What is a journey? The dictionary states that a journey is an act of traveling from one place to another. In my years, I have learned that to be true, but let’s face it: Our personal journeys aren’t about going from one physical location to another. Though we may indeed change homes, states or move across the world, a journey is more personal than that. It’s a story — a metaphorical, nonlinear, two-steps-forward-and-a-good-jump-back expedition — with not a single road map or instructional booklet.
The life of an artist is not typically a fairy-tale experience, though I’m sure for some it is.
I was born able to draw. Of course, I had to develop that pincer grip first … but I was always able to put pencil to paper and make it look like something. For as long as I can remember, it was my superpower and still is. It was something people always noticed about me, and I was really lucky to have family and friends in my life who believed that my talent was worth pursuing. I was also lucky enough to believe in myself, which, come on, folks, is half the battle … am I right?
My story isn’t one of fame or fortune. I’ve never had a gallery showing with a hundred attendees. I’ve never worked for a big-time company in a high-rise or designed a storefront window. I’ve never published a book; I haven’t ever sent a painting off to a famous person. But I have lived, and continue to live, a happy creative life. Plus, my journey is still unfolding; maybe some of those accomplishments I just mentioned are indeed on my path … I just don’t know it yet!
I didn’t go to college. I did attempt a singular year but found myself to be miserable; it just wasn’t my bag, and not everyone fits that mold. During that time, I met a wonderful man, fell in love and saw my escape plan. When my first year was through, I packed my things and moved back home and in with him, and two-and-a-half years later was married. A year after that, I became pregnant, and so the story goes. During that time, I worked a conventional job, which also made me miserable. I always knew I wanted to create full time, and while working my conventional at-the-time job, I filled the rest of it with painting.
Sometimes passions are part-time gigs, but they fuel us in a way that our full-time gigs cannot. It is in living for a passion that we find our way, and I knew my way had to be out of a 9-to-5. It made me wilt. So, in the meantime, as we found ground to stand on as a newly married couple, I did street fairs and sold my work online. A few years later, with a little money put away and two more sons added to the family, we decided there was the opportunity for me to stay home and raise our boys but also the opportunity to create my art full time.
“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
As artists, we not only journey through our careers, but we also typically, but not always … journey through mediums.
When I was a teenager/early adult, I worked in oils, but then I moved on to acrylics because the time it took for them to dry was much less than that of oils. From there, my interests and curiosities found me working in mixed media and collage; and for a time, that is where I stayed.
I can’t pinpoint where or when I started working with watercolors because it’s been so long now, but it truly was an aha! moment for me. I found in watercolor a medium that I felt completely comfortable with. I especially loved the look of it, and over the years, I have never felt the pull to work with anything else. Occasionally, I use acrylics when working on ornaments or something like that, but watercolor is my bread and butter.
My studio wasn’t always a charming place filled with all my favorite things, nor was it even a specific room. For years, I created at our dining room table; it was the one place I could be the most creative while also raising kids. Since then, things have changed quite a bit. Time is funny like that. Almost 10 years ago, we said goodbye to our first home and that dining room table and moved into our beloved old farmhouse. Now we have a few acres and a barn, and I have planted more than a few flower gardens that all directly inspire my work. Home for me is inspiration. It’s my haven, my every little thing.
My studio, the space where I spend so much of my time, is my happy place.
No longer am I working at the dining room table but at a large desk in my own studio space. But early on, it was not an attractive space. Farmhouses, after all, are a labor of love, and we knew ours would need some renovations for sure.
Fast-forward a few years and several renovations later, and my studio is now a workspace that completely reflects who I am. Down came the bad Sheetrock, up went the shiplap. Out went a set of double doors, in came a giant window. Out went the carpet, in came the hardwood. It was quite the lengthy project, but my room is now a cozy and inspiring place to be and work. Every day, I feel gratitude for my studio and the fact that I can paint in a room that provides space for all my supplies, collections and even a soft place for our pets to land.
My studio would be a somewhat lonely place without my fur babies. Floppa, my rabbit, resides in my studio full time. He free-ranges most of the day, nudging my feet for pets and trying to play with the cats, who slip in and out for naps and bird-watching from my windows. My “studio assistants” are the literal best. They love the energy of my artistic space, and I love having them for company throughout the day when the family has gone to the office and school.
“It can’t rain all the time.”
— Eric Draven, The Crow (from the song by Jane Siberry)
A self-led path is a little harder than one that has been laid out before you, but it is an extremely fulfilling one. Most of the time, I have believed in myself and my work, but I won’t lie: So much of being an artist is working through self-doubt. With social media, it gets harder and harder to be discovered. At times, I have really allowed that to bring me down, but I’ve also reminded myself in those times that it isn’t about how many people you reach, it’s about that genuine connection with those that you do. It’s about those folks who actively engage with your work and journey.
Every commission I have created, every piece I have sent into the world, has always ended up in the right hands. I love that. I love knowing my work is finding its forever home. It’s the last chapter of each piece that I paint, and what’s better than a happy ending? Besides sharing my work online, I have also hung my work in public spaces, donated work to charity (usually charities dedicated to the welfare of animals) and worked on projects such as illustrating espalier trees for a friend’s debut gardening book.
If you peered down into my day, like opening a box and looking in from above … you would find me opening all my watercolor tins, pouring myself clean rinsing water and setting brush to paper. Maybe I would light a candle first or maybe sit with my pets for a while. But sooner or later, at my desk, you would see my work bloom from palette to paper. Flowers, moths, woodland animals and other things that I have carried within me from the landscape that is our home spill forth when I am lost in the moment of creating. For artists create what they love, do they not? What they are fascinated with and what ignites their innermost creative fire.
Often, dear reader, I feel like my artwork is a love note from nature to you, the onlooker.
I am simply a talented conduit that connects one point to another in a visually pleasing way. I paint what I love, and in turn hope you will love it as well. I invite you to walk alongside me and my creative process via social media. Through Instagram’s windows, pull the curtains aside and peer into my creative process and what I share. You can also visit my website, www.AshlieBlakeArt.com, or, if you prefer to contact me directly, you may do so by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.