Doing It with Will Heron

Getting intimate with one of Dallas’ street art vigilantes

If we’re going to shine a little spotlight on the people in Dallas that are thinking bigger and doing bigger, there’s one artist who we can’t overlook. Will Heron (street name: Wheron), a lifelong Dallasite, doesn’t necessarily need HOWDO’s spotlight because his work is already covering the city. You’ve seen Wheron murals on the sides of buildings in Deep Ellum, in Oak Cliff, and now more permanently and prominently in Trinity Groves where Wheron set up shop at The Platform, a new-ish space for gallery shows, artistic collaboration and community gathering.

We connected with Will for a Doing It Q&A to find out what keeps him going, really why (and how) he does what he does. And how much of an impact it has on the city’s creativity, a crucial part of street art that we can’t ignore.

Read on, then follow Wheron on the @w_heron.

Hometown: Dallas

Years in Dallas: 28

Current Dallas neighborhood: Oak Cliff (living), West Dallas (studio – The Platform)

How did you get your start in art?

Art has been a lifelong passion of mine. Since I was about 4 or 5, when asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I would respond, “a Professional Color-er.” Although I started with crayons and markers, I’ve grown in all sorts of 2D, large-scale mural, and digital art media.

What’s coming up for you? Next projects?

I have a solo gallery show that opened April 1 and runs through May 15 at Eastfield College titled “ENTENDRE,” which explores a variety of Wheron word play and site-specific murals. I am also currently exhibiting at Fort Works Gallery as part of the “#28Grams” group show, which is up until May 20.

Dallas isn’t the first city that comes to mind when you think “creativity,” how do you feel about that? What are artists, including yourself, doing to prove that stigma wrong?

I think a big part of this supposed stigma isn’t about the existence of creative in Dallas – because Dallas has tons of remarkable budding visual artists, musicians and fashionistas. I think the real stigma revolves around these up-and-coming creatives STAYING in Dallas rather than moving onto NYC, LA or Miami because they are not able to reach full potential while staying in Dallas.

How I try to prove this stigma wrong is to continue making gallery and public works here in Dallas, and opening my studio space – The Platform – as a collaborative space for Dallas artists. Over the last decade, there has not only been more support for keeping Dallas artists in Dallas, but Dallasites/Dallas sites providing gallery venues and public wall spaces for these Dallas artists to flourish. I think Dallas is headed in the right direction for having the creative spaces and opportunities for artists to succeed while making artistic roots in the Big D.

What do you like about Dallas’ creative community?

I LOVE Dallas’ creative community because, for the most part, my fellow artists are super supportive of each other’s creative journeys. A reason we wanted to open the Platform in West Dallas was to not only have a working studio space, but also have space for collaborating with other local creatives in an unconventional environment. The 1940s-styled Platform house in West Dallas has allowed us to experiment and collaborate with other local artists like Dan Lam, Drigo, Shamsy, Dyemond Obryan & Laura Davidson over the past year.

While I love exhibiting in gallery shows and pop-up art installations, public mural works are my ideal medium

Where do you find inspiration?

I take inspiration from a variety of places. Much of my current work bounces between commercial, fine and street art, which is hugely inspired by 1980s/90s queer artists like Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. I also am inspired by a ton of contemporary street artists and illustrators like Cleon Pearson, Shepard Fairey and FAILE. But I often find the most inspiration from my fellow Dallas art contemporaries, as they push my art practices and creative sensibilities. In terms of my imagery inspirations: a lot of my illustration and 2D work reference cacti and other Texas/Southern flora and fauna that will mix-in some type of graphic illusion or visual word play.

You gravitate toward street art and murals, what is that process like? Where/how do you create?

My process usually starts with illustrating on paper with pen/pencil. Even for a giant 200ft. wall project like our UNPHAZED mural in Trinity Groves, I start on a small-scale draft in my sketchbook. Once the idea is fleshed out, I use spray paint and latex, exterior wall paint to sketch the large-scale design on the public wall space free-handed. When the giant composition has been sketched in paint, my Wheron team and I go back over the mural with black and white exterior paints, layer by layer until we reach a clean graphic, black-and-white Wheron aesthetic.

What does street/community art mean for you and the Dallas community?

Public artwork is where my true passion lies in the visual arts. While I love exhibiting in gallery shows and pop-up art installations, public mural works are my ideal medium due to their accessibility and approachability. Street art allows for all types of community members – no matter rich or poor, those with an MFA or no art education at all, young or old – to enjoy the local visual experience. Public mural works and street art tell a story for all to view and appreciate, without the stuffiness of a white-walled gallery or velvet-roped museum exhibition. I love the idea of making mural works for all people to enjoy that is free to see, interact with, and inspire others. Among the many muraled zones in DFW, Elm street in Deep Ellum and Davis Street in Oak Cliff are great examples of neighborhoods that showcase a wide range of street art styles that create a vivid public conversation about Dallas through art.

What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Creativity is a muscle, and like any muscle needs to be worked out all the time in order to be strong. As both a high school art teacher and an artist, one of my biggest pet peeves is when people say “I’m not creative” or “I’m not artistic” because EVERYONE IS AN ARTIST! Some people just have more practice and confidence in their art, but everyone can become more creative if they make the act of creating a habit. Twyla Tharp discusses this notion of scheduling daily moments of creativity in her book “The Creative Habit: Learn it and use it for life,” which since reading in undergrad, has influenced my own daily creative habits with Wheron.

Other advice I have for aspiring artists, especially in Dallas, is a classic idiom: “Don’t talk about it, be about it!” Basically saying, an artist can talk all day along about the work they hope or plan to create… but it’s the artists who aren’t necessarily talking about it, but the ones making and doing the art that will lead them down the path of a artistic success.

There is always some type of art event and gallery opening happening in DFW, so go out there and meet people, make connections, and put yourself/your art out into the world. You never know which of these random connections or small interactions will lead to your next gallery showcase or public mural masterpiece.

erik herskind