I think once Ashley reads the word “master”, she’ll probably chuckle in humble disbelief. She and I have met a grand total of two times and within those two conversations, I became convinced that she’s got it all figured out. Not in a “got all of my ducks perfectly in a row” sort of way, but in a “real person with real expectations yet still a dreamer and a doer”… sort of way. Her studio, Press Shop, is filled with natural light and is quiet yet welcoming (like Ashley herself). I sat down with her one morning as she elegantly free-handed Happy Birthday using pink and orange brush tip markers. Her down-to-earth candor and entrepreneurial courage is exactly what you’d expect out of a seasoned ladyboss. I greatly admire her willingness to take risks as well as her ability to determine where desire meets capability and compromises with circumstance.
First things first – why printing, why letterpress? How did you get into this medium?
After taking lots of various printmaking classes in college, I realized in my professional life that I missed the process of actually using my hands to see a design or idea come to completion. Since I was already in the design and stationery business, I decided to invest in having my own letterpresses – they are the most commercially usable presses, don’t take up too much space and require very little maintenance. I love all kinds of printmaking, but letterpress seemed like the best press to personally own and operate a business with.
Flash back to ten years ago, or even just five. Did you envision that this is what your life was going to look like?
I’m not the type of person who envisions things, haha. If you asked me five years ago what my life would look like now I’d tell you I couldn’t care to think about that when there’s so much to get done today. That’s exactly how I would answer today if someone asked me about 2020. I think the key to my life has been to just keep making the next right choice and saying yes to the next opportunity that feels right in your gut. Not all of those choices have brought success or forward motion, but if you just keep trying different things, your gut will get a lot smarter about what to chase.
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about running a creative business?
That it’s any different than running any other kind of business. I always tell people that running a business is 10% being really good at something and 90% learning how to do new things. People look at my work and assume that the majority of my day is spent creating beautiful things. Nothing could be further from the truth. 10% of my time is spent creating and 90% is managing administrative tasks, email, bills, legal/accounting stuff, logistics, the studio, etc. I spend a lot of time cleaning. When you run a business you are everyone from the CEO to the maid. If you think you’re gonna get to skip the maid part – sorry dudes!
Describe a typical work day for you.
I try to tackle on “physical” project as soon as I walk into the studio. Whether that’s cleaning up my mess from yesterday, printing a small order, getting some calligraphy on paper that I’ve been procrastinating on, etc. It feels good to get one of those to-do’s off my list before I get trapped in the black hole of email and errands. I try not to spend all day on my email – although it can be INCREDIBLY tempting to do that because it feels like being productive even if you never get any actual work done. Usually I spend a couple of hours in the middle of the day running around to the paper supplier and the post office, etc. I usually end up staying late if I’m having a creative moment. Most of my original content is created at the end of a workday when I’m doodling and ignoring that I’m hungry and should go home.
What are you inspired by? What is fulfilling to you?
I’m inspired by problem-solving. My favorite thing about running a business – or what keeps me interested in having a business – is creating business models or strategies and testing them. I really love to do that for other people too. I think being creative is great and all, but at my core I’m a business lady. I care less about WHAT I make and more about HOW I reach people with it.
What’s the most difficult part of owning your own business?
Remembering why you keep going. There are so many days that I wish I could just lock my studio up and go be a barista somewhere, just so that I could be free to stop thinking so much. Stop caring so much. Stop being so confused (and then excited, and then confused, and then excited, on a loop). There is also so much competition, it’s easy to feel like if you just disappeared from the market, no one would miss what you do. That might be true. On those days I have to remember that I work because it’s GOOD FOR ME – not because I have to be the most successful person. I believe that idle minds dream up misfortune, and working consistently and consistently putting my mind to projects has kept most other aspects of my personal and professional life healthy and balanced.
Who has had the most impact in shaping your work practice?
Definitely my husband, but in a reverse psychology kind of way – hah. His schedule is incredibly demanding, and in order for us to maintain our marriage I have to put work in a very finite box. I can’t work 9-5 every day of the year like most people – I have to really grind out work when I’m home and I have to let it go when I’m traveling to see him. Focusing all the work I have to do into concentrated periods of productivity has made a big difference. I find that I’m less emotional about when I feel like getting work done. I give myself really clear periods of work and rest, and I go 100% into each when it’s their respective turn.
Who are your role models and why?
Martha Stewart – because she does her and doesn’t apologize. She publishes her monthly schedule in her magazine like, “Yea, I’m gonna co-host a gala and roast Justin Beiber and repot my boxwoods this month. What now?” The woman has been to prison and still cares how nicely her Christmas presents are wrapped. I’m tired of living in a world where people are constantly making excuses for half-assing everything because they’re busy or broke or whatever. We’re turning into a world that runs on text messages and drive-thru meals but still has a holier-than-thou complex. Martha knows how to make a perfect holiday crown roast and run a business empire. I secretly hope she never responds to her texts.
What’s the ultimate goal you’re working towards?
My number one passion in life and business is to give people permission. It took me a long time to realize that, and I still don’t know how it tangibly applies to what I’m supposed to do – but I know that my favorite thing about having a little slice of the business pie is that I want to use that platform to give others permission to: be honest, be themselves, try new things, fail miserably and try again and to stop feeling bad about being themselves. That mission is what keeps me from laying on the sofa all day and watching Law and Order SVU – I can’t make an impact in this world if I don’t put myself out there. Work has been a great way to expose myself to a vast community of people I can encourage and get to know.
Favorite words of wisdom?
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – the lorax, dr. seuss