Interview: Ashley Bush
Ashley Bush is the multi-talented artist and businesswoman behind Ash Bush Lettering & Design. At her art desk, Ashley wears the hat of pointed pen calligrapher, brush letterer, watercolorist, and graphic designer. Whether creating a bold, brushy invitation suite or a delicate floral illustration, Ashley imbues all her work with a signature, effervescent style. Even to the trained eye, her airy brush lettering looks effortless.
In addition to her own ink-on-paper work, Ashley and her husband Zach have a business making custom calligraphy pen holders – each is hand-carved by Zach then hand-painted by Ashley. The modern calligraphy community has fallen in love with Ash Bush Penholders, and for good reason – there's nothing quite like them!
I conducted an email interview with Ashley to find about about her studio, her own favorite pen, and how she combats creative block. I also learned some unexpected things, like that our lettering friend also plays the ukulele!
Thanks for joining us, Ashley! Can you tell us about your artistic background? Where are you located?
I have a Bachelor's of Fine Arts with a concentration in graphic design, my two favorite corporate jobs after graduating were working for Northern Virginia Magazine as a layout designer, and ICF Interactive as a web designer. I'm currently nestled up in the Blue Ridge mountains of south-west Virginia while my husband completes his Master's degree at Virginia Tech. I've been working for myself since 2014 out of my home studio.
Do you find that the design and layout of your workspace impacts your creative process? How have you arranged your studio?
There are lots of things I find important for my workspace - inspiration, intuitive organization and cleanliness. My office is chock-full of inspiration, it's bright and colorful with pretty things all over the place - I find it not only inspiring but an encouraging way to support other makers like myself by buying their work. When operating as a business it's important to organize your workspace in a way that is most efficient for your work and time, for instance, I keep all my shipping stuff in one section, and try to keep a clear space on my desk for when I do calligraphy since it takes up a lot of space, I also keep my ink, Windex, pens and nibs all near each other so that it's easy to do some quick practice or get started on work.
What got you started doing calligraphy? Did you have formal training, teach yourself, or a combination of the two?
As an art major I was able to dabble in all kinds of different artistic avenues, I took courses on typography and layout while in school, and stumbled upon a calligraphy Instagram account later on that made me think, 'I should give this a try!' So for my birthday my husband got me Melissa Esplin's Calligraphy.org course along with Molly Suber Thorpe's Modern Calligraphy book, and it started me on my journey!
In addition to being a successful calligrapher, you are also the proprietor of Ash Bush Calligraphy Pen & Accessories Shop. In collaboration with your husband, you make stunning, handmade pen holders. How did you get started in this pursuit?
I still wonder how this endeavor came to be – I never set out to make pens, or start an accessory line, it just kind of organically happened. My husband, Zach, is an artistic phenom, he's a professional illustrator and 3D artist, so making beautiful things just comes naturally to him - and one Christmas he was like 'I'm gonna make a pen for you.' And that was my Christmas gift – his pen designs are ridiculously intricate and delicate, and to be honest, I had no idea how amazing they actually were until I talked to 15-20 year wood-working veterans and they were like, 'I have no idea how he does it, I couldn't make you something like this.' I just posted about them and people wanted them. It's been a long, hard road, filled with lots of growing pains. If I'd have known all that goes into the shop, I'm not sure I would have started, but I'm so so amazed and thankful that we're here, and really excited to see how we progress!
You make penholders for other artists every day, but what is your own favorite pen holder and nib combination? Can you share a photo of it?
That's my baby [above, far left]. I have 3 babies to be fair – a carrot straight and regular 8" oblique that I use all the time – but this little oblique carrot is my go-to. It feels like I'm looking at the inside of my mind when I look at it, and that makes me happy. Anyone who follows my feed knows that I have a little bit of a love affair with carrots, and our carrot shape specifically is designed in a way that utilizes the shape of your hand so that you garner more control over the pen, I also love the thick grip because I struggle with a death-grip. I go through nib phases – I was stuck on the Hunt 101 for a while, then the Brause Steno, and I'm currently back in love with the Zebra G.
As a creative freelancer, how do you combat creative burnout and stay motivated? What do you do as a creative outlet?
I am a firm believer that the journey is the destination. In other words the process for me is what it's all about - I keep an open mind about everything, and encourage happy accidents. What happens if we crush up these berries and use them? What happens if I dip this paper in water first? Working in the tech industry, we tested apps and products on children to see how intuitive our commands and gestures were, so having my son around has completely changed my perspective on things. He uses things upside down and in ways I would have never thought to, it's a constant reminder to let myself explore. I also find a lot of inspiration from textile designers and high-end bakeries.
Can you tell us about the most interesting (or difficult) commission you’ve worked on to date?
I recently was commissioned to make a huge 15 foot by 12 foot watercolor backdrop for a Mehndi, along with custom watercolor textile designs to be heat-transferred onto fabric that would be wrapped around pillars. Those were both new ones for me!
Do you have a hidden talent, hobby, or passion that you don’t usually share?
Oh goodness, I'm like the most weirdly passionate person you'll ever meet. I've dabbled in so many things, but I've always loved to play music, I grew up a choir nerd and can't stop playing the ukulele. I'm also freakishly lucky – I had one year where I won a CNN songwriting contest and performed it live on their show, then won a kitchen makeover from Real Simple, and then modeled in a Harry Potter photoshoot that has since gone viral (think Buzzfeed). It's kind of hilarious, I have friends who constantly try to talk me into buying lottery tickets for them.