Thanks, Ashley for taking out space for an illustrator interview. Excited to talk to you today.
What life events influenced your decision to become an illustrator?
Well…I’ve drawn all my life and I was always encouraged by my parents and family to pursue art, but it was when I was about 20 years old that I figured out that illustration was what I wanted to develop into a career. I was 32 when I finally broke into illustrating for children's publishing.
What led you to illustrations for children’s books?
When I was about 20 years old I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was tired of working in the food service industry and art was the only thing that really inspired me at the time. I was going through a lot and was disillusioned with life but art brought me back and grounded me. I started revisiting things that made me happy when I was younger, trying to figure out how I could use that to provide for myself as an adult. From there I started looking through old picture books my mom had held onto of my siblings and my childhood and decided that I wanted to be able to inspire kids the way that I was for essentially my entire life through illustrated books.
How did you connect with Nyasha Williams?
I was connected to Nyasha through my agency! They brought her project "I am Somebody” to me and asked if I’d like to work on it and after reading the synopsis and MS I was enthusiastic to be a part of it.
Why did you decide to take on the project of illustrating, “I am Somebody”?
I decided to take on the project because I loved the message behind it, the idea that it is up to us to be the catalyst when we see things that we would like to change in the world. It’s inspiring to me that we can look at something even if it seems small and instead of thinking “Somebody should do something about it” we can go “Oh, I am Someone and I can do something” instead of passively waiting for another person to take care of it.
What is your creative process?
This is always a hard question for me to answer. My process is very nebulous, honestly…I get an idea or a project then I just sit down and start sketching and from there, it’s a blur.
How do you get inspired?
I get inspired by music, reading, seeing beautiful things around me, my daughter, my family and friends, and last but not least other artists!
How do you decide which projects to take on and which ones to pass on illustrating?
I simply choose projects that I feel will either challenge me or be fun, also I take whether the project has a message I can connect to and get behind into consideration.
Out of all of the illustrations you have created for “I am Somebody”, what is your favorite, and why?
Hmm…I think my favorite is the cover! I had a really good time illustrating it. From the interiors, I think it's the one where the MC finally declares that she is somebody and feels empowered.
When illustrating a project how much guidance do you prefer to receive from the author?
I prefer to have as much creative freedom as possible, but I don’t mind getting notes or ideas from the author about their vision for how they'd like their work to be represented visually.
What is your favorite part about taking on a project with a publisher and what is your least favorite part?
My favorite part is the structure that working with a publisher brings, as someone with ADHD I need accountability and deadlines to keep myself on task! My least favorite is that sometimes publishers break up advances and don’t pay until the book is published.
What is your favorite part about taking on a project with the author and what is your least favorite part?
My favorite part is that I like getting to help bring someone’s manuscript to life visually! My least favorite part is if they don’t trust me and then nitpick what I feel are small things or when they ask for a complete overhaul of a scene.
What is the first thing you do when starting a new project, and how do you know when the job is complete?
The first thing is always reading over the manuscript and then sitting with the info for a while or doing research before I start sketching, especially if the project has things that are important to it like specific historical periods or figures.
What’s been your most challenging project to date?
Probably the chapter book I’m currently working on. It’s image-heavy so instead of the usual 32 pages of illustrations, there are illustrated borders, more vignettes, and other elements that wouldn’t be in a regular picture book. Also staying on model with characters for 50-60 images can be a challenge for me.
What software do you use in your work?
I use Photoshop almost exclusively.
How do you overcome a creative block?
By taking a break. Walking away and taking a nap, or going outside to touch grass really helps me.
What do you find to be the most rewarding and challenging part of being a creative?
The most rewarding part is that I get paid for making art! The challenging part is that people don't respect or value creative work as much as they should in my opinion…so there are a lot of people that downplay just how much work goes into it and that creatives deserve to be well compensated.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to do what you do?
Keep making work. It’s a tough industry…but so is working on your feet 40+ hours a week, build your resilience, and don’t become so discouraged that you give up.
Who are artists that inspire you?
There are too many for me to name here but a few that inspire me, are my contemporaries, Alleanna Harris, Steffi Walthall, Radhia Rahman, Dapo Adeola, Jon Klassen, Matt Forsyth, and Heidi Moreno, as well as classic picture book artists like Ezra Jack Keats, Maurice Sendak, Rosemary Wells & Jose Aruego and fine artists like Van Gogh, Mondrian, Cezanne, and Basquiat.
Do you have a favorite quote or affirmation?
“Climb that goddamn mountain” - Jack Kerouac
I will never climb a real mountain but I try to keep that in mind when I feel discouraged, like something I want to do is too difficult to tackle.
Any upcoming projects/work you’re excited about?
Yes, there's a project I’m so excited for people to see, and can't wait until I can share the art from it, but I can’t give any details at the moment!
Where can people find your work?
You can find my work on Insta @ash_from_
Interested in supporting Ashley and myself as creatives? Pick up a copy of I am Somebody here: