YEARS AS A BUSINESS OWNER: 3
Ashley is an artist that I have always admired. I have had the pleasure of working with her and her collaborative and positive spirit is contagious. Last fall Ashley launched her first line with Target, introducing her designs to a line of cosmetic bags.
You have been inspiring those around you with your paintings, collage, and mixed media art. Last fall you launched a line of cosmetic bags with Target! How long did you work to actually become a freelance artist?
Once I switched careers in 2012, I would say the process to doing freelance overall wasn't super long. I eased into it within one year. I am a freelancer at KNOCK inc where I spend on average about 25 - 30 hours of my week. The means all of my other freelance work happens outside of this. I designate time in the mornings, nights, and weekends to my art. Many-a-hats I do wear.
You have had a formal design education. Do you think that prepared you for being a full time artist?
I don't know if I ever feel super prepared! I was a religion major coming out of my undergrad where I studied a variety of theologies, so going into making / selling art was a slow and snow-balled process. Later in life I did go back to MCAD for a post-bachelor certificate in graphic design.
School expanded my understanding and access to the world of design and gave me language and tools around the things I already enjoyed doing. It opened a lot of doors and the freelance work has been a learn-as-you-go experience.
I ask a lot of questions and try to connect with folks who can answer them. I am still learning and enjoying the process.
I wish I knew this advice when I first started:
There are so many things! I have learned a lot through trying and screwing up. Here are a few chicken nuggets I have learned:
1// How to say no. To the things I don't like doing, but also the things I am not good at doing. It won't be the best work for either the client or myself. I understand that sometimes you need to pay the bills and suck it up. However, I have found that the older I get, the more I sign up for things that will allow creativity to come from a good place inside of me. The outcome is better overall.
How to say no (kindly) to someone's creative direction, when you know it's going to turn out less-than-ideal, is also a valuable skill. When you are confident enough, then sell what WILL work and show how it can be done right.
2// Don't show work that you don't want to be considered as an option. (This kind of goes back to my first answer). If you don't like the work and aren't proud of it, make sure no one else sees it - hide that shit! You can control what the client sees.
I've made so many logos that I didn't actually like in the beginning and I was eager to show the client a lot of options - too many options. I ultimately made something in the end that I was not personally happy with. Sometimes too many options can tell the client that you don't know what looks good. You know what looks good.
3// Track those miles.
How do you actively seek inspiration?
This is a hard question for me, because I'm not the best at thinking proactively about seeking inspiration. I can't say I'm delegating specific space to it, but rather it works itself into my daily habits naturally. There are the usual digital suspects like Instagram, blogs and Pinterest. I tent to focus on looking at other painters, illustrators, stylists and interior designers, because that is where my work revolves around and where I tend to drool the most.
It is important to drool when being inspired.
I started listening to more podcasts this year. I wanted to have space to actively learn while I am sitting in front of a computer screen for most of the day. I can usually find some juicy take-aways. I also shop a lot at vintage and resale shops where I always find lots of goodies that I draw inspiration from.
Visual inspiration is at my fingertips with the internet, so I try and pay attention.
Lets talk about social media. Do you love it or hate it? What value do you think it brings to our world-of-art these days?
Love + hate! I love the inspiration it connects with others. I know SO many more artists and designers because of social media that I would never have discovered otherwise. I have also been able to raise awareness of my own brand to people who would never have seen it or gotten to know me. The flip side is that sharing your work requires vulnerability and that can feel scary or have negative side effects, such as your work being copied or whatnot.
Anytime you are showing your work a lot, there is a higher risk of insecurity to rear its ugly head and to juxtapose that with the fact that it is a necessary business tool. I have stopped trying to figure out why people don't like one thing and like another, so I am just going to keep trying to make work that I am proud of. Ultimately social media makes art, design and creatives more accessible to the world. I think that is a win!
What makes you happy with your work?
Trying new things and learning new techniques. I will often paint over my paintings as my style changes. Some of my favorite pieces are the third draft of an original painting.
I love being open to change and saying yes to the new.
My favorite days of work are when I am super busy, running around and using my best set of skills. It all feels exhausting in an energized way.
What has been a game changer for you?
I've been a painter since 2008 but it wasn't until 2014 that I started to imagine my work outside of a flat surface. Once I started to play with my artwork as a surface pattern, it brought so many more opportunities to share my art with a larger audience. It was an ah-ha moment that turned into fun projects, like my cosmetic bag line for Target. But that world is fucking hard, too. It's very saturated.
I've also had a few folks reach out to work with me on jobs that I may be newer at or have less experience with. These always end up being marking moments for me. I work hard to show what I can bring to the table and I think that contributes to someone trusting my eye. When anyone is willing to see your potential, without you necessarily having 10 years of experience or a giant portfolio, that can become a turning point in your career. I feel like I've had a few of those opportunities in my life.
Probably most creatives have, right? Where you say "yes" and then work your ass off and make it happen!
The best part about being a freelancer is:
Doing a lot of different jobs and owning my own time + schedule. No one job could satisfy me as much as the variety I get to do being a freelancer. The mix of people, places and projects is really fulfilling and keeps me on my toes.
The most annoying part about being a freelancer is:
Keeping track of expenses :\
Not having clear boundaries with work. You can technically work every waking minute if you want Even if you don't have client work, you are asking yourself, "What could I do to expand my work? Start a new project? Update my portfolio?" The list literally. never. ends.
What does success mean to you?
It depends on a few factors. today, in this moment, success is when I have a full day of doing what I am best at and what fills me up. (Preferably laughing while tackling the above). I think a lot about feeling "whole" in what I do and I think that is success for me.