Painting Tampa red, blue, black, yellow, and every hue in between

Murals have democratized art in the past decade, creating a new foothold for work and recognition. Self-trained artists with no connections and MFA degrees have emerged as high-profile personalities. Tampa resident Eric Hornsby, aka “ESH,” is one of these success stories.

The former park ranger now earns his living painting and has founded the Tampa Bay Fresh Fest, a free, family-friendly celebration of urban art and indie culture that’s returning for its third year Saturday, Feb. 15, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Robertson's Billiards in Tampa Heights.

Hornsby, who exhibits a knack for illustrating creatures of all types, debuted locally at a Vitale Brothers show around a decade ago. He visited the Bloom Collective and met James Oleson, Sebastian Coolidge, Derek Donnelly, and others in the scene and enjoyed the sense of community he experienced -- a sense of belonging he wanted to pay forward with the Tampa Bay Fresh Fest.

“They almost had a bit of celebrity to me,” Hornsby says of the St. Petersburg-based artists and muralists. “You know, but they were totally welcoming. They're very friendly and, before long, we were all working together on a lot of projects.”

Hornsby says the festival and murals created and enjoyed long after the event have a positive economic impact on the Heights-Seminole Heights communities, according to feedback he’s received from local business owners, who cite an increase in customer volume after murals are painted on their exterior walls.

In conjunction with the event, live painting and festivities will be taking place throughout the week at Southern Brewing and Winemaking at 4500 N. Nebraska Ave., Southeastern Seating Inc. at 903 E. 17th Ave., and Robertson's Billiards at 1721 N. Franklin St., where a block party with food and a dance party will take place.

Hornsby encourages attendees to speak up after watching murals in the making.

“Let them know if you love what they are doing and please tag us and the artists in your social media posts,” he says in the event’s flier. “Use the hashtag #TBFF or #FreshFest so we see the love!”

Blick Art Materials is selling the official TBFF T-shirts and will be on hand at the block party too, as will Belle Vie foods. A formidable list of artists will be participating and creating art in front of spectators, some well-known and some new to the scene. Familiar names include Coolidge, Donnelly, Zulu Painter, Oleson, Donnelly, Reda, Carlos Pons, Aurailieus Artist, KosharekArt, Mason Schwacke, Jujmo and John Suarez.

Says Hornsby, “This year’s event is almost triple the number of artists, buildings, and promotion -- it’s going to be our best yet.”

For more information, check out the Tampa Bay Fresh Fest website.

Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.