Ashley Mary is a designer, illustrator, prop-stylist, and artist based in Minneapolis. If anybody knows the realities of hustling, it’s Ashley. Her combination of creativity and hustle make her the artistic force she is, and she spoke with us about how important the hustle is to her creative life.

Talk about your journey to becoming the artist you are today.
I’ll give you the short and dirty version: I started painting when I was 23, just on the side. Then I left my job at 28, went back to school part-time for two years at MCAD to get a post-bach certificate in design, and started working in the design industry immediately. Around 30, I decided to freelance and now I focus my time between painting, illustration, prop styling, and design.

What are some current projects you’re working on?
Currently I’m busy painting a few pieces to hang at Gallery 360 and Covet Consign, the holidays were a busy season and January being a slower month can be a good time to focus on personal work. I’m trying to build up my own inventory of paintings to keep in studio. And I’m also working on more pattern design, trying to get some bags and home decor items created. These are a few big goals of mine in the new year. There’s always a few illustration projects and prop-styling opportunities I have with clients as well.

View her whole phone case collection with Target.

Talk about the pairing of creativity + hustle — why is it important to have + employ both?
Hustle is important for me because I’m a freelancer, so I don’t ever really know where my next paycheck is coming from and how much it will be. The assumption has to be there won’t be a next project. So I say “yes” to lots of asks, and when there’s not client work happening, I’m constantly trying to produce, invent, and refine my own branded work and artwork. All of that involves being creative, and thinking of the next thing you’re going to put out into the world.

Ideally I would love to move towards more of my own work and less client work, but that takes a lot of time and a LOT of hustle to ensure you can make that transition without being broke or without saving any money.

How do you stay motivated to hustle every day? What motivates you?
Wanting to do more of my own work full-time is a big motivator — I have this very clear vision of what that will look like one day, so I just keep running towards it. I also enjoy things that require making more money, like traveling, dining out, and other experiences. Sometimes an upcoming trip will spur me to work extra hard so that I can truly enjoy my time off. And, honestly there are SO many talented artists and designers out there who are killing the game — seeing their work completely motivates and inspires me.

Lately, the creative community seems to bristle at the word “hustle” — there seems to be a greater push towards a “healthy work-life balance” that involves more meditating and relaxing than 24–7 hustling. Have you noticed this shift in thinking? How would you respond to this?
I have totally noticed it, and I have two thoughts. First, I really value slowing down — I spend more time on my weekends playing and relaxing and it feels great. Because if you stop to do the things that fill you up, you will be more kind, imaginative, and efficient when it’s time to work. I see it becoming a trend and I’m grateful for it and hope it catches on like a wildfire!

However, the unfortunate reality for me is that when I’m not hustling, I genuinely miss out on opportunities. I find that if I’m not making the most of my time, I pay for it later when I’m overly-swamped or bummed about a lost opportunity. And if I slow down too much, I start to feel guilty or anxious. My insecurities see people flying past me doing the type of work I want to do and achieving the things I want to achieve , and that pressure can feel like “there’s no time to slow down, everyone is racing!” It’s a gross sentiment, but when you see other people hustle, you feel like you can’t slow down.

So I think it’s a both/and: I can slow down and hustle less, but I have to come to terms with possibly missing out on work or getting to my end goal slower. And that’s a scary place to be in.

Last question: what might your creative process look like without the hustle?
Part of the reason I’m ever able to finish a painting or illustration is because I know I don’t have the time not to. If I have a show coming up, I do most of my painting in the 2 weeks before. Because without a sense of urgency, I wouldn’t get it done.

I imagine that if I could slow down with some projects — if I removed the hustle — they might get to a better spot. More thoughtful, less messy. But that’s also my style: hot mess. So in that way, the hustle works to my advantage. Though I’ve definitely sacrificed work of mine because I’m too busy to make it great. And you have to have grace with yourself. Because you just can’t get everything done perfectly.

Creativity& is an Open Book Communications project. It is a space to showcase artists/entrepreneurs/creative-people as real humans. We hope to show that it doesn’t just take creativity to make you a great creative; it takes a whole host of other things. And there are things that often go along with creativity that are rarely seen or talked about. We hope to draw that out from creatives — to inspire, generate conversations, and get their fans (and themselves) thinking about their creative process.