Ashley Mary: Let The Chaos Happen – Creative Mornings Minneapolis MSP

Travis Johansen (video producer at Provid Films) had the privilege of recording video of this live talk at Creative Mornings – the video was recorded at Paikka in St Paul MN.

Watch the video below




If you’d prefer to listen to this content on a podcast – look for “Better Brand Story with Travis Johansen Podcast” in iTunes, Spotify, Podcast Addict, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for tuning in. You’re about to listen to the creativemornings Minneapolis talk presented live at pica. Our speaker was actually married. So without further ado, let’s go to

the phones always a cool start.

So Hi guys. Welcome. Thanks creativemornings for having me. Thanks, Drew.

All right.

When my world feels chaotic, a few things happen to my body in mind. I feel anxious. I get super sad. I don’t sleep well. I don’t eat much. I cry at random. I go inward.

When my dog ran when his world feels chaotic. He humps people.

Here is Ren humping my head shortly after we moved into my new apartment.

When life feels lonely, unbearable and confusing, Ren humps things, I have a hunch at zero percent sexual and he’s not in fact that horny. Nonetheless, many have fallen victim to Rennes humping, which he accentuates with light grunting you can’t hear it in the video.

Like, like when last week I was traveling for work and my friend was dog sit sitting for me sent me this text. She’s pushing them off of him. No one is safe. It happens often enough that I decided to create a hashtag for it called the unhappy humps.

Feel free to populate that at your own leisure with whomever has the unhappy humps in your life.

I was trying to think all week at how I could incorporate that video of my dog humping my head and I feel so satisfied. Great, Todd. Thanks for coming.

Aside from the small fact though, Randy and I do have a lot in common, small pointy nose, dark haired, fast Walker like carrots, extroverted humps when you’re anxious, I’m just kidding. No, I’m not.

I look at this. This is amazing. Brittany Schneider came up to me this morning introduced herself and she’s like I painted you ran and I’m like, Do you even know I’m talking about him? This is the most magical little gift. So thank you, Brittany, wherever you are. I love that. And I’m going to treasure that. So for those of you who don’t know me and don’t know where you are, my name is Ashley, Mary and you are at creative mornings. I am an artist, designer, Illustrator, eater, sleeper, runner shopper person or I share a studio space in the north King building with fellow lady bosses minion Paul out there and Beth calf. Here in my Playhouse. It’s

I like to call it might be the next slide might be the next slide. There we go. I create colorful messes on canvas. And occasionally people let me make colorful messes on their walls to. My work is often described as bright, playful, bold and happy. I like these words. They’re uncomplicated. They’re sweet and pure. They’re light and easy to hold. But do not be deceived. Just because my work leans towards Kenyatta filled with tiny unicorn vibes. It doesn’t mean my life is always as vibrant and happy. In fact, sometimes I feel like the only thing My life has in common with the opinion data is its ability to be busted up into a million pieces on the ground.

Sometimes that’s how I feel inside.

messy, stuffed with too many thoughts. Easy to bust up, break open and feel empty. These are times in my life.

Life I feel the most anxious, confused, sad to the bone out of control and chaotic.

Rarely, to me, though, is anything good or bad or black or white. In my world, it’s all color. And sometimes a season. A moment and experience is both. And chaos, I believe is both and in chapter two of my story, the here and now today, my name is Ashley, Mary. But there was a seven year period in chapter one, where I was Ashley Barlow.

And you may have seen that name accidentally appear during promotion of this event. It’s an honest mistake. I blame the internet on but one that left my stomach sinking when I saw the name appear, and names are a funny thing. It’s a word ultimately.

But one that is deeply personal. It’s your identity, right? It’s how we’re knowing our names. So when I saw my name shared

correctly around this event it stung a little. And it wasn’t a level 10 crisis by any means. It’s a first world problem for sure. It’s a hangnail of sorts. It’s a small reminder of past pain that catches on things when you least expect it.

But I believe in the God of details, meaning I try to pay attention as a spiritual practice. I try to pay attention to the patterns happening around me and to me and I try to discern my role in my next steps. So today, I’m taking a hint from the universe, and I’m telling a story I typically like to save for more intimate settings over strong beverages.

When I was 22, when I was 22, I got married to a Barlow man. We Were Young doe eyed and we met at a small Christian School in Michigan, where the slogan for seniors was ring by spring. I had one By the summer of my junior year because I’m an overachiever.

So right after my graduation and our wedding, that’s a cool sentence. I started

I started working at a mini mega church in the suburbs here in Minnesota. Now it wasn’t Christian growing up so much as I chose it as a teenager and I pursued it with the fiery passion most other teens had for Hanson and Backstreet Boys, aging myself.

But I believe we’re wired for devotion at 15 and my main crush was old JC. I always love me a hippie. I wore my ww JD bracelets so hard and with such conviction, I still have the tan line on my wrist from it. And I loved me some church. It was a space of community, positive adult attention, playfulness, service and theology. And I really loved theology as a teenager Actually, I loved learning about anything that was mysterious and unknown. I was a proud member of the goosebumps clubs circa 1994.

Go singles Sign me up. We g boards. I’ll light the candles. You see dead people cool. Tell me more about it Bruce Willis. So after high school, I went to this small private school where I studied religion with a capital R. But only after quickly realizing my dreams to become a Broadway star for perhaps far reaching. My favorite classes were on mysticism, Indian religions, and more conceptual themes. I’ve always been deeply curious about all the things we cannot fully know that is me. At my core, I got to continue my studies of religion in Rome and in India, and in all these opportunities, they kept formulating my ideas of God, human connectedness, and matters of the heart and soul. By studying religion, I also did take a few art classes as one is forced to do in liberal arts school, a few drawing courses printmaking, and I did eventually make my way to one painting class. Though I didn’t really like it much To be honest, ironically.

Somewhere my last semester of senior year, I fell in love with collage though. And the rest, as they say is history.

I have not stopped making art since senior year of college.

The first five years of my art were primarily collage focus, my process being heavily controlled, I would cut out little images from old magazines and create these stories with little pieces, we can go to the next slide. Everything was fairly tidy and precise, and it had a kind of a graphic quality to it. And I wouldn’t glue down anything until it looked just right. I would stitch into my work with thread, sometimes adding fabric, we can go the next slide. Here’s some examples.

But let’s put that on the back burner for now. Because that’s where it went for about five years after I graduated. And there might be one more slide. Let’s test it. We’re good. Cool. So working after church, working at the church after graduation made a lot of sense for me.

It was an environment I thrived in and it was a safe choice and a lot of ways. I knew how to do that job and that life really well and I got to be around a lot of people I planned a lot of events did skits, went on camps, I was a goof, I got to have meaningful conversation, connect with amazing non for profits, extroverted Ashley was alive and well in that church, my 12 years in that space were really sacred to, but because life is never that simple, having my faith wrapped up into my vocation and my income wrapped up in my community, and my free time in my marriage and my identity.

It was too much, and especially too much for a young 20 something navigating who she was as a married adult, and as a creative female. I was a tightly wound ball of yarn.

Over the course of time, about five years into my career, my spirit started to get restless. I was falling more

In love with creating art and the kettle on the backburner was getting louder and hotter. I didn’t feel myself in that environment anymore, then I wasn’t being authentic anymore. I felt more myself when I was making collages and my paintings, I felt stimulated in my soul and in my mind in different ways that nothing else could replicate and it’s hard to describe. I feel a buzz through my bud blood, like an electric current. When I’m making art. Simultaneously, I was also falling more frustrated with the churches. I was a part of it, its politics, its systems, its programming. And to be honest, it’s the ologies. All of this made for a lot of inner turmoil, a lot of inner chaos. Nothing you could see from the outside. In fact, I probably seemed pretty normal. My chaos was contained in my heart and my mind and my spirit. Just like with my collages in my life, I was the queen of control. Up to this point, I’d like

A pretty charmed life that I’d created, curated nicely into a cute little package. But that started to change over time. In my art, for example, I started to play with little splashes of paint here and there. I started adding bolder, more abstract moments. I was exploring, trying, pushing the edges just ever so slightly. And inside, I was becoming confused, restless, questioning everything. And it was time to pay attention to my art.

I’d heard of this thing called graphic design. No joke, I

I really didn’t know what graphic design was until about 2012.

I didn’t know what Photoshop did or who Adobe was or that art was something that needed directing. I was a new job. I was so immersed in my own bubble those past five years there was so much I didn’t know about, but I did know that I wanted a full time.

career as a creative, and I knew that I couldn’t make enough selling my art. So in my later 20s, I decided to go back to school. And in order to commit to the design program that I was interested in at em CAD fully, I decided to leave my role at the church. This was a massive decision for me, and a very painful and very stressful one. The church is I was a part of it was changing.

Or maybe rather, I was changing. We both were,

which meant our relationship was changing too. This is hard for me to talk about. I left my job for lots of regular reasons people leave their jobs, you’re bored, you’re uninspired, you’re frustrated with the system. You want better pay, you need to change. It was all those things for me. But also my heart was changing towards everything. It was a slow burn of me trying to pay attention and asking, Do I believe in that?

Is that how I see things does

This make me feel whole.

Does this make me feel whole? I was discontent smells like a quarter life crisis to me.

I could absolutely without a doubt tell that my spirit was expanding. And I believe in an expansive God, my God is a breathing entity ever expanding, pulsing, moving in and through and around, and it’s like water and air, but it’s bigger than either of those things. And there isn’t one door to the God that I know. There’s not even a house with doors. There’s just a field surrounded by a forest and your ability to turn in any direction to enter into the unknown. So going back to school was my chance to start to get to know what I really believed in and to get to know myself better. my chance to be around people that were different from me, believed in different things, people who didn’t know who I was, and didn’t expect me to be a certain someone didn’t expect me to be anything at all.

School became everything to me. I dove in headfirst and I put everything into the experience. It was so energizing for me to be in a new environment with new people topics, challenges, skills, experiences, and became almost gluttonous about it. My craving to be enveloped in that world felt insatiable. I wanted to spend all my time at school or work on working on design and art. And the deeper I went into it all the deeper I wanted to go, and I was feeling my spirit wake up to something. The yarn was unraveling. And I started to pay attention to that.

By the spring semester of my first year of school, I started to retreat into myself. My personal theologies were shifting inside. It felt scary, elating confusing and sad. I still went to church very occasionally. But I remember standing at a service one Sunday night and everyone around me was singing worship songs and I knew I do

knew that moment was holy and sacred. But I didn’t want to sing. Singing didn’t feel authentic to me the words didn’t feel genuine to my thoughts. And the act itself felt uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be there actually. So I paid attention to the emotions. Ultimately, I stopped going. And I don’t tell this story to dissuade anyone from going to church. I think any religious institution is a very sacred space. And I encourage anyone to explore whatever ways they need to express their spirituality. I think that is really important. I tell this story because it’s part of my chaos. It’s the truth of my story. And it’s the unraveling of myself.

I wasn’t putting much effort into seeing friends actually, the only thing I was putting on was a face. I didn’t want to be home ever. I didn’t want to be around my husband. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t sleeping much. I was making poor decisions. I cried. A lot.

Random, anywhere that felt right on the mat and yoga, in my car on runs in the shower, at bars with my friends. Everything felt so tangled and chaotic and lonely. I was emotionally exhausted. And I didn’t know what I believed anymore. I was depressed.

I’m I remember I went on this long run, and I stopped midway through and I sat near Lake and I cried, and my stomach was in knots. You know, when you’re so entirely anxious, you just feel kind of sick. And you’re really tired, but you’re wired all at the same time and I felt insane inside like how can I feel this way? I have so much on the outside. That should have made me happy yet I was so utterly unhappy on the inside. I was so damn scared of saying anything out loud.

Because then it would change my life as I knew it.

My friendship with my husband would change my community. My home. My record.

mutation, my pretty cozy life, everything would change all the safe things I had built around me. I could feel myself on the edge of a cliff.

Bernie brown and her book, the gifts of imperfection says this.

If we want to live in love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things that get in the way. Especially shame, fear and vulnerability.

I went home after that run, and I sat my husband down, and we began the 18 month process of discerning What the hell is life? And what do we want our future to look like? I started therapy pretty immediately after that, and the long process of trying to feel whole again to find my wholeness. Fast forward, a year and a half. My ball of yarn was now a full on pile, the beginning and the end of the string indiscernible and most certainly a few

knots in there as well. A lot of damn knots actually.

At this point, I was doing mostly freelance work primarily at an agency in town. I was still making art work from home. I was wrapping up school and I was beginning the process of getting a divorce from my seven year marriage and all the logistics that follow.

So let’s turn the page why my personal life was falling apart in 2014. I was also changing inside in some really lovely and profound and necessary ways. I was learning all these new tools at school and I was making art more often. I was meeting so many new creatives in town forming new friendships, trying new things, I was a sponge to the world, and I could feel everything inside of me start to shift and move and I was feeling alive in new ways. And here’s what I learned in that one and a half year period from sobbing, crying run to graduating school.

Your wholeness is worth everything.

You’re homeless is worth everything. Don’t ignore it. It is vital to not just your happiness but your sense of peace, identity and light. Your wholeness is your light. Don’t let that shit go out.

Chaos happens. And it strikes whatever it damn well pleases. It doesn’t give a fuck about your timeline and your deadlines. It will do it it needs to do. And I recommend sitting in it for a little bit actually. Sometimes we try to fix and control things so quickly that we make it worse with a knee jerk reaction.

So let the chaos happen. And notice patterns what keeps happening and how does it make you feel? Is anyone getting hurt in the process? What do you believe and do you feel yourself Do you feel whole

and here’s the most important lesson. There can be beauty in chaos. Chaos is colorful chaos.

is so colorful, and it’s not perfect and it’s not tidy and it’s a hot mess. And chaos has the potential. It has this potential to become something beautiful if you let it

shortly after I moved out of my house, I had a friend say to me quite pointedly, pointedly. Your art is changing. I can tell something is happening inside your gut, that you’re moving and creating from a guttural place.

I recall a short cry happening right in that moment.

She had put language around something I couldn’t. My art was taking new shape literally and figuratively. I was painting more abstractly. stepping away from the vintage collage I had done for years, I was exploring bold shapes and layering more. My paintings are becoming more colorful, free, bouncy, quirky, light and happy. They were reflecting me

my art

wasn’t the only thing shifting either. I was also just trying a lot more outlets as a designer I was art directing props, styling, creating prints and patterns. I got my first big opportunity for my Ashley Mary brand with a line of cosmetic bags. And then a line of tech accessories.

I was playing with illustration I was in try mode and I was so damn alive inside. Nothing made me happier than getting to make things paint things, move things and work with dozens of talented local creatives, many who are in this crowd today. You have no idea how much every project with you people has meant to me. those opportunities have changed me.

I was starting to find my contentment, my peace, my voice myself in I was untangling my knots.

So let’s fast forward four years later, here we are. I’m a few years into owning my own business where I get to make art and design

products like my stationery line which some of you saw outside.

I get to paint almost every day and not one minute of that is lost on me. I make beautifully useless things with my hands like palm earrings and goofballs.

I still regularly collaborate with all of your lovely faces as well as with some great national and international brands.

And back at em CAD now finishing my Masters this fall I currently have all the things do but I’m here instead.

I live in northeast with my humping dog, very close to my studio, we walk to work a lot of days. And my ex and I are sweet friends in our own right. He’s a good one.

Sure, my quarter life crisis is behind me but I still get to have some mini ones pretty consistently. And they suck too.

And that’s all right by me, because it’s my chance to make something new. So here I am. I’m Ashley.

Mary, thank you very much to my grandma’s Mary Lou and Mary Jane. They are the deep creative, brilliant, feminine roots to my name.

for a few years now Mary has been my legal last name and it is my pure joy to confuse anyone who asks for my last name, and to watch their face is I give them two first names.

This is my story. I am Ashley Mary. I’m a painter, designer, Illustrator, sleeper eater, runner, shopper person or I am a human and a lover.

My paintings now feel like this. They are often made with a bit of chaos. And with many textured layers on top of layers, I create some arrangement until it feels just right, always leaving room for something unexpected to be added or altered. I celebrate that in consistencies and color and form and texture. And I paint until my belly tells me that this is done and the chaos shows through on the top

Player only where it needs to.

My work is an expression of my values, my inner spirit, my inner Goofy, pure, lovely child, my playfulness, my joy, my messiness, my wholeness. They are a visual representation of me try not to control everything. It’s my holding loosely. My life imitates my art imitates my life. And honestly, I don’t want things to look perfect, perfect is boring, and perfect, doesn’t offer transformation. tidy, does not does not get me closer to my whole self. Chaos does. Chaos presents itself with an opportunity to make something that has a rich underbelly of color? So I’m leaving you with this light question on a Friday morning.

What patterns are happening in your life that you need to pay attention to? How can you be present to your chaos?

What steps can you take to receive

respond to your chaos, and then transform it into something perfectly imperfect. Chaos is your chance to make something new out of something messy. And the mess is what makes you interesting and full and beautiful and delightfully different from everybody else. Chaos whispers it’s time to change. Chaos invites opportunity to create something new. So what will you make with yours? Thank you for sharing your space with me this morning.

That’s a good question.

So he asked how my physical spaces have transformed the way that I’m making art.

That’s a great question. I finally moved into a studio, just I think two years ago now. So that’s my first time being out of my house. And two things have happened specifically one, my work has gotten a lot bigger.

Which is so so fun for me. As a small person, it doesn’t take much for a piece to feel bigger than me. But I love the scale of making larger and I love watching and if you’re familiar with some of my process, sometimes 50% of the time, I make a little collage on paper and then I paint it

and it’s really fun to watch something go from this big to really big.

And so I’m delighting in play, no scale, having a space. Also. Pee Wee Herman means a lot to me, and it’s been really important for me to have

A physical environment that I can make into my own Playhouse. And I think what p we did that was really brilliant, emits lots of things. He did some weird things do.

He, we all do. It’s just part of what makes us interesting.

He was really great at reflecting and expressing himself in his physical environment and inviting in the kind of energy that helped him probably feel more like himself and feel more playful and he surrounded things that brought he surrounded himself with things that brought out the best in him and made him in his best self. And I think I got to do that with my studio. I think I fill it with like lots of weird toys and colors. And if you come into my space, which you’re all welcome to do, we have open studios the first Thursday of every month and art attack all that yummy stuff. There’s a lot to just touch and see and take in and it is chaotic. And I couldn’t have that in my house else. I’d go crazy and I’d probably like to lose my dog or he like

Die under the you know, the sheer weight of it all.

So having a physical space has been hugely important to me as somebody who is very, very visual and I can’t really get to work until my space feels just right but my just right looks like a hot mess. But that’s good for me. So scale and surrounding myself with things that make me feel more me.

That’s a good question. How do you maintain chaos without letting it you know, get to an unhealthy space essentially.

I love therapy. That’s a good start.

And I do think first and foremost, I’m not always successful at managing my chaos. And so I’m by no means any template to follow, but some tools and tricks I like to use. I do try to take time out to run that’s a good stress reliever for me and running as is purely therapeutic for me and that’s where I get my best crime done.


therapy and making time to sneaking conversations with friends who helped me process my life if that means it’s in traffic on the way home, well, now I walk but you know what I mean? Like taking time to insert those people into your life that are going to be good tools, good sounding boards, and not letting yourself get to the burnout point. And I think sometimes that just takes practice to learn what does it look like when I burn out? And how can I prevent that burnout from happening? Again, I think physical activities probably huge for a lot of people.

And just quite recently, what I’ve started to do, and I’ve kind of had to do is invite people in to help me and I hate asking for help. And I’m getting better at it with time. But now I’ve got a couple of really amazing ladies who are part of my life and help me with my rhythms every week. And even if it’s just four hours, one day, my God, it’s four hours I can like, do something else. So you might have noticed some cutie ladies out there helping me today and they’re a big part of helping me

Manage My chaos?

Do my life experiences come to my canvas in my art? Yeah. Um, yes and no. I do think subconsciously, I’m always creating from a space of like energy inside of me and my life story. I can’t help but let that come out. But I will say I am definitely an artist who does not try to think too hard when I come to the canvas. For me, it’s playtime. It’s a time to actually do the opposite of thinking too hard about what it’s going to mean. Because what I want you to do when you come to my canvas is decide how you feel. I don’t want to tell you how you feel. It is my delight if you walk away feeling happy, but it’s okay if you don’t.

And it’s my joy if you can feel my sense of happiness through my own pieces, but I try to hold all of my thoughts really gently when I’m painting. I try to make it about life.

And color more than it is about. This is a dark period of my life. And I think that’s really cool when artists can create from that space, that just hasn’t been my story as much. I call that perfection paralysis is the idea that you can’t share something until it’s just right. And I have experienced it. And I think I will say it gets better with time.

You get to a point where you share your work enough and you’re just kind of are like, fuck it, whatever. You know, you’re like, it’s happening and it’s out in the world. But it isn’t always that way. And I have days I post something and delete it. But I have found that the more I do it, the easier it gets.

If you’re creating work for yourself, then it ultimately should not matter what anybody else thinks. If I think this looks rad, and it makes me happy, I don’t care what you think about it, because this is about me and my story and my joy.

And if you

can get that cool, but if you don’t, that’s okay because you don’t have to always be on the same page as me. And as we all felt the same way about everything all the time would be so boring Oh my god, like, Thank God we don’t all like the same things. So I think kind of remembering that like there is celebrate like there’s space to celebrate the fact that we all really enjoy something different visually. And that your artists for you and then it gets easier the more you do it. So don’t wait for it to be perfect because that word is not a thing. There’s no such thing as a perfect piece until it feels good in your your stomach and in your heart. That’s when it’s good. So those are some of my tools, mental tools.

If you are interested in coming to next month event, tickets are free, but they can sell out fast, just google creativemornings MSP or use the link in this episode’s description. And just in case we’ve never met, I’m Travis Johansen with pro good films this episode

Music is from a local Minnesota musicians Michael shines. It’s called through the fire. If you know an artist who’d like to have a song featured on a future podcast episode, email me, Travis at probic films.com. I’m going to end with a quote here from Seth Godin. The cost of being wrong is less than the cost of doing nothing.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Recorded live at the Ashley Mary talk For Creative Mornings MSP (Minneapolis, St Paul MN)