Today we meet Ashley Surber, an artist based in Suwanee, Georgia and a recent addition at the Shain Gallery here in Charlotte, North Carolina. What first drew me to Ashley’s work is its whimsical and fun nature. Her work, which often features penguins is such a delight to look at and I’m constantly looking forward to what she’s going to paint next. In this interview, Ashley shares about how she comes up with the ideas for her work, (including one her recent pieces that I just adore titled, The Secretary) and the significance of the three rings that are always featured in her work. See if you can find them all and tell me how many you find at the end of the post!
When did you first know that you wanted to be an artist?
I knew when I was very young that I wanted to do something artistic but I didn’t know what that would look like until I was in college. There, I met actual artists and thought maybe it was possible someday.
What is your greatest source of inspiration?
My family, for sure! Humor is so important in my daily life and I’m surrounded by some people who can really make me laugh. I often have the thought “that would be so funny!” running through my head when an idea comes around. I’m also really inspired by nature…I love a bright, blue sky and giant, fluffy clouds….but right before a storm in the summer is my favorite.
I love how fun your artwork is. I’m obsessed with one of your latest pieces, The Secretary and I adore the work on paper featuring the swan on a pink cotton candy cloud. How do you come up with the ideas for your whimsical pieces?
Honestly, I just have to see something and a complete image of what I want to create pops into my mind. Then it’s a constant struggle to put that mental image on a canvas. I’m almost never satisfied. The Secretary was a crazy image that I ran with immediately after it came to me. I remember blocking out my canvas and then looking at it that evening thinking, “Did I just paint a three foot canvas with a giant secretary bird?” But I love her so much. One of my long time collectors scooped her up….we are kindred spirits so I’m not surprised she fell in love too.
What is the significance of the circles around the animals in your work?
I always have three rings included in my work….A, B, C…for me and my two sisters (Ashley, Bridget and Courtney). They are inspiring women themselves and make me laugh like no other.
Your pieces often feature penguins. When did you first start featuring penguins in your work?
As a child, I fell in love with penguins. I had penguin everything…my amazing Mom even made me a penguin shaped birthday cake for my 18th birthday. I didn’t start incorporating them into my work until about 10 years ago….which makes me feel old to say.
Tell me about a typical day in your artist studio.
It looks pretty crazy and feels like stolen time. I have my girls with me so I squeeze in time when I can. I can knock out the tasks I don’t love so much like painting edges of completed pieces or washing brushes in the morning. My real time is in the afternoon….If I have a cup of coffee and some headphones, there’s no stopping me.
Out of all of the pieces that you’ve created, do you have a personal favorite?
I’m usually in love with what I’m currently working on but one of my favorites that I hope to revisit in the future is The Dinner Party. It is a giant, beast of a painting with a penguin dinner party by candlelight on the back of an elephant.
As a mom of two little girls, how did you share your love of the artistic world with them?
My girls are the best people I’ll ever know and luckily they love art! We talk about art everyday and they are constantly drawing or painting or getting pastels everywhere! We have afternoon creative time where they do a new project. It’s an amazing way to bond with them. I catch my oldest watching me paint a lot….I always get her opinion and she has a lot of good ideas too.
What is the best part about working with Sybil and the Gallery Girls at the Shain Gallery?
They are women! They are just effortless to work with and so smart about what they do. It’s been seamless from the beginning. The energy of the gallery and Sybil is contagious and they keep us all excited about beautiful art.