Visual artist, graphic designer and mother of two, Ash Leslie’s most joyful childhood memories were filled with hammers, saws, bricks and paint. Like her, Ash’s parents were makers and she spent her days on building sites working on their family home. That innate trait of making has weaved its way through her life in one form or another. From fixing up their old miners’ cottage to her burgeoning career, the art of making is what helps her feel at ease.
Influenced by her graphic eye, her works aim to give a sense of calm and beauty by balancing both structural and organic forms. Read on as Ash shares her approach, how she works and recharges as a working mother of two, and her plans for the future.
Your love of art was instilled as a child - who were your creative influences as a child?
All of my happiest memories are of creating things with my parents. They were makers - my Dad a builder and my Mum a visual merchandiser, and the joy they found in projects definitely rubbed off on me. From the age of three, I spent a lot of time on our building site as they began working on our family home. There are photos of me carrying bricks and pouring over paint colour charts as a kid. It took about 5 or 6 years to complete what ended up being a three-storey house so the sound of hammers and saws was the norm. It’s funnily enough a similar lifestyle to what my husband and I are now raising our two daughters in fixing up our old miners' cottage.
You began your career as a graphic designer - do you think this has influenced your practice and artistic style?
Yes, I definitely think so. My style often has a graphic point of view where I work in multiple layers to explore shapes. The end result (hopefully) is a balance between structural and organic forms that creates a sense of calm. My years working on design layouts and putting together colour palettes have allowed me to instinctively explore my compositions and visualise a few steps ahead, and retain an organic nature to my work.
What inspires you to paint?
To put it simply, painting just really makes me happy. It’s when I feel like my most authentic self. I love how it’s not precious and you get instant gratification. I love seeing how colours work together and that feeling when a piece just comes together. I also love hearing that my work has connected with someone and that it has brought them joy. That’s the dream.
What is your creative practice - Can you tell us how you approach a new piece?
I usually start with a theme in mind for a collection and then I'll put together a colour palette that I’m drawn to exploring. I mostly work instinctively with my compositions, but sometimes I sketch out an idea. I’m easily drawn to paint every day and don’t find it hard to find inspiration but I best get in the zone when I’m listening to a podcast or have the tv on in the background. I also work on multiple pieces at once, so as to avoid risking overworking one piece.
Motherhood is often a force in itself when it comes to pivoting career and driving creativity - what pushed you to make the switch from graphic designer to artist?
I think the dream was always to be an artist, but I never thought it was a realistic option. I went straight into graphic design after school and most of my roles were in the corporate world and never really felt very satisfying. So art on the side was my outlet. When I went on maternity leave with my first daughter I felt this new energy in stepping away from the 9-5 lifestyle. I would paint while she napped or played at my feet. Sometimes in the middle of the night when she wouldn’t sleep I just took her into the studio and rolled with it. Being with her and painting was a dream. I began to build up a body of work that I started putting my work out there in local art shows and cafes, and to my surprise, I started making regular sales. I went back to a design role in the corporate space again for a few days a week but realised quickly it wasn’t going to be right for me. So instead I took up some freelance projects and over the last 3 or 4 years I’ve been able to work predominantly on my art while looking after my kids, which finally feels like the right path.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Mornings are usually just me and the kids. We do a slow brekkie with cartoons on so I can drink a big coffee somewhat undisturbed. If it’s a daycare day for my eldest, we scramble out the door to drop her off. Then, I might run a few errands and spend the rest of the available time in the studio. In the evening, we do family hang time and the dinner/bath/bed marathon.
How do you work? That is, with two little ones running around at home.
I have a home studio which is really the only way I could make it work at the moment. My youngest has just turned one and hasn’t started care just yet – a privilege but also a challenge. The girls are often running around me whilst I’m painting. Constant interruptions to make sandwiches or play referee are part of the deal. Sometimes I don’t mind and it can be nice having them around. Other times it drives me crazy and I just want to be left alone. That’s kind of the only balance that I’ve really got going on at the moment!
It can be hard to get a moment alone as a mother – what do you do to recharge?
I generally do find it restorative if I get time alone to paint. But a bit of quiet time to myself to process thoughts, helps, or a good cocktail and whinge session with a girlfriend. But since my youngest isn’t a great sleeper, a nap is the ultimate these days.
What was your inspiration and what story were you trying to tell through this collection?
McMullin & Co’s designs really speak to me for their understated style and natural colour palette, and so this collection really just pays homage to that design aesthetic and how it has the ability to make people feel at ease in their space.
What does the future hold for your work?
I’m working on my next collection at the moment in which I’ve been experimenting with bringing some still life influences into my abstract work. That’s been fun as I’m always trying to push myself. I’m doing a large scale wall mural soon and a group show. Hopefully, I can put together a solo exhibition at some point this year too.