Credits: Story by T.K. Mills // Photos by Thirdrail Art and WRDSMTH
As a street artist, WRDSMTH has painted internationally. Over the past four and a half years, he’s put up murals and stencils in cities across the world, from Philly to London to Tokyo and more. But what most don’t realize, is that he was a master of the pen long before he picked up a spray can.
“I’m a writer first and foremost. Always been a writer.”
WRDSMTH was working in an advertising firm in Chicago near his Midwest roots.
“I always dreamed about writing. I was fascinated with the film industry."
Not content to be only a dreamer, WRDSMTH took his ambitions west — he quit his job and moved to Los Angeles.
His friends and family warned him about throwing away what he had; “Everybody thought I was crazy.”
Sunny and 75, the coastal city became the writer’s home. WRDSMTH got involved in the film industry, cranking out screenplays. For several years he wrote and produced, creating several documentaries and TV series. WRDSMTH even directed a short film, A Blue Christmas, which naturally, he also wrote.
While working as a screenwriter, a story idea began to form in his head. However, the plot of the first act followed the protagonist as he works intensely on his quest. In a movie, this would be a montage. But WRDSMTH wanted to flesh out the details. So he decided to write a novel.
The work of a masterful storyteller, The Holden Age of Hollywood is one man’s quest across LA to find the writer who left it all behind.
Meyer Holden is Tinseltown’s star penman. A screenwriter with range, Holden has written Oscar-winning dramas and blockbuster action flicks; his stories contain depth, complexity, and intrigue. His scripts become legendary, as each new movie is a massive success. But Holden, disgusted with the industry’s narcissism and greed, disappears.
Written from a first-person perspective, The Holden Age of Hollywood, follows the narrator as he reads through an endless sea of spec — the screenplay slush pile. After his abrupt departure, Holden continued to submit screenplays under pseudonyms, daring anyone in Hollywood to find him. These ‘Holden Tickets’ are a guaranteed ride to the top.
Without giving too much of the plot away, the book is a page-burner, the type you can’t put down. I finished it in three days. A unique conceit on the usual Hollywood tale, Holden is a mix of noir, romance, and mystery. It’s a story that keeps you guessing until the end. Intertwining themes of the power of personal determination and choice, as well as a scathing take on the film industry, run through this debut novel. Accessible even to the less literary among us, WRDSMTH employs clipped prose and short chapters. In writing and art, he follows a philosophy of “less is more."
Blending some of his favorite authors, such as Salinger, Hemingway, Palahniuk, with a bit of a down-and-out Bukowski vibe, WRDSMTH creates an atmosphere in Holden that feels so real that some don’t believe it’s fiction.
“I used to have a knee-jerk reaction… People think that the characters are based on people I knew."
Of course, like any writer, WRDSMTH takes from his own experiences to write. However, all the characters are his own creation.
“I banged out a first draft, polished it, and worked with a friend to edit it. We sent it out and it ended up getting published.”
When the book came out in 2012, it was a major milestone for WRDSMTH. Like all writers, he had doubts of whether he could pull it off. But The Holden Age of Hollywood also marked another turning point in his life — the book sparked his street art career.
During the writing phase, the author who would soon adopt the pseudonym WRDSMTH, was spending a lot of time in front of the computer. Working upward in shifts of 6, 8, 10 hours a day, WRDSMTH needed an active hobby. Well-crafted writing is arduous, and it can be hard to churn out fresh ideas every day.
“I don’t believe in writer’s block; I believe in project block.”
This new project needed to involve writing and get him out of the house. A longtime fan of street art, he considered giving it a try, but was intimidated by the task. But once the idea got in his head, it began to percolate and take shape.
He envisioned a typewriter, with words rising out. Quickly, he googled to see if anyone had done it before. When he saw it was an unclaimed style, he got over his fear and started getting up. Within a week, WRDSMTH was out on the streets.
Initially, WRDSMTH thought stickers would be a more practical to route. However, he liked the style of stencils more.
“I’m kinda embarrassed, though it’s part of my story. The first 2-3 weeks that I started, I worked with a store-bought stencil.”
However, seeing how good the pieces came, he got amped up to do it himself; “I was like screw it, I’m gonna learn to cut stencils.”
In designing his trademark typewriter, WRDSMTH built off a couple classic images, and then worked to simplify. There were several iterations in the beginning, but since he found the right one, it hasn’t changed. WRDSMTH doesn’t believe in mistakes; it’s all part of the process. WRDSMTH recited one of his favorite Samuel Beckett quotes: ‘Fail Better.’ These days WRDSMTH’s typewriter is recognizable across the globe.
“I was energized, I was reinvigorated.”
WRDSMTH starting get up around the city. His words appeared, as quotes of what he wished people would have told him when he first moved to Hollywood. And people took notice. More and more, WRDSMTH got notifications as people took pictures of his art. The response was overwhelming.
“It’s been absolutely thrilling… but I’m just so amazed this whole thing took off as it did.”
Ultimately, that is the greatest experience a writer can have, to know how deeply your words resonate.
The City of Angels
These days, street art has become a full time profession for WRDSMTH.
“I definitely grind — I still grind — I love hitting the streets and just spreading my messages far and wide.”
Despite his incurable case of wanderlust, WRDSMTH is happy to call Los Angeles home.
"The city surprised me… I love the people. I love the creative energy. I love the weather, and being able to work 355 days a year.”
When he first got into the scene, WRDSMTH expected the street art world to be secretive and competitive. Instead, he found the community is incredibly open and welcoming. Everywhere he travels, there is always someone eager to help.
“I like working with artists who work to go that extra mile.”
When doing a collab, WRDSMTH likes to try to integrate the different styles to create a cohesive piece.
One artist that was instrumental in WRDSMTH’s artistic ambitions is Teachr. Teachr, as his name implies, is a street artist who likes to promote the craft by teaching others. He showed WRDSMTH the mesh technique, a stencil method that allows letters to be sprayed without the need of islands or bridges.
WRDSMTH took what he learned and expanded on it, constantly working to improve his trade. Following his philosophy of less is more, WRDSMTH has a fascination with the one-layer stencil and has worked to perfect it. Like his mentor, WRDSMTH believes in helping other and is happy to teach anyone who reaches out.
“It’s great to spread the knowledge.”
While WRDSMTH is particular about his own work, he admires the diversity of styles others have created, whether that’s multi-layered stencils, stickers, freehand painting, or anything else.
“I support it all. Sometimes you hear people talk about the hierarchy… To me, any method someone discovers and uses to expresses themselves is awesome. If you’ve got the itch, you have to scratch.”
Among his peers, WRDSMTH feels a strong kinship.
“There’s this commonality of — ‘we’ve reinvented ourselves.’ There’s so many people chasing their dream — I feed off that energy.”
On the growing global street art scene, WRDSMTH was both humble and proud.
“I feel we’re going through a renaissance. I’m happy to be a part of that.”
The Future and The Past
As a writer, WRDSMTH is never afraid to tread new territory.
“I guess the secret to me is, I just like writing in a lot of different mediums.”
And as an artist, he is not afraid to re-examine his past.
Last year, WRDSMTH had his first solo show in Los Angeles. The show was a success on many levels. In putting the show together, WRDSMTH had a lot of time for retrospection. Some of his most popular pieces like ‘The Honesty of Her Silence’ and ‘Blue Elephants’ were originally quotes from Holden. These reflections made WRDSMTH miss the craft of long-form writing.
When it was originally published as a paperback in in 2012, The Holden Age of Hollywood was a critical success, winning awards such as ‘Best New Fiction’ from USA Book News. However, as is the case is for many debuts, the book did not receive much notice from the wider public.
With the hard cover release of Holden, the book is now under his street art pseudonym WRDSMTH. Between the covers of the hard copy, readers will find world building details and documents from The Holden Age of Hollywood as well as high-resolution photos of his murals and stencils. The book is itself a work of art.
Looking to the future, WRDSMTH is already percolating on an idea for a second novel – tentatively titled: ‘The Dog Wonder.’
Recently while traveling for his book tour, WRDSMTH gave a talk at New York’s most famous independent book store, The Strand. I was in attendance. He signed my hard cover copy of The Holden Age of Hollywood with a small stencil of a blue elephant.
I asked, writer to writer, what was the best advice he could give someone who is just beginning their career.
“There’s no other way, but to just start. A lot of people think about doing it. A lot of people dream about doing it. A lot of people talk about doing it... Dive into that pool of the unknown. Just do it."
Copies of The Holden Age of Hollywood can be purchased through Medallion Press