Ashley Barlow

Photography by Ashley Sullivan

Tell us more about your art and why you chose the medium you work in?

I'm a mixed-media artist, with a focus on collage. Since I was a little girl, I've loved old stuff. My dad would take me to garage sales, antique stores, flea markets and I have always felt a strong fascination and connection to older pieces. The materials, the typography, the color, the lived in quality. It was always so much more interesting than something shiny and new. So when I started to explore studio art in college, using older materials just happened, it was the most natural resource for me to move towards. No one suggested to me to explore vintage ephemera, that curiosity was already there. Mixed-media is for me, the greatest expression of my playful, experimental and curious nature. I have always loved trying new things, changing things up, new experiences. As a mixed-media artist, I have this freedom to try anything on my canvas. So I started stitching thread, and gluing other bits, and this summer I even broke the glitter out. It's a great medium for exploring and that's a reflection of who I am as a person. I guess to summarize, my medium is really just an expression of who I am as a person, what interest me in life, gets explored in my studio.


Can you take us through a day in your life as of late?

This summer was a busy one for me! I had 5 shows ranging from art fairs, collaborations with shops, and a recent pop-up I just did with Madewell here in Minneapolis. So my daily life is often spent in the studio prepping for a show. 

So I'll give you a typical weekend day since right now my 9-5 job is as a graphic designer/illustrator at Knock Inc, an agency in Minneapolis.  I often still need to carve out time for art and freelance before and after work days, but a weekend day is probably more interesting to read about.


I wake up early and go on a run or to yoga. I'm pretty active and being in the studio all day can be a little sad for me in the summer so I try to squeeze in moments with the outdoors where I can.

So, after a little fresh air, and before it gets too late in the day, I have to do my daily lettering. I’ll explain.  On January 1 this year, on Instagram, I started a daily project called #letteringthedays. I use the project as an opportunity to explore hand-lettering specifically, but on occasion this turns into a more tactile, physical representation of the date. I always try to post in the late morning. 

After a romp outside and my lettering are checked off, I'll hop into my studio, usually in the late morning.  When prepping for a big fair like I mentioned above, I'll typically try to have 60-ish original pieces ready to sell, a dozen watercolors, and lots of prints. So for a few months I am getting all my inventory ready. At the front end of prepping for a show, I'm hunting for vintage images to use. I stick to magazine and book clippings from the 1940s-60s and will camp out on my couch for a few hours until I have a good pile of images that feel like I could make something out of. Netflix is a golden resource for these hours. Once this collection is cut out I'll start painting.


I usually work on 4-5 pieces at a time, allowing for pieces to dry without having to stop my work. A fun habit I got into a couple of years ago is to always have a blank canvas on hand that I wipe my brush off on when I am working with a color I can't bring myself to part with. In the end, I always get this great colorful, abstract piece that I will use to create a piece of it's own. 

While the light is good, I might use the opportunity to work on any photography I need to get done in the home. We get really wonderful light in our house and I always seem to have something I need to shoot for a design project.


Once it hits afternoon I'll usually break, maybe go on a bike ride, run some errands,  or sit outside and read. I love thrift store shopping and garage sales in the summer, so there's always a welcomed distraction. There's a great used book store by my house I find a lot of my resources at so I'll often run over there to stock up on any treasures.

After a little break, I'll head back into the studio to work some more. I’m mostly standing while I work so at this point in the day, I might start working on something I can do while sitting, like watercolors. Or I'll hop on the computer and get some freelance projects done. Lately for me this has been mostly illustration projects, which allows me to sneak outside and work. Best case scenario.


If I have my way with the day, my husband and I will bike somewhere for dinner and grab frozen yogurt as a night cap. Treat night caps aren’t generally negotiable.

In the evening, as my shows get closer, I start packaging all my printed reproductions. This is a bit of a factory process and can get tedious. Netflix or HBOGO to the rescue again. I may have just finished Game of Thrones in about two weeks.  No shame.

What kind of message are you trying to convey through your work?

Great question. Without fail, almost at every show I've done, someone tells me my work makes them smile, is happy, fun, and playful. I never really set out to intentionally make someone feel one way or the other. Occasionally if I’m working on a custom piece, then I am intentionally trying to evoke the words/stories/and images my clients have asked me to work into the piece. But when I'm finding my source materials and cutting out images, I'm always personally draw to the images that are quirky, light, whimsical, and have a sweetness about them. It’s just what I happen to find interesting. They're things that make me smirk and giggle and I guess that says something about who I am too. I've always been pretty silly and I really value that attribute in my friends, folks who can laugh at life, at themselves, and be playful. So unintentionally, I think because of what I am drawn to, those who see my art are having the same experience I had finding and creating the art in the first place. I hope people feel a bit of wonder, a sense of softness, a touch of humor. It's not to be "figured out", it's just to be enjoyed for what it is. •••

See more of Ashley's work here