July's featured member is Valerie Ashley of Elysian Fields. Valerie's work captivated the group immediately with it's unique fantasy based themes and skillful use of polymer clay in a way none of us had seen before. Valerie has been a wonderful asset to our membership as she brings a warm natural spirit and a wealth of internet experience and knowledge to the group.
Valerie, can you give us some background on yourself:
I was born and raised in Massachusetts, near Cape Cod. Living in the country, much of my time was spent outdoors; along with frequent camping trips to the mountains I spent very little time indoors. There was no such thing as video games and electronics back then so imagination was king!I moved to Rhode Island twenty years ago and loved being so close to the ocean while being able to live in a rural area. I have three grown children, 32, 29 & 19, and three grandsons 5, 3 & 18 months.
When did you first become interested in your art form?
I have been creating art in one form or another since I was a child. Living in the country, we had to be inventive in what we did. I think I can trace my love of sculpting back to when we dug clay out of the ground and shaped it into little people that adorned the back wood area we played. I would create paper dolls, scraps of cloth to sew clothes for my dolls, and learned to weave grass and willow branches into mats for the houses or “forts” we’d create.My grandmother and mother read to us constantly and my favorites were fairy tales and poetry. We’d spend summer evenings chasing fireflies and mornings lying on our bellies waiting for fairies to appear in the fairy rings in the grass behind our house. I even had an imaginary horse named “Tonka”, so my love of fantasy started early.
What inspires you?
Nature inspires me. There is nothing better than waking to the sound of birds in my back yard, the sweetness of the air after a storm. When taking walks I always have my camera and sketch pad to record details I might see in a leaf, or a shell near the ocean. We were taught early to respect nature in all it’s forms and I have always had an affinity for trees. I knew they were alive and have always believed that they each had a personality of some sort as well. After spending years sculpting miniature fantasy pieces, I wanted to do something that included trees and stumbled on my leaf pieces during a creative “slump”.
Does living in Rhode Island influence your work in any way?
Definitely. Living out in the woods allows me to relax and dip into my creative well. The sights, sounds, and smells give way to some of my most imaginative pieces to date. Add to that the nearness of the ocean and it’s a magical blend. To sit on a beach and listen to the waves is mesmerizing. It clears my head almost like a blank slate and stress just melts away. For a small state it certainly is one of the most beautiful I’ve been to.
What techniques do you use the most in your work?
I work primarily in polymer clay that is a wonderful medium. After years of experimenting with different brands I have found one that I like the best that most professional artists use. It is a great medium because it allows so many techniques that can be used on it. My leaf pieces are imprints of local leaves that once cured become a canvas that I can either paint of draw on. So sculpting skills are constantly being honed and to finish the pieces I use precious metals and gemstones to accent them. I love to be able to combine different techniques (sculpting, wirework, jewelry making, drawing, painting) and am constantly pushing the envelope to see what else I can do with polymer clay.
What do you find most challenging in your work?
I usually start out with an idea in my head and although polymer clay is wonderful it can be difficult at times. I’ve spent days sculpting a piece to cure it and have it crack, or burn. I hate to toss anything away but sometimes that’s the way it goes. I do a lot of custom work and I tend to obsess a little more because I get to know the person it’s going to. I want everything perfect and once the piece is finished, only relax when I know it’s in their hands.
How did you find Etsy?
I found Etsy totally by accident. I had been selling my sculptures on Ebay for many years and was getting tired of the fees, and regulations, and felt stifled. So during a search for alternative selling venues I found Etsy and loved the first impression it gave me. I left “greed-bay”, signed up at Etsy and have been there ever since.I joined Arts In RI this past year and have learned so much and love them all dearly!
Apart from your Etsy work, what do you do?
Wanting to do my art full time has been challenging, so I’ve opted to simplify my life and left a corporate job to work for a landscape company and be a part time nanny to my grandchildren. It allows me the time I need and climate to create and sculpt. I also love to read and sew when I can find the time.
What's your favorite place in Rhode Island?
Believe it or not my favorite place to be is my home. I live out in a rural area and spend time gardening, hiking about; I love bird watching and trying my hand at photography. I have an adopted 15 yr old pug that is my constant sidekick and some very silly Rhode Island Red hens as comic relief.
If you like this Arts In RI blog post...spread the love!