Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing prominent women who work in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.
This week’s interview is with a favourite of mine; Ashly Lovett. Ashly creates stunning chalk pastel portraits, I feel as though I am staring into the eyes of a living soul when I look upon them.
1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work.
I am a freelance illustrator and fine artist working in Louisiana because that’s where I was born and raised. Right now I’m focused on my
gallery work and will soon dive back into illustration by the end of the year. My primary portfolio features portrait work for the fantasy and horror genre. I work with chalk pastels on paper.
2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of illustrating?
I’ve always been “the art kid” growing up. The one that was known for drawing in elementary school all the way through high school. I painted props for the drama department and was in the Talented Art Program. I wish I could say from the beginning that I wanted to be a professional illustrator when I grew up, but I honestly hadn’t considered it. I had never pictured myself making a career from drawing even though that’s all I did in my free time. I was pretty naive back then. I initially thought I’d go into psychology and minor in art at the same college my boyfriend of 4 years attended. But it was my older brother who said “Screw that. You need to apply to art school.” And I did. And I got accepted. And it was one of the best decisions of my life.
“I’ve always been “the art kid” growing up. The one that was known for drawing in elementary school all the way through high school. I painted props for the drama department and was in the Talented Art Program.”
3. What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional artist?
I went to Ringling College of Art and Design and got my BA in Illustration. I think the big question you face when leaving college with all this knowledge and hope is where do you want to go now? What kind of work do you want to do? Do you want to work for a company or try to do freelance? Looking back, I was very ill-prepared for this next stage of my life. I left school with a portfolio all over the place.
I did manage to get a job at a baby product company called Nuby designing characters for different products and doing whatever else was needed. My time at there was honestly very monotonous. I was making a good paycheck, but I was getting nothing out of the work. Eventually, they downsized the art department, and I was let go. I started doing freelance logo designs and landed a part-time job at a local magazine as a graphic designer. I was still floating around not sure what I wanted to do with myself. Graphic design was not a strength or passion.
“I think the big question you face when leaving college with all this knowledge and hope is where do you want to go now? (…) Looking back, I was very ill-prepared for this next stage of my life. I left school with a portfolio all over the place.”
Then the light parted the clouds, and I got a two year paid scholarship to John English’s online school of Applied Arts (formerly called The Art Department.) My art career was finally changing for the better. They had a fantastic staff of teachers like Jon Foster, Sterling Hundley, George Pratt, Venessa and Ron Lemen, Francis Vallejo, Jane Radstrom, and many others. I completely refocused on what I wanted to do and refined what illustration meant to me and how I wanted to make a living from it. I figured I wanted to go into children’s books because it made sense. I did baby product design before, and I like children’s illustration. Well, I tried doing freelance children’s book illustration for a year and a half after I finish John English’s program. I sent out postcards to art directors and agents and built on my portfolio. And I got a few publishers interested, but I started to notice that I tend to do drawings of sad kids. That may sound amusing, but it’s true. I was doing illustrations for stories like Coraline or James and the Giant Peach. My work wasn’t super colorful as you would expect for children’s books. For this competitive field, I needed to do more “happy” pieces, and that really didn’t excite me. Then October rolled around, and I decided to participate in Month of Fear. Boy, did I have fun. That experience changed things and I decided I liked drawing darker stuff. I finally found what made me truly tick. It was a long haul figuring out what I wanted to do with my artwork. And honestly, I think I got too caught up in what I thought I should be doing rather than doing what I’m passionate about.
With all that said, I think the most difficult thing any artist faces when pursuing art is knowing what you truly want to do and doing it. It took me forever, but I finally found a subject matter I’m passionate about and a voice.
4. What do you like the most about creating art?
That’s a hard question to answer when you’ve been doing something for so long. Right now I’m doing mostly gallery work, so I can say that each new piece I do is a form of exploration, which can be exciting. You know that feeling you get when you hear certain music? Like maybe an epic instrumental scene in a movie? Well, it’s like taking that emotional feeling you have and transferring it down on paper. Incredibly cheesy, but that’s the best way I can describe it.
5. What do you like the least about it?
Anytime you are trying to support yourself with something you love there is that self-doubt. It seems to be an up and down battle as I try to climb this career ladder. I’m constantly self-analyzing and trying to manage myself to be reasonable with my expectations. I think every artist struggle with this. Also as a freelancer, you have to do everything yourself. You have to promote yourself, write your own contracts, invoices, get your work in front of the right people, stay on top of opportunities, network, social media, Patreon, etc. Sometimes I just want to dive into a personal bubble with my laptop and take a mini vacation to play video games and not worry about anything lol.
6. You are one of the few in fantasy illustration who work with chalk pastels. What made you settle on this medium and which other mediums do you like to work with?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Especially since I started my Patreon, where I share my process. To me, it is a very forgiving medium if you
are using the right materials to manipulate it. I use printmaking paper, which has a lot of tooth and the pastel settles into the paper. You can have the softest areas and the hardest lines so easily. It works for me. It works with my process and how I develop a picture. If I don’t like how my drawing is going, or I overwork it, I wipe it down and find my shapes again within the history of my drawing. I think also the way I hold my tools make a difference in my mark making and I enjoy it. I hold a pastel stick differently than I would a paint brush.
I’ve played with all media but settled on chalk pastel. I sometimes do like working with gouache. I’m terrible with watercolor. I have no patience there. Me and oil paints have a funny relationship. It took me time to adjust to such a wet slip and slide media. My first painting in oils was horrendous, but now I got the hang of it with studies and things.
7. One thing I really admire about your work, is that your portraits have a very strong emotional context. How do you go about selecting your subject matter?
The subject matter is usually always based on what parameters I’m given based on the project. When I’m doing personal pieces, I don’t really have much of a direction. It usually starts with me putting down a character and slowly develop my shapes until I find something. Much like sketching in a sketchbook. When I find the right forms and start to place the facial features, I ask myself, “What is their emotion? Anger? Curiosity? Intrigued?” And then, “What is my character’s story? Why do they feel that way?” I try my best to stick to those building blocks. I’ll later start to add little details to push the narrative like adding jewelry or a suggestive background. You want to engage your viewer, leave certain things to the imagination, and get them to ask questions.
People comment about how I do eyes and that they are expressive. I think a lot of that is intuitive, and the most I can say is thinking about yourself and feel like your character. Consider the subtle shifts your eyes and eyebrows make when you have certain emotions. Do studies in the mirror if you have to.
8. What is your greatest success so far?
Selling a piece to Guillermo del Toro himself. In February I did a fan art piece of Edith from his film Crimson Peak and tagged him on Twitter. My highest hope was that he’d see it and share it. And he did, but I also got a message from him asking if it was available for purchase. I bout died of excitement. It was a really great experience getting it framed for him and having it ship. He is now one of my Twitter followers and I hope I’ll be able to work with him again in the future.
9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
This advice wasn’t spoken to me directly but was something I heard at a panel while attending Spectrum Fantasy Art Live Conference 21. It was from Jeffrey Alan Love who said “don’t waste time in your life and just do what you love. If you love a certain subject matter, then pursue it.” I believe Mr. Love’s new portfolio was created after he had a life changing experience and decided to illustrate things similar to what he had in his sketchbook, which was graphic illustrations of soldiers and dragons. And now that’s all he does, and he is at the top of his game winning awards and landing big publishing jobs. If you have something you’re truly and genuinely passionate about, then it’ll show in your artwork, and you’ll be the best at it. His advice stuck with me. Especially when I was redeveloping my portfolio towards portrait work. I’m thinking who the heck is going to want these portrait? And then I’d think about Jeffrey Alan Love and how he found a place for his portfolio.
“This advice wasn’t spoken to me directly but was something I heard at a panel while attending Spectrum Fantasy Art Live Conference 21. It was from Jeffrey Alan Love who said “don’t waste time in your life and just do what you love. If you love a certain subject matter, then pursue it.”
10. Do you have a philosophy behind your work? If not, then what are some of your goals for the future?
Don’t be precious with your artwork. It’s only when you’re willing to destroy it and begin again that you’ll grow and discover better solutions for your illustrations. Too often students will work around that “one awesomely drawn eye” and not realize that the placement is killing the
whole piece. Let go and have the confidence that if you did it once, you can do it again. Secondly, be honest with what you love and it’ll show in your work.
My current goals are to get more work into galleries. I also want to put together a three piece series to be sold at EveryDayOriginal.com. I’m hoping that’s something I can start in October. I also want to grow my Patreon. Right now I offer tutorials and guided posts on how I develop illustrations. I’m told that my methodology has helped patrons improve their thought process while working, which is great! I eventually want to be a teacher, so it’s very rewarding to help other artists in any way I can. On the illustration front, I’m building a client list to send my work to. My portfolio is very particular and I’m trying to focus on companies that could use strong female portrait work. And I’m diving into the art conference scene this year. I’ll be attending my first com-con in Lafayette, La. And I’ll have a booth at Spectrum Fantasy Art Live Conference in April of 2017!
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this interview with Ashly Lovett, check out her website and social media for more!
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View all Women in Fantasy Illustration interviews here.