Mental Health Awareness Month: A Conversation with TrustyScribe

Mental Health Awareness Month: A Conversation with TrustyScribe

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. To encourage important conversations around mental health and wellbeing within our creative community, The 10,000 spoke with Los Angeles-based TrustyScribe, a multidisciplinary artist whose work is inspired by his own personal challenges. Read on as Trusty describes how he merges aesthetics with message and meaning to tell a compelling story that lifts spirits and generates open conversation regarding mental health, and how the right song is magic.

You started out photographing street art and then began making street art yourself as part of your mental health journey. Your first artwork was a speech bubble, “Please excuse my depression, it has a mind of its own.” How has your art resonated with others and why are these connections so important?
When I started painting, I was in the depths of a paralyzing depression and in dire need of an outlet to focus 100% of my attention and energy. Writing and creating these life-size word bubbles required my full attention and became a great healing outlet for me as one of the tools on my long road to equilibrium. Only three other people knew what I was up to, but as I painted my pieces around Los Angeles, people began to discover my work and follow me on Instagram. I had only just emerged into the world as TrustyScribe when I received a message from a kid who came across my ‘Please Excuse My Depression,’ piece. He shared that he had tried to kill himself a number of times that year, but my words let him know that he’s not alone in this world and he just wanted to say thank you. I was absolutely floored by the message. I mean, I intended for people to hopefully stand with my work and take photos to complete the pieces of art by interacting with them, but I never thought that something I created could be so impactful. It really cemented for me that my words painted on walls could potentially transcend the medium, transcend the artform and resonate in ways that I could never have dreamed.

Since then, my work has really been a balance between mental health and inspiration, spreading messages of love and compassion along with really specific and poignant, and sometimes challenging pieces like, ‘I Don’t Want To Kill Myself, I Just Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore.’ Besides lifting people’s spirits, I’ve found my work has been a key to unlocking the door to people’s own mental health journey. For the first time, people are finding words for the feelings they’ve had their entire lives. This sense that they’re not alone and that they don’t have to suffer in silence is critical. At the end of the day, we are all on this collective journey together, and by talking honestly about what we are going through, to no longer suffer in silence, to find love and compassion for ourselves and for one another will truly be the foundation to a better and more loving world.

What are some key differences in the way you approach your photography versus your larger mixed-media artworks? 
I absolutely love the way people look. If staring weren’t so socially awkward, I’d stare all day at people, because I’m enamored by facial expressions and the way the face and the body can say so much without a single word. Personally, I think people watching should be an Olympic sport, I really do love it that much. But since it’s not, and I’m weird in my own wonderful way, my photography allows me to capture as best I can someone’s essence and physical intention in a single moment. The collaborative process and time spent with someone I find is intimate and eternally rewarding, and I’m just so immensely grateful for opportunities to create something special with another human being. This holds most true for my underwater portraits. There is a lot of trust and patience that comes with taking underwater photos, it’s exhausting, but also so beautiful and rewarding. I’ve been bridging my photography into my painting, turning images into multi-layered detailed stencils, which has allowed me to create work that taps more of my passions into one cohesive artform.

My word bubbles, specifically, are founded in my background as a writer and storyteller. I’ve worked most of my adult life in entertainment as a screenwriter, producer and director. That world requires so many other people along the creative journey, that the simplicity of coming up with just the right few words for one of my word bubbles, cutting the stencil for it and then finding a wall to paint on allows me to have a full artistic experience without the filter of a thousand other voices. The best part is, with social media, the response is almost immediate. It’s a direct line between creation and the world. This is one of the things I love most about street art, that it’s the most democratized artform in the world. For the most part people don’t know who any of us are, whether we’re a woman or a man, young or old, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, straight, gay, religious, agnostic, etc. We’ve just created something and left it on a wall for the world, and it either resonates or it doesn’t.

Your work aims to explore facets of the human experience, with a more specific focus on compassion and our collective aspiration of love, as exemplified by your painting “Love is the Only Language I Speak Fluently.” Tell us about your creative process, and how you cognitively infuse both compassion and love into your work.
My work sometimes starts with a single word or a feeling. I’ll take that and start flipping it around in my head, playing a sort of linguistic gymnastics with it. It’s like a puzzle, where I may have the sentence nearly set, but one word, or the order of words don’t quite fit. Then one day, it all snaps into place. Once in a while, if I’m lucky, an idea or sentence will come out fully formed as it did for ‘Please Excuse My Depression,’ and a few others, but more often than not it takes days, weeks and sometimes even months until a piece is just right. There’s a perceived simplicity to what I do, and it should feel that way, but putting just the right words together in just the right order takes a lot of work, which I enjoy.

When it comes to the subject matter, I started out of necessity to scream out on walls what I was going through. As I moved further down the road to gaining my balance the ideas and my view of what it is evolved. Love and compassion feel like the answer, and the antidote for all that ails us. I find that they are the solution to everything in the world, and especially the foundation to addressing mental health. A lack of either is why people suffer in silence, out of fear of how others will perceive them, or even how they view themselves. It’s sad and unfortunate, so I work to shine understanding and acceptance, inspiration and aspiration into the dark corners. I make it a point to be inclusive, so that anyone can see themselves in my words, which is why I intentionally avoid gender specific pronouns. Being conscious of others, even if you don’t understand their personal struggles, responding to our differences with love, no matter what they may be, will heal us all. Compassion for others leads to love. I really do believe that if we approached everything in our world, whether it be politics, education, health care, homelessness, manufacturing, all of these things and everything in between with love and compassion, we’d live in a better world. So I do my part, as a small pebble in a big pond to create these ripples that will hopefully touch people and inspire us all to our better selves.

Your ‘love language’ word bubble works explore and advocate for mental health awareness. Can you share why advocacy and awareness regarding mental wellbeing are so pivotal to your work?
My advocacy was born out of the overwhelming response I received from people stumbling upon my work. It was not intentional, but a surprising byproduct of what I was doing to heal myself. Whether it was ‘Love Language’ or ‘Please Excuse My Depression,’ people were reaching out and telling me their stories, sharing what they’ve been battling through, and most heartbreakingly, that a lot of them had silently been in pain for years. My words gave voice to their pain, and permission to say that they weren’t okay. And so, I keep doing what I’m doing, and if by painting my words on walls, creating art and sharing my story can help someone feel less alone, or to seek help, or love themselves a little more, then my life and our lives are better for it. At the end of the day, how lucky am I that the depression and abuse I went through has turned into this? It may seem strange, but I really am grateful for the things that I have survived, and for the life that has blossomed from it.

What initially inspired you to create the work you produce today?
All the pieces of my life have bit by bit lead to this work. I can actually see it as a map laid out behind me. I started writing when I was in 6th grade. I started taking photos shortly thereafter. I had a love for commercials, for movies, for theater. I grew up reading comic books and even worked in a comic book shop as a teenager. I discovered a love of street art. I discovered a passion for capturing photos of artists in the creative process. And then I met a girl. And then that relationship turned abusive, and I slipped quickly into a terrible depression. All of these things; comic books, storytelling, writing, photography, friendships with street artists and this relationship and depression coalesced into TrustyScribe. This is what I mean when I talk about dharma. I didn’t plan for this, but it seems like everything was building towards this path in my life whether I knew it or not. I’ve met incredible people, traveled to awe-inspiring places and experienced so many new and wonderful things. When you’re on the right path of your own dharma you just know it, because things unfold easily and effortlessly, which does not mean that it isn’t a lot of hard work, because it is. But that hard work has tangible results in how the world opens up before you. For the first time in my life, it’s as though I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, and most certainly where I belong.

What would you say to someone who is struggling?
You do not need to suffer in silence. It’s okay to not be okay, and the best thing you can do is to reach out for help. Tell your friends and loved ones and let them be there for you. Let them love you. There are resources in your area, there are organizations dedicated to your healing journey. Please, please, please, just make that first phone call. You do not need to go through this alone.

Does music factor into your creative process, and if so are there any specific genres or artists that you find yourself constantly listening to? 
I am a product of the first MTV generation. I meant it with my piece, ‘Music Is The Sound My Soul Makes When It Dreams.’ But just as I never quite fit into any one particular group, my music isn’t from any one genre. I grew up on Prince and Madonna, they got my feet moving and started my love of dance. Early rap like The Sugarhill Gang onto Run DMC, evolved into my love for the rattling bass of NWA and then the Beastie Boys with one of my all-time favorite albums, Paul’s Boutique. I became a grunge kid of the 90’s, loving Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains, Tori Amos and Faith No More on into another favorite, Southern Harmony Companion by Black Crowes. And of course, there’s pop music, which just feels good. I can go from the grooves of Justin Timberlake, to the wild trills of Miles Davis, Eminem’s masterful lyricism, to Sia’s gut-wrenching truth, Billie Eilish, Florence and the Machine, Death Cab For Cutie, Black Pumas, Jamie Cullum, Bon Iver, Oingo Boingo, and on and on and on.

When I’m painting, music fills the space around me, and the space inside me. I was a little hip-hop dancer once upon a time, and spent years hanging out backstage at the San Francisco Ballet watching my friends shine in the spotlight. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to have musicians as friends and have on occasion written a song or two. I really do love how music inspires movement, inspires art and can lift our spirits and evoke our deepest emotions. It can calm us, sooth us, make us laugh and make us cry. The right song, well…the right song is magic.

If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, help is available. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingofSuicide.com/resources.

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