Ashley Mary | Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Ashley Mary

Portrait of Ashley Mary with one of her paintings

, MA

Master of Arts in Graphic and Web Design
Current Career
Freelance Artist, Designer, and Illustrator
Minneapolis, Minnesota

In a couple sentences, describe what you do for work and how you feel about it.

I am a freelance artist, designer, and illustrator. I work out of my studio in the Northrup King Building and every day looks different for me, just the way I like it. As a painter, I primarily work in acrylic paints and paper-collage materials and my work is typically very colorful, playful, and textural.

How did you get your job? 

I fell into it! I always found myself bored at some point whenever I worked anywhere for too long and freelance has been the best solve for that. I love owning my own schedule and having a wide variety of mediums and people I get to work with. I always have something to explore and work on and am constantly trying to think of the next thing I can offer, make, or paint within my own business.

What inspires you/your work?

In the last few years I've really explored simple and organic shapes in my work as a result of some collage exploration. The shapes feel like they're all a part of a universal language, evocative of our first understandings of space and dimension as kids. We meet the world in shapes. Our experiences are shapes. Our language is shapes. And so what I love about composing them in different little arrangments is that at it ultimately feels familiar. It's cozy ( literally and figuratively). I'm also inspired by interior design, vintage ephemera/thrifting, traveling and visiting museums.

Abstract painting by Ashley Mary

Why did you choose to get a master of arts in graphic and web design?

I wanted to switch to a full-time creative career. At the time I started school, painting was just a side hustle.

What were you classes like?

I only had my classes on campus and wouldn't have wanted it any other way. I loved being in the physical building because there's a certain kind of energy in that space. I loved seeing my cohort weekly, getting to know them and their work. I also really loved the access to my instructors and getting their eyes and ears weekly in and out of the classroom.

Did you have a job while completing the program? And if so, was it stressful to do both simultaneously?

Yes and yes. But worth it all. I didn't work forty hours a week, probably more like twenty.

How has the program enhanced your career? Would you be where you are now without it?

It was the best decision I made. It opened up tons of doors and led me to understand how wide the world of design is—that a creative career can take a lot of different shapes—and it gave me countless tools to grow my own business and also meet client's needs. Before school, my work was limited to a canvas or paper, whatever I was working on. After school, I was not only able to digitize my work but to bring it into product and pattern design spaces and to be in control of my own brand's (Ashley Mary) marketing, products, and web.

How has your work evolved since leaving MCAD?

My paintings have become much more abstract shape-based and less vintage-inspired. More graphic. My design aesthetic has become more minimal over time. I think the reach of my work is what has evolved the most. I'm doing more product design, painting murals, and overall changing the platform of where my design was previous to school. 

Abstract painting by Ashley Mary

What advice do you have for current MCAD students?

Don't wait to show your work till it's perfect. And show your work often: it's how people discover you and understand what you're about, what you can do. Take your work assignments seriously; everything can be an opportunity to build your portfolio. Collaborate with people early on. If you're not getting the work you want, make it for yourself. Document your process.

How do you network yourself and your art?

Social media is a huge platform for me. As is taking advantage of partnerships and collaborative opportunities. And working with other talented people, which there are a ton of in Minnesota.

Do the Twin Cities offer many opportunities for creatives?

Yes, 100%! There's a huge creative community.

Current obsession?

So many choices: Art Basel, turtlenecks, Buddha bowls, Andy Dixon's paintings, acrylic anything, socks, lapel pins. Should I stop? 

What are your most tried and true habits to being a successful creative?

I swear by eight hours of sleep, always my priority. I also am an early riser and get my best work done at the start of the day. I wish I had more habits to be honest. I tend to over-work and let my own needs be met last. I am always interested in how people balance their work with self-care. I also love learning how people make time for their creative outlets versus client work. Like a daily chunk of time to make what you want, I need to work on that, too . . . add it to the laundry list.

Abstract painting by Ashley Mary

Work by Ashley Mary

Work by Ashley Mary

Work by Ashley Mary

Collection of paintings by Ashley Mary