Ash is an independent designer, illustrator and writer. She’s done work for Dropbox, Designer Fund, Pinterest and Twitter. She is the also recent author of The Firesteel, a modern love story that turns one man's 20s into an epic spanning of centuries.
Maria: You really are one of my dearest friends in San Francisco and I'm super happy we're getting to talk about creative confidence because I honestly feel like you're such a great example and embodiment of it. Tell us a little bit about your journey of becoming a writer.
Ash: It never really occurred to me early on that I would become a writer when I "grow up." People used to tell me they wanted to become a designer like it wasn’t possible for them, and I would just tell them to put their 10,000 hours in. But when it came to my own writing, I would read these novels and want to write a novel myself, like maybe it wasn’t possible for me...which lead me to take my own medicine to see if I was really serious about it. I really do derive a lot of joy from writing and reading. Having written things, I guess they've worked out. That's how it happened, but it was a bit unexpected.
Maria: Great. That sounds like you had this "aha" where you gave yourself permission to become a writer.
Ash: Yes. I think that permission is really hard and really important.
Maria: Mm-hmm. We'll dig into that as well as we go along. I've been playing with this idea of creative confidence which obviously many designers know that term. It comes from design thinking, but I'd love to hear from you when you hear those words “creative confidence.” What does that mean to you?
Ash: It's funny because I think when you first ever hear the term, it comes off like you are talking about being confident in your creative skills. These days I think it's a lot more about truth and just being able to sit down with yourself, and understand what's true and what isn't. I think creative confidence is just being so comfortable in your own truth that you are able to just make things out of that and you're not questioning your truth constantly.
Maria: Awesome. Was that for you a work in progress? Did it come to you suddenly? Did that come to you over time over the years? How did you get to a place where you felt like, “I know this is my truth and I want to create from this place?”
Ash: I was always told "Oh, you're a very sensitive child. You cry too easily." In some way, this perceived ill became a bit of a blessing. White pine trees are seen environmentally as an indicator of pollution. When there's something polluted, all the other plants look fine but if you look at the cells of a white pine tree, you can see damage in that tree. It's a very sensitive tree, and it’s exactly that kind of sensitivity that pushes you out of the nest in some way.
Maria: Beautiful. You're talking about emotional sensitivity?
Maria: Yeah, I agree. I think there's like we grow up being told like emotions are bad, feelings are bad for example, “You're too sensitive. Why are you crying? Don't cry.” That’s ironic because some of the best artists are so sensitive. They have to be.
Ash: Yeah, for sure. The ethos of being tough or able to just smile through anything and being that popular cheerleader type is under reevaluation. You can see it in characters who are popular like Parks and Recreation, such as April Ludgate. Also Retta's character who's very confident, and just knows what's up. She just makes her own money, etc. I think that there is this depth emerging where we are trying to value sensitivity and creativity more instead of this superman ideal.
Maria: Right. We are seeing examples in pop culture like more nuanced women characters and that's really exciting. What would you say is the number one reason women hold themselves back from sharing their gifts?
Ash: I think your top 10 playbook is pretty good for that. I definitely had resonance with too much independence which is something I have to deal with. My number one thing is this idea that if you don't make something yourself, it's not really yours. It's just like an underlying thing that is not at all conscious in which you feel you can’t ask for help and appear weak. It's a very animalistic sense. It's like you're an injured animal and you don't want anyone to notice. It's not something necessary that a healthy animal does.
Maria: That one stood out to you and I remember you telling me that. Have you noticed it in other women creatives or in other women that you've interacted with, this independent ethos?
Ash: Yeah, when things get difficult, there is this tendency to remove yourself completely and to not ask for help.
Maria: Yes. Speaking of obstacles, I thought it would be fun for us to run down a handful of them and gather your wisdom.
Ash: Yes, that would be fun.
Maria: Let's start with following the rules, which is my number one in the top 10 obstacles in my Creative Confidence Playbook. This is the good girl syndrome in which we were socialized to become really high achievers who really want to please our teachers and parents. I see this in a lot of my clients. Where did you find the courage to be like, "Fuck this, I'm going to be an independent designer and I'm not going to let anyone pigeonhole me for being one type of creative"?
Ash: This question is dear to my heart. I remember a key moment when I was envisioning my future life 20, 10, 5 years from now if I kept going on the path that all the rules lead to. It would mean managing people and making sure projects are aligned with a singular vision. I got the scary realization that I would not be doing the things that actually make me happy like making stuff, learning things, and teaching people. While I was having this realization, I was also getting sick off and on for six months straight. That was another warning sign when I would get these full body rashes. When I closed my eyes and asked myself what I wanted to do in 10 years from now, it was being an independent designer and making the time to do my own things. If I really want to make a varied body of work, it seems like the only way to go…
Listen to the whole interview and learn:
- how to deal with criticism with mindfulness
- how to not get discouraged by early feedback on your “ugly” work
- how to get over the ridiculous illogical tendency to compare
- what Ash would have done differently in writing and self-publishing her novel
- what Ash thinks is the best part of being a creative woman
Listen to the whole interview here: