Unlike most young art-school graduates forced to work in other fields, Fish is making a decent living from her wall painting.
"I was working as a waitress when I heard about the Anti-Graffiti Network and got a job for $5.50 an hour painting a wall mural at 18th and Wallace," she recalls.
"I immediately fell in love with it. I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. . . . I just love it - the scale and the size. Playing with gallons of paint. Being in the community and having all the feedback."
She soon left the city-sponsored Anti-Graffiti Network and became her own boss. For nearly five years she has been busy painting walls - indoors and outdoors - from city slums to the Main Line.
"I don't think I've had more than two days without a job," she says. "My work is my advertisement. Someone sees me working and asks about a mural for their building. That's how I get just about all my work."
Her latest masterpiece was the first financed (partially) with a government grant. It's a six-story mural on 8th Street near Race titled the Gateway Mural. Its location is sort of a gateway to the city.
It depicts contemporary Philadelphians coming through an archway at Independence Hall. Flanking the main theme are people "breaking free" from old pieces of sculpture.
The figures are realistic, but the meaning is open to interpretation. Fish believes all art should stimulate thought.
"One person said, 'It looks like those people are breaking out of stereotypes,' " she said. "I love it when people come up and tell me what they think a mural means to them."
It took 3 1/2 months to complete the 8th Street work with some unpaid help. ''A man from Chinatown who couldn't speak a word of English - I called him Mr. Friend - started coming every day. He was my art critic. He'd demonstrate and show me his ideas with a brush.
"He was a very good artist," she explains. "I learned from his daughter that he taught art in China for 20 years."
As she does frequently, Fish used real people as models.
The Gateway models were simply pedestrians whom she approached and photographed. Many worked in the building, including the manager, a security guard and kids from the building's day-care center.
A Fish mural in the ARA tower on Market Street depicts works of sculpture found within walking distance of the building. Several people have tracked down the statues.
One job leads to others. A lawyer who works in the building hired Fish to paint murals at his summer home in Stone Harbor, N.J.
"You couldn't see the ocean from his house. I painted a false window in his living room that shows the beach and the ocean.
"In his garage, I painted all his favorite Italian Renaissance paintings. Now when he drives into his garage, he drives into the Renaissance," says Fish.
The 27-year-old artist is from the small town of Olean, N.Y. She is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and came to Philadelphia when a uncle offered free use of a houseboat docked at Penn's Landing.
She found a job at the Abington Art Center, but it was an administrative post. "I was miserable in an office job and quit."
She no longer lives in the houseboat but remains in the neighborhood. She has also traded free wall painting for studio space in Northern Liberties.
The young artist is a happy camper: "I love Philadelphia. I love the different neighborhoods. . . . Any artist wants to reach as many people as possible, and my art is really public art. . . . I'm touched when people in the neighborhood protect my work - and they have done that. In neighborhoods where kids are not exposed to art, maybe my murals will make them explore their creative side.
"People are thrilled to see themselves painted two-stories high. I used one man as a model at 7th and Cecil Moore Boulevard who had severe drug- addiction problems. When he saw himself painted so big, he held his head high. It really boosted his self-esteem. It's touching sometimes."