Born in South Miami during the mid-1980s, Emerald (also known as Echo or Lady Echo) grew up as the youngest and only daughter in a family of three boys. As a young girl, her favorite activity was riding on the back pegs of her oldest brother’s bike while being taught how to read the signatures of graffiti artists from around their neighborhood. By 1994, Emerald had a “tag” and was learning how to use spray paint. In 1999, she began pursuing Graffiti and Art as a passion. She attended a pre-college program at Pratt Institute in New York City (just before 9/11) during the summer of 2001, receiving only a month of formal training in painting, drawing and art history. She has continued painting ever since. Many of Emerald’s works can be found interacting in public spaces throughout the United States and Europe, or rolling along freight lines from the United States to Mexico and Canada.
Click here for Echo’s interview with Bombing Science in November 2008
So, since your last interview in 2008, how has life been?
Life has been real! A lot of ups and downs in the past eight years. My best friend OiL died the year following that interview… I went into a bad depression. Poke BS, the only person in NYC who looked out for me at that time, died 8 months later. My older brother died a year and half after that.
In a span of 2 years, my protectors, the men who (although would give me so much shit in between us) wouldn’t let anyone fuck with me, were taken before I could realize how valuable they were.
I spent the next several years in a bad place. It took a lot to figure out how to be happy again. I’m still kind of traumatized. I panic that the people I care about are going to die all the time. I panic that I’m going to die all the time, which is why I am constantly producing as much as I can. I don’t really party anymore. I don’t drink anymore and I don’t socialize very often. I stay in and I work on my legacy. I feel immense pressure to create while I still can. I feel immense pressure to leave things on good terms with people I care about as much as I can. I know how fragile life is. I’ve learned that even the strongest bonds are temporary, and I no longer take it for granted.
Also, since my last interview, NEKST – arguably one of the strongest American bombers in our current generation of graffiti, passed away. IZ THE WIZ passed away. SACE passed away. Countless other graffiti writers have also died. Does this mean we, as graffiti writers are a culture of troubled people who will die young in higher percentages? I’m not sure, but I’m well aware of the possibility.
Aside from that, technology has changed at a super rapid rate in the past 8 years. Smart phones became a thing, pay phones went extinct, social media emerged, Instagram replaced Flickr (for me), information is being shared and spread at rates faster than ever before in our civilization. Food (and nearly anything) can now be ordered through an app on your phone. It’s an interesting time to be alive!
When did you start writing?
I learned about Graffiti as an 8 year-old in the early 90’s – and even had a tag, E.C.K., but didn’t actually start seriously writing until 1999.
How many trains do you think you’ve painted since you started?
I honestly have no idea how many… It’s got to be in the hundreds, maybe even a thousand or more? It takes a lot of cars before you actually make a dent. I hope one day my panels get a catalogue raisonné like fancy artists do with their works of art.
What was your first train painting experience like?
Clumsy and inexperienced! Growing up in Miami, I spent most of my life in sandals. My dumb ass walked into the freight yard with flip-flops and busted my big toe on a pile of rocks within 45 seconds of being in there… My foot bled the entire time I painted, but I finished my piece on a Chessie System coal car. I still have a scar from that day.
Some writers love painting trains more than walls. What about you?
I prefer trains. I love the smooth metal on clean trains, but also love working on the rough, rusted surfaces of freights. Trains come more naturally to me than a clean wall. A panel that will end up moving with a train is more forgiving and less intimidating for me than a flat wall that will blatantly showcase any mistakes I make.
As an artist, what’s your favourite medium to use other than spray paint?
Stainless steel. I love welding and if you weld it properly, stainless steel will produce a rainbow of colours from the oxidation of the metal.
I also like epoxy resin, it allows me to make sculptures out of objects like used spray cans.
What was the most thrilling experience you’ve ever had while you were out painting?
Hmmm… Graffiti is always kind of a thrill for me, regardless of how big, little, or insignificant what I’m doing is… There are different kinds of thrills for me with painting. Some are fun, but some are hectic. Seeing my work running years later is a thrill for me. Discovering new mediums and new instruments is a thrill. Recently doing fire extinguisher tags thrilled the shit out of me – like, had me smiling all night and doing a little back-it-up dance kind of thrill.
Guess the most direct answer: I haven’t had a most thrilling experience yet, because I never know what to expect, the thrills just keep coming 🙂
What type of music do you enjoy listening to while you’re painting a canvas or any type of work outside of the streets?
I listen to music literally all day (if I’m not listening to the news.) It helps me work and it just feels necessary. I’m probably more into music than I am into art – even though I’ve never made music or ever had an interest in trying.
I listen to all kinds of music: Rap, Hip-hop, Soul, R&B, Folk, Metal, Alternative, Jazz, Pop, Electronic, etc. Obscure stuff as well as super mainstream. It depends on my mood or the feeling I need or want at the time. Music gives me a physical reaction, so certain songs feel better than others. Sometimes I overdo songs that make me feel really good to the point they no longer feel good and I can’t stand to hear them ever again.
My favourite song since 1992 is “Minds is Playing Tricks on Me” by Geto Boys. The melody really spoke to me as a kid and it can still give me chills if the mood is right. Since then, my other favourite is “In a Sentimental Mood” by John Coltrane.
My favourite albums of all time are “Live and Dangerous” by Thin Lizzy, “Ready to Die” by Notorious BIG, “Table Scraps” by MHZ (Megahertz), “Give Up” by The Postal Service.
I was going to start listing artists that I like but it would take forever. Instead, if people are interested in my music taste, they can check out the playlists on my Youtube channel: Youtube.com/c/emeraldartstudio. So far I’ve made 3 lists: Dance party station, Rap station, and Soul station. I listen to these playlists all the time and I add to them whenever I have a free moment.
What’s your favourite aspect of Graffiti? Is it piecing, hand-styles, throw-ups, or everything?
My favourite aspect of graffiti is that one can never run out of surfaces on which to get up or instruments to do it with. I love tagging, I love throw-ups and I enjoy piecing too. It’s all fun to me, but some endeavours require more work than others. Tags and throw-ups are quick but require more strategy than a piece sometimes, even though a piece can be grueling effort-wise.
I prefer to paint super readable spots that will be seen in motion, whether the surface is moving (train, truck etc.) or the viewers are moving (train line spot, highway spot, etc.)
What’s you biggest motivator/ inspiration that drives you everyday to be creative? That skirt you made the line of drips on was rad as hell.
My biggest motivator is death. Like I mentioned before, since so many people close to me have died unexpectedly, I have a panic inside of me that I’m going die very soon. I’m extremely concerned with my legacy and I think the work I leave behind is what matters.
As for inspiration, I’m just a creative person. My mind is always searching for that “new new” all the time. I like to experiment and try stuff that I’ve never seen; I like to put new spins on traditional things. Monotony exasperates me; I can’t even walk down my own street the same way more than a few times. I’m constantly exploring. I like to go where I’ve never been. I like to have fun and be silly. Even if I’m alone, there’s never a boring day.
Glad you like the skirt with ink drips! It was a spin on an idea I had for photo shoot with black drips on skin, combined with my obsession for edding ink + the recurring theme of edding ink in my artwork. I wanted something funky to wear out that night and nothing in my closet was cool enough so somehow I had the idea of dripping black ink on my white skirt and took the risk. The dried ink was smudging at first so I sprayed it with Rust-Oleum clear coat to seal it. The ink stained the vegan leather of the skirt, but the sexy surface black ended up cracking off by the end of the night. It was a one-time item, but very fun to rock!
What’s the coolest place you’ve ever had the opportunity to paint in? (State, country, abandon spots wise.)
Hmmm… I think one of the coolest places to paint that I’ve come across is an abandoned factory in New Jersey. I have bad memory for some details so I can’t remember who took me to find it (maybe TACOE.) The factory had several floors, lots of walls, and old locker rooms for the workers, with a lot of stuff still in the lockers (including old porn magazines which I know I have photos of somewhere.) For a while after we found it, I was the only person painting there along with whomever I selected from NYC to join me. I think I had like 5-6 pieces in there in the course of a few months. It was super cool to have an entire building painted with graffiti that I basically got to curate.
Aside from that, I’ve had the opportunity to paint a freight spot that’s near the ocean. I’m a big fan of the ocean, and a big fan of freights, so getting to combine the two is almost surreal. Imagine finishing an end to end, high as hell on paint fumes, looking up at the bright moon and stars, hearing ocean waves crashing as the moonlight melts onto your piece. It’s like a dream.
What’s the creepiest thing you’ve ever experienced in an abandoned spot?
Never really had too many creepy things happen while painting, but the creepiest thing that’s ever happened in my life was on a “work” road trip with detour to the Grand Canyon. I was travelling with a friend; we were staying close to the monument the night before and had planned to visit in the morning. We requested a room with two beds, but when we got to the room there was only one bed… We soon discovered there was a door in the room that led to another room, which had its own bed and bathroom. We assumed they either gave us the suite on purpose without saying so or that it was an accident, but we decided to use the second room either way.
I locked the manual door latch (which prevents the door from being opened even if someone has a key) and proceeded to wash my face and get ready for bed. B was in the room next to me and spoke to me thru the connecting door, told me he had to grab his shorts from the car so he could shower and would be right back. I was in the bathroom and heard a door slam closed.
When I finished I walked out, I heard B’s shower going next door but noticed the latch on my door (in the second kind of sketch room) was open – which I thought was weird because B could have walked out of his own room – especially since we didn’t even know if we should be in the second room and he saw me make a point to latch the door when we first walked in.
I re-latched the door and waited in B’s room watching TV. When B got out of the shower, I asked him if we could use his door only to go in and out of the room so that the door of the second room I was in would stay locked. I explained that when I got out of the bathroom my door latch was open and I was concerned someone could just walk in if they had the key.
“Emerald, but I didn’t go out of the door of that room. I went out of this door. Yours should have stayed locked, I didn’t unlock it.”
I looked at him in shock. “Are you fucking with me right now?”
“No, I swear.”
We both walked back into the second room and the door latch (which I had JUST re-closed) was open again. This time there was no possible way that B had opened it. We closed it again and watched to see if it was faulty and might open on its own. It didn’t. I got chills up my arms and tears started streaming down my face. B was in shock too, he didn’t know how to handle me crying, but I could tell he believed I wasn’t fucking with the door latch either.
I ended up grabbing all my shit out of the second room and slept in the same bed as my friend that night. We both agreed it was probably a ghost and that the motel we were staying at had probably been built on some ancient Native American burial ground or something. I still get tears when I think of it. Creepiest shit ever.
This is probably a difficult question to ask, but what’s the most monumental piece you’ve ever done?
Hmmmm… I hope I haven’t done it yet! I hope I still outdo everything I’ve ever done. I don’t want to be stagnant. I don’t want my highest achievement to be in the past, I want it to happen as often as possible.
Most people probably wouldn’t know you have a dog unless they follow you on Instagram or actually know you. (Who, b the way is very cute.) What made you decide to get a dog and how has she changed your life?
I’ve wanted a dog for a while and circumstances finally aligned for it to happen.
Also, after so many super-disappointing experiences with disloyal people, I figured adopting a dog would be a safer bet than trying to connect with another person who betrays me. I rescued a Pit Bull mix and she’s changed my life in a lot of ways. It’s like having a kid. I take care of her before I take care of myself. She’s so smart and makes me laugh all the time with the things she does. She’s really strong and fast, but is the sweetest little thing ever + possibly a winner for the world’s best “Snuggler” award.
I can’t imagine living without her, but I have already prepared myself for the fact that dogs have 13-15 year lifespans. I get mixed emotions sometimes when I watch her sleep. Relief and shock that they almost killed her at a shelter, then kind of sad knowing I’m probably going to outlive her and that there will be no other creature just like her. Aside from that and all the work involved, having a dog is the coolest thing ever!
What do your parents know about your Graffiti lifestyle?
My dad died when I was a kid, so my mom and brothers raised me. Yes, they know about it in general. Not necessarily all the details of what the lifestyle involves, but they know I’m a writer.
When I was a kid in the early 90s, my oldest brother wrote graffiti and my mom was cool with it. She was cool with all his graffiti friends hanging at our house; she even had her own tag, “Mom1” and would ask them to put her up. She would get excited when she saw them up on the highways or tags on tollbooths, etc.
When I was 15 and started writing, my mom found flicks and I got in so much trouble! It was OK for her son, but not for her daughter. I had to change my tag so my mom didn’t know what I wrote and I didn’t take photos of my graffiti for the rest of the time I lived at home. During that time she found out (through one of my oldest brother’s friends) that I changed my tag to ECHO, but since she never caught me with photos, she could never prove any of the stuff she saw was done by me.
I moved out of her house before I graduated high school and after that she couldn’t tell me what to do. Eventually I decided to be super open with her about what I was doing. In her attempts to finally have a close relationship with me, she was all of a sudden cool with it.
I remember when I lived in New Jersey at one point, she said she wanted to visit and do what I do – so I asked her if she was down to do “back jumps” on some subway trains and she said yes! I refused to take her, but she insisted she wanted to spray.
When I had been arrested in NYC for painting a street spot, my mom’s cell phone in Miami was the only number I had memorized. So I called her from jail and asked if she could call me in sick to my job in New Jersey. Obviously it was really strange because my job knew I didn’t live with my mother, but she did it and it worked out. She’s never actually painted with me or really even made efforts to follow my work; but I have sent her flicks before and she has told me that she looks for “ECHO” or “OiL” whenever she sees a train passing. She met OiL a few times and tells me that she remembers him fondly.
My oldest brother, who put me onto graffiti to begin with, has reprimanded me a few times for writing on shit. Even so, I think he digs that I’ve gone so far with it and I think he respects my choices. I know he’s proud of me even if he doesn’t really think graffiti is smart for me to do.
My older brother who passed way (I have three older brothers btw), never really liked it. He didn’t like that I would be out late at night with guys, didn’t like that I was going into train yards (with guys,) and didn’t trust any of my guy friends. He was convinced my friends were going to sexually assault me or had already been trying to rape me in my sleep when I was on graffiti road trips, etc. On the other hand, he was also so amazed that I could get away with so much – like, statistically, he couldn’t believe how many times I had painted illegally and not gotten in trouble. I remember one night after telling him about a super-close call while painting in NYC, he was super stoned, got some sort of epiphany from my story, and explained to me, “The key to getting away with anything… is a girl… All you need is a girl and you can get away with anything.”
What spots have you hit that you may have risked your life painting?
Ugh – recently did some seriously sketchy shit about 23 feet high on a ladder. The person I was painting with had just caught a fire extinguisher tag on the rooftop of a building (with security guard not far from us on the ground level.) He insisted that he could not bring the extinguisher down with him and that I needed to climb up and get it.
The logic of why he wouldn’t be able to climb down with the extinguisher and why I was able to do it made no sense to me, but I needed him to shut up and get down, so I climbed up to get it.
The extension ladder was lifted to the max and still had a grip of space before the roof. Hehad to hand the extinguisher down to me from several feet above, and there was no chance of placing it into my hand. He was going have to drop it down (even though there’s no logical or realistic way I could have grabbed it from the bottom.) (As I’m typing this, I still don’t know how I agreed to do this.) With one hand holding the ladder, I reached up above my head to have him drop a huge (way bigger than normal size) fire extinguisher into my small lady hand. I obviously couldn’t hold it and somehow (without falling off the ladder) repositioned the fire extinguisher mid-air, slid the bottom between my chest and the ladder and hugged it with my free arm and began to climb down. The entire time I was climbing down he kept going on: “Holy shit, you’re such a fucking gangster… You’re a fucking G.” I was shaking and my heart was racing from the adrenaline, but I made it down safely and the security guard didn’t catch us. Definitely never doing that ever again.
New rule: You climb up with it. You climb down with it. Fuck that.
My final question… Are you a pizza or pasta gal?
Is both an option? I eat pizza and pasta more than once a week. If it’s a nice Italian restaurant I’m getting some form of pasta, but if it’s not a boushie spot then I’ll go for the greasy pizza. Favorites: Joe’s Pizza on Carmine in Manhattan, Garage Pizza on Sunset in LA (yes, there’s decent pizza in LA!) and La Pizza on la Croisette in Cannes.
Thank you for all of your time Echo!
Thanks for the interview! Super cool to follow-up with the same website 8 years later. I don’t do many interviews so these will be valuable one day 🙂
Interview by: Nathaniel Villano, here’s his instagram