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The first requirement of any artist is to have a vision. That vision is something that you’re born possessing. You don’t pick it, it picks you. And whatever that vision is, be it quirky and refreshing or dark and disturbing, you’re the messenger charged with bringing it to a world which may not even understand it. It’s a scary thing, to put yourself out there and be uncompromising you. You live for the vision and let the muses lead you along.

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Derek Andrew Wong‘s muse led him to a Buddhist monastery once: “I went to a Buddhist monastery for four days. It was the most life changing experience I’ve ever had. I drank only water and tea, meditated twice a day, slept in a cabin in the woods, ate only vegetarian food, and I was away from any kind of phone service (except Internet, which I limited as well), and I didn’t know anyone. Talk about being vulnerable. It’s only at that state where you learn things about yourself. You feel more, you hear more, you hurt more because it’s only really your mind capturing the pain. But out of all the sorrow I felt, I felt so content at the end. It was amazing.”

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Wong is a lead graphic designer at a small design studio in New York. After toiling in the office vineyards of corporate graphic design for a few years, he fled to follow his own vision. And that restless energy leads him to another change now: “I started off in fine arts, then jumped to graphic design. I still paint/illustrate/build/collage/cause chaos here and there, but not so much as I want to. I write more than I draw now. Before I wanted to study visual arts, I wanted to become a creative writer. I actually still want to.”

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After two short stories collections, “Too Dark in Heaven,” and “Why We Are Silent,” Wong has begun work on a third, “Zebras, Zebras.” For those of you who think those titles speak of a haunted, questing soul, you’re right. Wong tells us: “If I had to choose a color that describes the conceptual aspect of my art, it would be black. Random words that come to mind is maybe deja vu, broken memories, wishes, forgotten dreams, classical music.”

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Asked of his inspiration, he confides: “Nature, love, the city, pain, sleep, dreams, drugs, childhood memories, words, quiet, sometimes just walking alone and right when you’re at a breaking point of crying, something comes to you– it does for me at least.”

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And speaking of his relationship to his audience, he tells us: “I think being vulnerable is a means of being strong. It’s a point of putting yourself out there and just doing what you want to do in life. There shouldn’t be any kind of holding back or hesitation when it comes to making art and exposing your emotions. Art is personal. It’s liberating to sort of release what you have inside of you, and it means you have to uncover certain truths about yourself.”

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But just when you think the vision has wafted Derek Andrew Wong to a lofty plane of no return, he comes right back to being tethered to the Earth again. Ask what he sees for himself in the future, and he’ll answer: “I hope more coffee every morning, talking to my parents more often, my brother and I cooking dinner more, and eventually moving away to the mountains with my girlfriend next year. But ask me this question again tomorrow and I’ll probably answer it differently every time.”

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Well, alright, he’ll answer it that way that time. But in the future, who knows? He’s on a journey, and it’s sometimes all we can do to keep up with it. Check out his Instagram at @derekandrewwong.