An Artist Perspective: The Meaning of Creative Independence

Featuring 2021 Titan Walls artists Wingchow, CERA and Eric Karbeling 

For the ultimate artist feature, we asked three of our spectacular Titans from this year’s Titan Walls Festival what creative independence means to them. Here’s what they had to say about the source of their inspiration, what they would tell their younger selves and their advice for aspiring artists.

photo credit: CERA

What does creative independence mean to you?

It means choosing your path in life based on what is important to you, versus choosing to do something because it is important to others. You can have creative independence in whatever field you choose to go into, but it means being a free thinker, taking control and deciding how and where you want your life to go.  – Wingchow 

Having the independence to create something truly my own is everything to me. I’ve been painting murals for several years and have worked with both clients that require themes and rigid structure, to clients that give me the ball and tell me to “run with it!” Each has their own unique benefits, but I LOVE being able to create something with no expectations and no constraints. I think this openness allows me to be more experimental with ideas that I haven’t tried before, whether that’s new patterns, new colors or new ways to generate content and narratives. Creative freedom gives me the space to stretch out and learn. – CERA

Have the space to get to make only the things you want to be doing. – Eric Karbeling

What is your favorite project you’ve worked on to date and why?

So far, my favorite project is a mural for Jorge Mas Canosa Middle School in Miami, FL for aWall Mural Projects in 2019. All the artists were painting during school hours, and the kids were so excited to watch all the new art coming up around the school. One day, a student came up to show me that she had drawn a picture of me. She was sweet and shy, and reminded me of myself when I was her age. It’s an amazing feeling to think that I might help inspire the next generation of creatives, and I’d love to take on more youth related projects in the future. – Wingchow

There’s one project that comes to mind as my all-time favorite project called “Wrapped Up” in Des Moines Iowa 2018 for Third Space DSM. I created this work at an interesting time, I had just moved across the country from Philly to Chicago[ish]. I wasn’t employed full-time so I found myself doing things for clients that I normally wouldn’t, and saying yes to things I wouldn’t normally, just so that I could make rent. Brian of Third Space invited me out to paint with full creative freedom and it just felt like the right project to take. I used this as a kickoff point. It felt like someone said, “Here’s the keys to my car, take a rip, no consequences.” That was the first piece I had made since about 2014 that included the whole figure, not just cropped portraits and swatches of pattern, and it felt energetic because I learned that I could use the body to tell more elaborate stories. People relate to their own likeness, so using the body in relationship to moving objects or animals is a great way to create these scenes and narratives. I still think about that project a lot because it sent me on a trajectory that I am on today, one that I feel honestly and wholly proud of. – CERA

My favorite project I’ve worked on is aWall Mural Projects in 2018 at Santa Clara Elementary School in Miami because it was one of the greatest experiences painting ever. We were painting all over the school while it was in session, and almost every time the kids came out of their classes, they were screaming in excitement. They were asking us everything about what we were doing, came with their own drawings of the murals and wrote us all tons of thank you cards all throughout the week. You could really feel the impact that we had through their excitement! – Eric

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Lots of different places. For abstract works, I’m inspired by different color combinations and interesting shapes I see anywhere/everywhere. But a lot of it is intuitive for me, and I’m not sure exactly where some things come from. With figurative pieces, the inspiration comes from nature, feelings, stories, everyday experiences, and more recently, spiritual ideas I’m exploring. – Wingchow

I pull inspiration from the world around me, so I think it comes from multiple places. I grew up skateboarding, so I’ve always been someone that finds interest and excitement from our built landscape, things like architecture and public sculpture, but also graffiti and posters that surround and adorn those buildings. The odd thing about skateboarding is its relationship with artists. Every skateboard I’ve ever owned always had a graphic, so I was always around really cool artwork. These days I’ve been pulling a lot of inspiration from my positivity, finding that I’m happier with projects when I put happiness into them. Utilizing colors that illustrate that joy, or depicting activities that bring me fulfillment in life, like skateboarding, driving or surfing and drawing them in these situations based in fantasy. – CERA

I’m mostly inspired by following the fun in what I’m making, not trying to force myself into any specific direction with imagery or anything other than painting murals that I’ll enjoy the whole way through and always trying to push beyond what I’ve done before in some way with every project. – Eric

photo credit: Wingchow

What is something you would tell your younger self?

Trust in yourself. You can do way more than you think you can. – Wingchow

Stop stressing… straight up. Don’t worry so much about the uncertainty and don’t compare your journey to others. Almost failing high school is going to make you feel different from everyone around you. You’ll feel stupid, but your strengths are elsewhere, and you will take advantage of those. Continue to choose what brings you joy. – CERA

Just keep going. Everything you’re doing will eventually build to something much bigger and better but will only be possible because of everything you’ve done – even if it’s totally different than what you’re doing now.  – Eric 

What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Keep working, keep a good attitude and keep your ego in check. I think if you love what you do – as long as you keep pushing and improving – you’ll find others who will love your work too. Don’t get caught in the trap of feeling like you “deserve” something over someone else. No matter how good you think you are, no one likes that “I’m the shit” energy. Stay positive and humble. – Wingchow

Just keep swimming. You’ll probably hear “no” all the time, but it’s the one “yes” you hear that truly makes the difference for you. There are going to be massive ups and downs to choosing art as a path, but if you love it, then it’s worth it. Try to avoid comparing your artistic journey with someone else’s because we all have different backgrounds, and your success (whatever success might mean to you) is different than everyone else’s. Don’t be afraid to shift gears, if you feel like you’re making the same stuff all the time and it’s boring, change it up. What’s the harm? None of this is so important that it should be wrapped up in self-worth either. If you’re not where you want to be today, there’s still time to get there another day. Try tomorrow. The most important thing you can do is not give up, plain and simple. Keep learning and exploring and keep making work that is true to you. – CERA

This might not be a popular opinion among other artists but having a full-time job, and doing only what I wanted on the side, was the best path to finding creative freedom and fulfillment for me. No one is going to ask you to do the kind of work you want to be doing if they haven’t seen you do it. Using the freedom a day job creates can slowly build your own world and show you exactly what you want to do. – Eric

photo credit: Muros

Who is someone you look up to and why?

Well in terms of career, there are too many artists to name who are doing things that I hope to be doing someday. But to answer another way, I look up to those who are genuinely positive people, the ones who do things for others without expecting anything in return, who exude good energy and make everyone feel welcome. I’ve met a lot of those people over the years. They inspire goodness in others, and we need more of that in the world. – Wingchow

I look up to a lot of people, and different people for different things. I listen to a lot of music that helps guide me, and for that I look up to the musicians, hip hop specifically. I look up to artists working in my field, some established and some emerging because they both have inspiring stories and perspectives that have helped guide me along my path. I look up to my family as well, I see how they live their lives and make choices, it’s inspiring to see the journeys they’ve all made. I just get really excited by a person’s choice to keep going, their will to keep rolling with the punches and find ways to overcome. I love a come-up story, and anyone who chooses to spend their life making choices for themselves rather than letting choices be made for them is inspiring. – CERA

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