Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Ashley Barron

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Ashley Barron's desk

For each book that sits on our shelves or rests in our hands, a writer has spent countless hours researching, organizing, writing and rewriting. In Open Book’s At The Desk series, writers tell us about their creative processes and the workspaces that inspire them.

Ashley Barron is the illustrator for Sorting Through Spring (OwlKids Books), a follow up to her previous title, Counting on Fall (both written by Lizann Flatt). The papercut collages Ashley created have been called "gorgeous" and praised for "drenching every page in spring sights and colors".

Ashley's workspace, full of colour and whimsy, is one of the prettiest we've ever featured. From a colourful desk to a riot of outdoor foliage, you won't want to miss this peek into a talented artist's creative space.

Today Ashley talks with Open Book about why a blocked view can be helpful, working in a (sort of) tree house and how getting creative in the garden helps with creativity in the studio.

I live and work in a second story apartment, where my bedroom doubles as an illustration studio. It’s an oddly shaped room, but after seven years of adding, subtracting and shifting around furniture, I’ve finally mastered the layout to suit my needs.

I work at a table facing four bay windows that look south, onto the street. All of those windows provide an abundance of natural light, ideal for making art in.
Windows can be distracting at times. The street below can be moderately active during the day, so I prefer the summer months when my view is blurred by the wispy yellow boughs of a Sunburst Honeylocust tree. It also helps that some climbing ivy has nearly swallowed up two of my windows. Let’s hope it stops there though, as I’d like to continue gazing at the squirrels and birds that call that tree home.

The walls of my room are painted a fern green colour. That, combined with the green foliage-filled windows gives the entire space a tree house feel. It’s my childhood dream come true.

The deep sills of the windows are ideal for storing my art supplies on. Jars of pens and pencils, paint brushes, x-acto knives, scissors, glue sticks, paper punchers and a tall roll of tracing paper are placed there so that the two large cutting mats covering the table top remain uncluttered (for the most part). Clutter can build up pretty fast when I start collaging a new piece. Little bits of paper spill off the table and onto the floor like parade confetti. Some will stick to the bottom of my socks, ending up on the kitchen floor or between couch cushions. I’m lucky to have such an understanding roommate.

As a ritual to mark the completion of a project, I’ll wipe the slate clean. Everything is put back in its place, and the table is given a complete wipe down. An old bicycle basket-turned-waste bin hangs underneath the edge of the table so that I can sweep up unwanted scraps with ease.

The legs of my worktable are adjustable and set to a height that allows me to comfortably stand or sit while working. Intricate cutting is best done sitting and composition assessments are better done standing. A flat set off drawers house most of my paper. Each colour has a specific drawer. The smaller pieces, also separated by colour, are stored in clear plastic boxes for quick access.
I keep a second workspace opposite to my art table. There, a computer sits on top of a blue antique two-tiered desk with a scanner to the right, and a printer underneath. The whole set up is nestled into a wall-facing corner of my room, reminiscent of a cubicle. On the wall hangs a crowded corkboard and a collection of framed artworks. I spend equal time at both workstations. The window-facing table is where the raw art is made and the cubicle is where I turn that same art into a file, fit for sending to clients through the magic of computer wires.
I keep a garden in the backyard and I like starting the day off by pruning and weeding it. Sometimes I get my hands dirty for no other reason than to feel the soil. Tending to the garden and the houseplants I keep scattered around the apartment gives me a sense of purpose.

I’m as passionate about gardening as I am about my art. The two work hand in hand with each other, as my encounters with nature are what fuel my creativity.

— Ashley Barron

Ashley Barron is a Toronto-based illustrator who specializes in cut-paper collage. Her award-winning illustrations have appeared in a variety of magazines, children’s publications, websites, posters, animations and set designs. She has a deep appreciation for nature and finds inspiration in the vast Boreal Forest.

For more information about Sorting Through Spring please visit the OwlKids Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the At the Desk interviews in our archives.

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