From the moment that Ashley Whiteside contacted me about using a photo of mine for the promotion of their Art Pop Up Shop at West Elm (This Saturday, March 28th!), I have been enamored with this Small Business. Not only because of the fantastic work that these two are creating, but also because of the heartfelt dynamic of what she and her partner Nora do-- because Nora has only been around for a couple of years. Literally. Nora is Ashley's daughter, rounding on the age of three 3, as she reminded me a couple of times on our shoot.
I have to admit-- this may have been one of my favorite SBS shoots ever. Maybe because of the fact that it involved concert breaks, twirling competitions, and the insistence on wearing Cinderella "boots" (heels). Okay, really probably because it involved those things. But it was so spirited to see a child in the context of a business. It is even hard to refer to it as a business because that description feels cold compared to the life and connection that these two have painting together, yet all the pieces hold true to beautiful and intentional works of art.
I got to witness the two finishing out a painting-- they had worked on the large part of the piece earlier that week as the base, Ashley came in and refined some things, and then together they put on the final touches. And it was magical to see how the life and free spirit of a child added so much movement and energy to the art. I liked the piece before, but Nora made it even better. I should have taken some before and afters, but you will just have to go check them out the art this weekend at West Elm!
Since you and Nora both work on the paintings, tell us a little about your process: Step 1. I toy around with color pallets that inspire me, trying to blend muted tones with saturated, to avoid a juvenile look. This could come from a rug, an outfit, a sunset, or nowhere. 2. I mix our colors, and let her choose her brush. 3. We attack the canvas simultaneously, painting around each other. Sometimes there is a plan, sometimes there is not. 4. We stop when Nora announces that it is finished, and declares some brilliantly ludicrous nonsense that becomes the name, which she immediately forgets. 5. I pick out more colors and we do it again.
How do you think that working with your daughter has changed the way you create art? While I have a background in many artistic pursuits, this medium is entirely new to me. Rather, achieving anything on a canvas I would actually share with someone is new to me, as painting one has never ever remotely resembled the grandiose messy masterpiece I envisioned. My movements are too calculated, and the results lifeless, at least in the eyes of this perfectionist. Nora, well, she's a game-changer. Her approach is so free spirited and joyful, her brush moves so freely and without regret. She is the ying to my yang. As I learn, and open up to the process, I appreciate my work more, but NEVER would have branched out into this without the ambience she provides in each piece. Nothing is finished before she's gotten her hands (and knees, and thighs?!) on it.
What would you say was your biggest challenge to overcome? Hours in a day, but doesn't everyone say that? I do work 40 hrs a week as the Lead Home Stylist at West Elm, and seek fulfilling family time when I am home. Some days just feel exhausting, or I've gotten intensely negative feedback on pieces that are my favorite. The solution HAS to be to just keep painting.
Where do you see it going as Nora gets older? Frankly -- I fear it won't be long before her talents trump my own. Already she is improving so greatly, and I learn more with every brushstroke. We could keep this up for our whole lives, or we could stop next year, and we'd have been successful. The point isn't the paint -- it's the connection.
Who/what was your biggest encouragement and why? Quite truly, Nora was the most encouraging, as I saw the magic in her eyes when we began painting. If it weren't for that gentleman I married, however, I wouldn't be encouraged to keep doing this lovely-but-exhausting gig on top of the full time job I also love.
What is your favorite part of your business? Having a productive bond with my daughter despite the rocky ebb and flow of toddler-dom. And the incredible oddball things she names the pieces. While I celebrate her stream of consciousness, I can't pretend that my own is as clever.
Who/What inspired you to start it? We are in the most humble of beginnings with incredibly generous opportunities. One dreamy attempt at creating a thoughtful gift for my sister led to an outcry for continued creating. My team at West Elm asked us to do our first show there, and we got serious. I've latched on to this concept with such ferocity because it's so important to me to foster honest, intentional time with Nora. She loves this as much as I do.
If you had advice to anyone who might be starting a business like yours? Examine your roots, examine your motives, and be straight-up about the hard stuff. If you aren't in love with what you do, you aren't going to stick around when those miserably difficult moments arise.
Anything else about your small business that you’re passionate about? Playing on the slide, Ella Fitzgerald, hummus, and wearing a cape. -- Nora chimes in.
Ashley & Nora's work will also be on display on May 21 at T an Urban Teahouse for 6 weeks if you can't make it to the show this weekend. Seriously, so check them out.