Triple F.A.T. Goose Eberly.
You recently ran a social experiment titled “12 kinds of kindness” in NYC. Could you explain a little about the experiment, what you learned, what surprised you, and what we as a society could do better?
It was right after we finished our experiment 40 Days of Dating, that we started asking ourselves a lot of questions. We regretted the way we handled things and felt sorry for the way we treated each other. We kept coming back to one word: empathy. From AA to gambling, to food to work, there are over 200 self-help organizations in the US that employ a 12-step principle for recovery. The value is in the process, so why not try it on our own selfishness? I like what it means to work with my fears and my insecurities. I want to come clean about myself, I want to be as vulnerable as possible, and I want to share that vulnerability with an audience.
Do you have a favorite artist? If so, who and why?
My favorite visual artist is a older NYC-based artist named Red Grooms. His NYC-inspired paintings & small-town story inspired me to move to NYC from my small-town outside of Cleveland. I also love Bob Dylan.
When did you realize that being an artist/designer is what you wanted to be? When did you realize that you were good enough to make a living off it?
I decided to go to the School of Visual Arts in New York City when I was about 23, and I treated it like a job. I paid for it myself by taking out loans and applying for over 50 different scholarships. Before that I was going to a Community College in Cleveland, and I had some very encouraging art teachers. When I graduated SVA in 2007, I started as a junior book jacket designer at Simon & Schuster.
You do a lot of sharpie artwork. Recently, you’ve completely designed over a Ford Focus. Is this type of artwork predetermined, or do you tend to act on instinct? In other words, are your designs organic and spontaneous, or are your steps carefully considered beforehand?
A friend of mine always says “If you want to change your tool then change your look.” Five years ago I made a decision to get my hand in my work more, and it all started when I had the opportunity to do a mural for the Ace Hotel in NYC. I basically locked myself in this hotel room for three days with a Sharpie Paint Marker. Since then I’ve adopted a whimsical hand-lettering & drawing style that I now do for a variety of clients such as Samsung, Google and Target.
When doing commercial work, how do you toe the line between what you want to do as an artist and the message you want to convey, while also keeping to the style and format of what the client wants?
I've always worked to blur the lines between my client work and my personal work because they both inform each other. For example, I started doing a lot writing on Instagram, and I've since done many murals for clients with that writing.
Do you ever experience “writers block” where you run out of creativity? If so, what do you do to find inspiration?
An old teacher of mine used to say, “There is no such thing as creative block. If you’re feeling “blocked” then just turn around and go a different way.”
I’ve read that you are a frequent traveler. Do you have a favorite cold weather destination?
My hometown Cleveland, Ohio every holiday season. Every time I go back home it reminds me of how far I've come and how far I still want to go.
You wrote “Memories of a Girl I Never Knew." What is this about? Does this work belong in the fiction or non-fiction section?
A year and a half ago, I started two different Instagram writing pieces. The first is called “Memories of a Girl I Never Knew." which are longer formed vignettes that I write my thoughts and past mistakes with women and relationships. Each piece is a reflection on dating, relationships, or romantic failures, from Internet-creeping an ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page to Timothy’s childhood obsession with Janet Jackson, to all the firsts that happen over the course of a relationship. So many of our personal experiences and failures are universal. I wanted to share his without crying (or maybe crying a little). It's been amazing to see how much they respond with people.
100 years from now, one of your artworks is being displayed in a museum. Which one would you like it to be and why?
Definitely one of my 'Memories' pieces. Until then you can buy prints on my shop! :)
For more info on Timothy, please visit: Timothy Goodman - http://tgoodman.com/ Timothy Goodman Shop - http://tgoodman.tictail.com/ 12 Kinds of Kindness - http://12kindsofkindness.com/ Memories of a Girl I Never Knew - http://www.memoriesofagirlineverknew.com/ 40 Days of Dating - http://fortydaysofdating.com/