Meet: Ashley Seil Smith
Ashley Seil Smith is a fine artist, illustrator and art instructor based in New York City.
I first met Ashley through a figure drawing class she was teaching at Scribbles Art Workshop. It was a three hour class but she made it go by in a blink of an eye. Her teaching style is warm, soft spoken and explorative. If I had one takeaway from my time there, it is that art is more about the process than achieving the perfect result.
Recently I was lucky enough to tag along on a day trip to Ashley's cozy studio up the Hudson Valley. Scroll down for a peek and learn what brought Ashley to a career in fine art, her advice to anyone stuck in a creative rut, and her love for senior animals who need our attention and care.
How did you stumble upon your path as a fine artist?
I've always been interested in art and the creative process - my mother stayed at home with my four sisters and me but is a gifted seamstress and all around fiber artist. My dad was always inventing something in our barn. I grew up on ten acres in Texas and we had a lot of time to create, read, and explore.
When it was time for university, I went to school in Utah and studied anthropology, which took me to India for four months. While I was studying culture, it was often art - the material culture - that most interested me. It admittedly wasn't until I moved to New York City in 2009 that I realized you could actually make a living as an artist!
When I moved to NYC I took classes from Art Students League, Pratt, and then finally earned my MFA at the School of Visual Arts in 2014. I had a brief stint launching and running a subscription service (The Period Store) for a couple of years until selling it last fall to focus on art - while it was unrelated in some ways, I learned a lot from that experience - artists have to be entrepreneurial.
I still live in Manhattan and this year I secured a studio up the Hudson a bit, in Garnerville, along with a position teaching art part time with Scribble Art Workshop. I've been working as a fine artist and illustrator full time since 2015 and in many ways still feel I am just getting started.
What guides your creative process?
Curiosity and a little discontent. I have a deep curiosity about this big old world of ours, and I think that's what drives my process, always wanting to learn more about and experiment with a subject or material. That, and I always feel I could do better, so I keep making. There is a whole (wonderful) magazine on this idea now - The Great Discontent. An artists' desire for mastery is hard to achieve, and this desire propels us forward and keeps us creating.
What advice do you have for those who want to do something creative but don't know where to start?
Just start making, every day, and withhold enough judgement to keep you going. You have to start somewhere, and more than likely the first things you make won't be great - this is normal. Artists have high aesthetic standards but oftentimes have little patience for developing those standards in themselves. So be patient, learn how to edit out what you don't like about your work, and just keep plugging away. Optimism and perseverance are essential. And be kind and open! Develop enough of an ego to sell your work but not so big that it inhibits you from being a useful, good part of humanity. Give yourself enough alone time to create but don't forget to look at art often and get out every once in a while.
Who are some of your favorite artists and why?
I love so many artists, from illustrators to fine artists and woodworkers. My favorites include a lot of the classics, but I'll mention a few contemporary artists here.
Natalie Frank is one of my favorites - her work is so smart and perfectly blends abstraction and figuration. She also has a keen sense of color. Frank's work is very expressive and illustrative while still camped deeply in the fine art world.
On the other end of the spectrum, I recently went to an exhibit at the new Met Breuer featuring Nasreen Mohamedi and fell in love. Her work is minimal, and there is a distinct sense of patience and discipline in everything she did. Time slows down when viewing her work - not only because you notice each line and its manipulation of depth and space, but because it forces you to consider the time she took to make each deliberate mark. I like work that makes me slow down a bit. Bernard Langley for his multidisciplinary approach and oddities. There are a lot more, but I'll stop there.
You're also an advocate for senior pet adoption. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
I grew up around and have a (probably unreasonable) obsession with animals. I come from farmers with a deep love and respect for the natural world, and my husband and I hope to some day run a farm and animal sanctuary.
Since we currently live in New York City, one of the best ways we've found to help animals it to adopt senior pets. They are the most vulnerable and least adopted from shelters, and they deserve a lot of love and care! It takes some sacrifice, both financially and emotionally, to care for a senior animal, but they need us. On the other hand, they typically come to you already house trained, so a lot of work is already done for you! We're not perfect when it comes to animal care, but we try our best and hope that others will do the same - adopt senior animals!
What does your piece of Everli jewelry mean to you?
I love mountains and the natural world. Living in New York City was a shock to my system, so I welcome any little reminder of those things that ground me - the things I love most. The organic nature of Everli jewelry is beautiful, and I appreciate that this piece in particular is a daily reminder to slow down and consider life outside New York City. I also love that I'm wearing something made by someone I now know personally. It's important to support artists around you and build relationships through craft.