These are the wise words of Tommy Keough, though his own wise words aren’t the only words he’s known for. A landscape architecture major at UGA, Tommy started making graphics as a mere hobby. Today, it’s much more than that.
Tommy is the founder of Three Wise Words, a project with a simple mission: to use his passion for design to create a platform that gives a voice to the wisdom of others.
Here’s how it works: if you have some wisdom to share, you condense it into only three words. You send those words to Tommy, with a description of the message behind them. He designs a graphic to represent the phrase, and then he shares it on Instagram so that his followers can benefit from your words.
Check out @_tommykeough_ on Instagram if you want in on the fun. You won’t be disappointed.
Jaw dropped? Wondering how in the world he does it? We were too. So we asked!
Q: You’re an architect. How did you learn how to do graphics?
The summer after my sophomore year, I lived alone on a farm in Virginia, working at a winery. I would wake up early and end my day once it got too hot, so I had a lot of free time. It was just me and my dog. So I decided to invest my time into learning how to do projects in Photoshop. We had learned the basics in my major, but I wanted to push myself. Mostly, I made fun posters of rappers, animals, and movies. I eventually started an Etsy store
I kept the projects going after the summer ended, but eventually, I started to get bored. The Three Wise Words idea came along at just the right moment.
Q: When was the “spark moment” behind the project?
Well I guess it was a little over a year ago. I do this weird thing where I text people in my phone random, funny questions… “Would you rather poop a pinecone or eat a pinecone?”, that kind of stuff.
So I thought of this one question: “If you had to give advice to a group of people in only three words, what would you say?”. After I got a few answers, I started to realize dang, people actually have answers that mean something to them. I wanted to capture that somehow.
Q: What were the first “three wise words”?
They were from my dad. “Laugh at yourself.”
Q: How did you go about getting submissions?
I started reaching out to friends. After a while, people started reaching out to me, too. My favorite ones that I get are the ones where people just call me up randomly. Sometimes it’s people I haven’t talked to in years.
Q: What tools do you use when creating your graphics?
I try as much as possible to capture the essence of what they’re saying visually. No two projects are the same. I make it my goal to learn a new way to do something every time, so I approach each one differently. That’s why there is not much continuity.
There are limitations to every program, so sometimes I have to use multiple tools. I do hand drawing, Illustrator, Photoshop, sometimes a combination of the three.
I remember one in particular that I hand-drew, brought into Photoshop, then printed it out and drew over it, took it back in Photoshop, printed it out again, and took a picture of the print.
Q: How long does each project take you?
Usually, I let it sit in the back of my head for a couple of days. Once I’ve got an idea, it usually takes two to four hours. The production time varies. (laughing) If you did the math on how long I spend on these things, it would almost definitely not be worth it.
Q: What has the project meant to you?
It’s a way for people to connect and share something personal and meaningful in a very simple way. A lot of times, people get the chance to reach an audience who wouldn’t normally get to hear what they have to say.
Over time, the project has seen a lot of silly words but also words grounded in real experiences and real pain and real character building. One girl recently gave me a phrase her dad used to say that meant a lot to her. He passed away a month ago.
Q: What have you learned from the project, apart from the graphic skills?
It’s taught me that every person I interact with is this really complex being, and that they have depth and value and words to say that actually matter. Every single person.
Q: What’s your goal for the project?
The ultimate goal is to put them all in a book. Prints will come, but I want to take time and make sure they are done well and in high quality. It means a lot to me and also to the people who have given words.
I’m also thinking about making a website. Absolutely no steps have been taken toward that. But stay tuned!
Q: So you graduate in December. Where to?
That’s the big scary question. Being able to be creative is the most important thing for me. If I end up in a job crunching numbers, I’ll be pissed at myself in ten years.
As far as specifics, landscape route or graphics route, truthfully I’m not sure. I was kind of hoping that someone would follow me around and take over the responsibility of making my decisions, but no one has done that yet. So I’m out here by myself.
I’d like to see a way to combine what I love about landscape design and graphic design. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that there really should be a marriage between those two disciplines. I think design is design is design.
I’m also really obsessed with branding, so that would be cool. And I’m restless. I would love to do everything, but I can’t.
Q: Other goals?
Hmm… I love houses. I would love to live in one. Baby steps.
I see myself being very mobile in my twenties. I have my eyes on several cities, most of them southern, some not at all. ATL. San Fran. Charlottesville, Virginia. Idk. Life’s an open book.
Q: Your own three wise words?
“Nobody is disposable.”
Everybody matters. That’s the inherent message behind the project. Everybody has value and everyone’s life experiences should be able to come around and aid everybody else's.
Well said, Tommy. We wish you the best as you keep creating! Thanks for sharing, you cool, cool human.
PS – cool humans have cool sites too. To hire or admire, check out tkeough.com.