Credit: Anjali Pinto

Tara D., 28, is an illustrator and designer who goes by Lil’ Brown Bird. She owns and operates a gallery on wheels called Hotbox with her boyfriend, a local street artist named Nice One. Leor Galil

I am an illustrator and designer and the owner and operator of Hotbox mobile gallery. Hotbox is essentially a delivery truck that I turned into an art gallery. I contact a lot of people that inspire me—sometimes they’re my friends, sometimes they’re friends of friends, but for the most part it’s just people that I see around the city that I think are doing something really cool. They’re usually pretty excited about being able to paint a huge truck themselves, to showcase their art in a really interesting way.

Three years ago, I was working at an ad agency and constantly feeling conflicted between being a designer—not really having a lot of expression or anything in my work—and wanting to have this other side of what I did that was handmade. I was like, I need to try to do something for myself, because I could work in advertising forever. I’d be happy and I’d be paid and I’d be comfortable, but I really just want to try to do something that I feel is really true to who I am. I’ve made some money from advertising, and I just want to blow it all on a big idea.

I was walking down the street one day and just kind of thinking about traveling the country, like an American gypsy, where I just travel and meet great people along the way, where people paint my car and it’s just one huge adventure. I was trying to leave Chicago and a U-Haul is like $1,500 or something. If I’m going to spend that much money I want to have something to show for it afterwards. I started looking at these trucks. I found this electrician in Elgin, and he was retiring. He was so sad to let this thing go. There were all these crazy switches that he rigged up because he was an electrician. It was very personal to him. I drove it to Virginia and hung out there. It’s a ’74 truck, so it’s 40 years old. The thing on the highway is just scary. Everything’s shaking, so it’s like, “I’m just going to keep it local.”

I guess it was just a test for myself. I wasn’t as gypsy as I thought I was. It turned out to be a lot more difficult of a lifestyle than I was ready for.

I have this problem where I’m always like, “Oh, I’m over Chicago. I need to get out of here.” Then the moment I cross other state borders I realize I have a huge support group and a ton of connections and there’s a lot of really great things here that take time to build anywhere else. It always brings me back. I’ve left like two or three times and I’m like, “I’m going back home.”

So I came back to Chicago and I kind of just combined a bunch of ideas and it just felt right. I was like, I’m just gonna ride around Chicago and make it into a gallery that I don’t have to live out of.

The people who are involved see it as a really big thing. It’s not just a truck that hangs out and people paint on it. It’s getting people really excited about art and street art again. We just had a group show back in December called “The Good Guys,” which had like six or seven of the most dominant street artists that are out right now. They all got to meet. I think in a way it definitely has a power of connecting people, which I think is a huge asset in Chicago and places where the communities and subcultures are doing their own thing.

My ultimate dream is to just travel and do art. I’d love to do the Hotbox forever, and make it an all-around-the-country thing that could travel to different states. I’m trying to work towards that, become more of an independent artist—which is super, super hard. It’s an everyday hustle thing.

Ehsan Ghoreishi, the filmmaker

Index: 2012 People Issue

Vern Hester, the photographer