smArt Talk: An Interview with Ashton Womack of Virgo and Paper
I'm back today with the second installment of my interview series with some incredibly talented and smart surface designers and illustrators. The purpose is to learn together about art and creativity. I'm calling it smArt Talk because these women are smart artists and women.
So let's get started by introducing you to Ashton Womack, the woman behind Virgo and Paper.
In 2022, I found myself in need of an artistic tribe, so I set out to find artists who were looking for the same thing. Ashton was one of those women. She's running a thriving sticker business and she's a bit of an organizational genius. She has a system for everything, and it all gets done in an orderly manner.
Can you tell us about your background and how you first became interested in design?
I loved art as a kid, thanks to my mom. She’s very creative and encouraged me to work alongside her on all kinds of crafts from scrapbooking to sewing. In high school, I took drawing, painting, photography, jewelry making, and art history classes. I feel so lucky that my school provided thorough art education, as I still lean on those skills today.
I wasn’t aware of the design world until I got a job at a print shop, where I started to learn Adobe Illustrator. I was searching for a way to keep organized, so I decided to try to use the program to design stickers for my planner. Though I was three years into a Religious Studies degree, I started dreaming about becoming a self-employed artist.
While I didn't have design or business schooling, I figured there was no better time to take the risk of being self-employed. After graduation in 2015, I opened an Etsy shop to sell my sticker designs. Today, I run my online shop, teach classes, and create art for a wider range of products. Seeing how my business has grown, I’m glad I took the leap back then!
Tell me about your art practice–what got you started, what tools or techniques do you use, what makes your work special?
I’ve always been drawn to the tactile experience of paper. Books, magazines, journals, sketchbooks, paper planners…they light me up. I generate the best ideas for my artwork on paper as well. I translate my work into a digital medium by scanning my sketchbook pages and drawing over them in Illustrator or Procreate. I also paint motifs and textures in black ink on paper and vectorize them. My sketchbook practice is essential. When I start a project digitally, it tends to fall flat. Working with physical paint and pencils on paper keeps my art alive.
What do you love most about what you do?
I look forward to starting work each morning, and that is a great feeling. I'm very blessed to have my dream career. There are days I’m frustrated or don’t like what I’m working on, but for the most part, I have to pinch myself. I can’t believe I get to make art and call it work!
Where did the name for your business come from?
Names weren’t coming to me easily at first. I spent weeks brainstorming all kinds of words that didn’t sound good together. Then, I read somewhere that your business name should describe who you are and what you do. I took it quite literally. I’m a Virgo, and I’ve mentioned my love for all things paper… so I landed on ‘Virgo and Paper’ and it just felt right!
What does an average day look like for you?
I’m so thankful that my work allows me to create my own schedule. My morning always starts with coffee and some kind of creative planning and journaling. I try to stay in the habit of identifying 1-3 priorities for each day and keep checking in with my planner throughout the day to keep on track.
Then I’ll reheat my giant cup of coffee and walk over to my home studio. What I need to work on varies a lot since I juggle an online shop, teaching, and creating new artwork, as well as all the admin and business tasks. I schedule my week in advance but also move things around if needed, so I can work on art when I’m feeling more creative and pack shop orders when I’m not feeling as inspired.
I always end the work day with a family walk with my husband and dog, which helps me to transition away from work. I also make sure to close the door and stay out of my studio for the rest of the evening. Creating that boundary has been so helpful for my productivity and focus.
What tip or trick has made the biggest difference in your workflow?
Investing time into learning Adobe Illustrator has been worth every second. I have worked in the program for years, yet I’m still discovering new ways to speed up my workflow.
Another huge win for me was learning how to batch process mockups in Photoshop. Essentially, you can create tons of product mockups for your website with the click of a button. That shortcut has saved me hours, maybe entire days of time.
What would your dream creative project look like? Who or what is your dream project, client, or job? Tell us about why you would love to collaborate with them and what you find inspiring about their work.
Working with any stationery or paper goods brand would be a natural fit, I think. But I also would love to have my patterns on swimwear. The beach is my favorite place to be, and it would just be the coolest thing to see my artwork there.
One area of your business is teaching–what got you started and what do you love about it?
I’ve always wanted to teach art in some capacity but figured it was a ‘someday’ project. So I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to start teaching online at Skillshare last year. I’ve created two classes on art journaling, and I have a long list of ideas for future classes. It’s so exciting to see student projects and reviews. Preparing outlines and projects has fueled my own creativity as well, which just motivates me to keep going!
Finish this sentence: Wouldn’t it be cool if…
Everyone made artwork. Art is not just for “artists”. Anyone can benefit from a creative practice. It’s one of the reasons I started teaching. I want to share techniques that anyone can use to get in touch with their artistic side.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your work?
In order to succeed as an artist, I have to be willing to work through any problem that comes my way. Challenges are constantly popping up and that’s part of being a business owner. Instead of saying “I don’t know how to do this”, I’ve learned to jump in headfirst and learn the skills needed to figure it out. I think that’s what a growth mindset really is - not just believing you can do it, but doing it!
Thank you so much, Ashton, for sharing your wisdom with us! You can find more of Ashton's work here:
Skillshare classes: https://www.skillshare.com/en/r/user/ashwomack?gr_tch_ref=on&gr_trp=on