Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

The Furry Little Things of Ashley Goldberg

Written by Susannah Wexler and Josie Schoel
Ashley Goldberg has one of those wonderful stories we never think actually happens in real life. She started selling her art on Etsy.com a few years ago, and because it’s practically impossible to resist those round-cheeked girls and bearded fellows, she has since sold more than 7,000 prints. Now, thanks to her amazingly quirky style and her tireless work ethic, her work is for sale all over the place, and has just recently been included in Urban Outfitters Artist Series.
Ashley Goldberg has one of those wonderful stories we never think actually happens in real life. She started selling her art on Etsy.com a few years ago, and because it’s practically impossible to resist those round-cheeked girls and bearded fellows, she has since sold more than 7,000 prints. Now, thanks to her amazingly quirky style and her tireless work ethic, her work is for sale all over the place, and has just recently been included in Urban Outfitters Artist Series.

To a certain extent, her drawings remind us of Maurice Sendak characters—wistful and contemplative on backwoods playgrounds. While her animal-hybrid creatures seem somewhat familiar, their eyes radiate a soulfulness we do not often see in illustrations. A small boy wearing a cape and standing beneath a sign that reads, “Every Boy is a Superhero Sometimes” has to be one of the most poignant images we have ever seen.

As Ashley prepared to move from St. Louis, Missouri to Portland, Oregon, we had the pleasure of asking her a few questions about art, inspiration, and some of her signature drawings, the Sylvanian brown bear and gray bunny families.

Susannah: Would you mind giving us a brief skeletal biography of yourself: Where did you grow up, and then attend school? What was your family like? What inspired you to pursue art, and when did you decide you wanted to be an artist?

Ashley: I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri all my life. I'm actually moving to Portland, Oregon in a few short weeks (I think I will be there by the time this is published!). I grew up living with my grandparents in their home with my two sisters and my mom. Until I was 11, and my grandma passed away, I shared a room with her and she was certainly my best friend, a second mother, and my number two fan (right behind my mom). I remember my mom introducing me as "Ashley—she's going to be an artist"—when I was five, six, seven. So I was always encouraged. But I looked at drawing more as a free toy. It was a natural extension of playing with dolls and watching cartoons, and it still remains a source of [pure] entertainment for me.

I didn't pursue art in high school, and after I graduated, I knew I wasn't emotionally or financially ready to go to a university. So, instead I attended community college. Was it the best academic education? No, but it had an excellent art program that is greatly overlooked. I didn't take a ton of art classes. If I were staying in town, I would actually take more now. It did, however, open my eyes. I thought someone would teach me the "right" way to draw. As naive as it sounds, I was 22-years-old and had never considered that my drawing style and the techniques I preferred could certainly be improved, but that they didn't have to be overhauled. It was liberating, to say the least. Now, I have been self-employed for almost two years. Drew, my boyfriend and creative partner in crime, has been full-time with me for just over a year. "Ashley's found a way to work a childhood full of drawing into an adult's life." Drew wrote that sentence for a bio once and I think it most accurately and succinctly sums it up.

Susannah: So, what inspires your design?

It's funny, I've answered this question a couple of times now and I think I could name 1,000 things (literally), but I find the most inspiration in nature, the weather, people and animal-watching, looking online, vintage photographs, and just putting a pencil or pen to paper and not thinking about it. Just drawing what comes out. And sometimes it's even a surprise to me.

Color and texture combinations that I see in thrift stores, in magazines, walking down the street—anywhere, really—will strike me and then sometime down the line, almost unconsciously, appear in my work.

Josie: All of your prints have such a whimsical, otherworldly feel to them. They feel almost like what a creative little girl would imagine while falling asleep at night, like imaginary friends. Have any of your creatures been with you since you were little?

Ashley: I have always, always drawn little animal-people hybrids. My dream was to have little talking forest creatures tucked away in tree trunks that they decorated as little homes, and [forest creatures] who wore little skirts or scarves. Some of my favorite toys ever were the Sylvanian brown bear and gray bunny families. I don't even have the words to describe my love of them. I wanted a world where those characters could be real and coexist with the little girls who loved them. The closest I got was to drawing creatures like them. I was a shy, often melancholy child, and my drawings have always shown that. On a more conscious level, drawing cute things that appeal to adults has to have another dimension. A little dark with the cute seems to balance out well.

Josie: I am always interested in the idea that success as an artist is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. Do you believe this? Do you think creativity and talent can be taught and therefore learned?

Ashley: I don't know exactly how the percentages break down, but yes, I think the perspiration gets the bigger chunk of the pie. I feel so fortunate to do what I love, but it is a business. And with that comes the same thing that comes with any other business: selling, deadlines, frustrations, problems, and communication. I would love to create, create, create, and have someone else do all the "business stuff." But that's just not an option for me if I want to do what I love and make a living doing it.

I do believe that if you do anything for a half an hour a day, whether it be drawing, writing, or exercising, you will see improvement. You will be better at it. And in that regard, yes, I suppose anything can be learned. Will everyone who does this progress the same amount? No. Some people have natural inclinations and abilities, but everyone will improve. And if you're comparing yourself to your former self, I think anyone would feel pretty successful.

Josie: I love how you have prints for each month, like HELLO March, which was a cute girl with a painted-on disguise. Do you know what you are going to make before that month or do you wait until you get a feel for each month?

Ashley: Well first, thank you! And it totally depends month to month. Sometimes, I really want to capture the feeling of that month. Other times, I've had an idea for a print for some time and finally create it, and still other times, I just draw and draw until something I like is on the paper.

Josie: Your work, the images as well as the titles, embody a certain emotional quality and nuance that words or pictures alone cannot always capture. For example, I Can't Believe the Monster I've Become, with images of adorable and somewhat mischievous looking furry potato-sack-like creatures. You have this way of combining adult sentiments, such as this, with fantastical creatures, so that neither the sentiment nor the image is diminished. This very long preface begs the question: Do your titles ever come to you before the art? Or is it always the drawings and then the titles?

Ashley: Always the drawing and then the title. I like to wait for the image to tell me, (for lack of a better word), what the title should be. The drawing never feels complete until it is titled.

Josie: Some of your prints have a sweet melancholy to them, but it doesn't feel forced or dishonest in any way. It feels more like a quiet melancholy about love, life, regret...all things of the human (or subhuman) experience. Has your work always had these attributes?

Ashley: Yes, yes, yes. It's funny—I'm the person walking around that everyone asks, "What's wrong?" or someone will say, "Smile." And I'm like, "Oh, no—that's just my face and its natural expression." I have a down-turned mouth and my brow is normally furrowed and—surprise!—that does not read as friendly or happy. The same can be said about my characters. I didn't realize how they were being interpreted until other people pointed it out. To me, they just had faces, but obviously when I look at them again, I can see, "Oh, yes. They are a bit melancholy, aren't they?"

Susannah: That's interesting. Can you tell me a little about your working process and what materials you use?

Ashley: How I begin to create a new work really depends on what it's for. Usually I just draw. I prefer feeling as free as possible. I like to have my sketchbook, some pencils, pens, background visual stimulation, and background noise. I usually work in a coffee shop or with the TV on and windows open. I am a creature of habit. To draw, I prefer a Canson Recycled 11" x 14" sketchbook, 4H pencils super-sharpened, and Millennium pens.

After my drawing is complete, Drew scans it and we color it together. We do a lot of test printing to adjust the colors and size, and then, voilà! It's complete.

Painting is a lot different and there is far more experimentation. But drawing is my first love.

Susannah: Are any of your creatures modeled after real people in your life?

Ashley: Not consciously, but I think of several of them as interpretations of me. I actually addressed this on my blog once. I wrote: "It's funny, I always think about my drawing teacher telling us that it is the artist's constant struggle not to draw herself. I so clearly, almost embarrassingly, see myself (or more aptly my childhood self) in almost everything I draw."

Josie: If you had to dress up as one of your characters, what would you dress as?

Ashley: I think most of them. As long as I'm fully covered or bundled up, I'm happy. And if it has to be a monster suit, that's fine too. :)

Susannah: How would you describe your life in the present moment?

Ashley: Pretty boring, but pretty great. Exciting things are certainly happening, but moment-to-moment, day-to-day, it's very typical. There's me not wanting to clean the bathroom or do laundry, and then I check my e-mail and there is an awesome proposal in my inbox. But I love having a flexible schedule that allows me to spend time with my friends and family when I want to, and I can still get plenty of alone time. And did I mention no dress code? That is one of my favorite things about self-employment.

Susannah: Where do you see yourself in ten years? Twenty?

Ashley: Hopefully, in a city I love, with people I love, doing what I love, and for everyone I care about to be healthy and happy. I couldn't ask for more than that.


Illustrations by Ashley Goldberg

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