Maria “TOOFLY” Castillo is a graphic artist whose work has appeared in various books, videos, and magazines such as Graffiti Women, Burning New York, Current TV, MTV Tr3, Trace, YRB, Juxtapoz, and Marie Clair. She also has her own line of t-shirts, designer toys, graffiti bags, art prints, jewelry, and stationary. Coming from humble beginnings in Queens, Toofly’s story illustrates the power mentoring and inspiration can have to shape and motivate people to reach their goals and succeed beyond all expectations.

You note on your website that you were highly influenced by the calligraphy and illustration skills of some exceptional writers as a teen. Who were some of these early inspirations and why were they so motivating to you?

Some of my early inspirations were graffiti writer friends from my neighborhood and from school and other writers whose graffiti letters, tags, and characters I saw on rooftops. Graffiti and illustration fascinated me as a teen because it carried a strong and powerful “rough” but “fluid” energy. I was drawn to it because it’s how I felt at the time.

Your urban arts collective Younity is all about promoting the arts in conjunction with mentoring for young women. Were you afforded any similar opportunities as a child or was there a specific person you viewed as your mentor that helped jump start your passion for art and design?

I grew up with a very creative family, especially my mother. She was always making piñatas, party momentums, or drawings. She was an independent artist throughout most of her life which was how she financially took care of us. She showed me at an early age to be an entrepreneur. During the summer she taught me how to make crafts and sell them on our stoop. I was about 10 years old when I realized I could make things with my hands that people would like and buy. My passion for art and design has been with me since I was a child and I feel my mother and the art programs available to me in school helped me cultivate that passion.

Who, today, do you consider to be your greatest inspiration to create your work?

I feel I carry a strong female energy, and message inside me that wants to shine. I realized it as a child but as I got older, I have come to recognize it, and feel its presence more and more. This is what continues to motivate me, and help create my life’s work around women and women’s issues.

Do you still draw on ideas from your surroundings?

Yes. I continue to draw ideas from various places in my world and state of mind. Everything from how I feel, to the beautiful street art in my city, to fashion and photography, and social issues happening in my community. Inspiration is everywhere and anywhere when I want to tap into it.

What do you think your next move is in the arts/business world?

I have found in the last few years that I want to dive a lot more into community building and education. I have learned so much and have much to share these days. I am in the works to develop my own independent youth program project for girls that will launch in the Spring of 2011.

Now that you have created a strong brand and built the Younity movement, what other ventures are you pursuing?

At this time I would like to continue to make all my ventures strong. Foundations are important for the longevity of the brand. Every year is a chance to learn and introduce a new project depending on where I am at in my life and creative flow. Some ideas make it through and continue to grow but others don’t and so you gotta know when to step away and start something new and fresh. That’s where I am now stirring up something new! For up to date info on my new projects you can visit my blog:

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