We had the good fortune of connecting with Ashley Matelski and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ashley, do you have some perspective or insight you can share with us on the question of when someone should give up versus when they should keep going?
There has been many times throughout my life where I have questioned my decision, wondered if I should give up or change directions, wondered if I was doing what was right for me. I have never felt that way with my artwork. It has always been clear to me that art is a part of who I am. I often turn to art when trying to “find myself”, only to learn that I am becoming more myself every time I pick up a brush. This love for what I do, what I enjoy doing, is what has kept me going. Like most people, I have dreamt for so long of being able to support myself with what I am passionate about. I will not stop working until I achieve that dream. I think everyone has their path, the thing that gives them drive. Once you find that thing- that thing that is a part of you- you just don’t give up. There is no giving up, only to keep going, doing what I love, as long as I’m alive.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I have dabbled in many different mediums over the years but in the last five years my focus has turned to pyrography (wood burning). I use a pen-like solder to burn nature inspired illustrations/designs into locally sourced wood. Sometimes I gather wood myself while out on a hike around the San Francisco Peaks, other times I get it from a local arborist or woodworker. I have always enjoyed being outside- hiking, boating, camping, skiing. More often than not I always take a sketchbook with me. Drawing the places I have been is a personal favorite thing I do for myself. I would stop and identify all the flowers, draw them, take notes. Transferring my illustration skills to wood burning wasn’t too difficult, it taught me patience more than anything because of how tedious it can be. It is a very beautiful, old form of art that you do not see very often. Exploring my creative ideas by mixing pyrography with my previous skills of watercolor, acrylic & illustration has allowed me to produce very unique pieces with vibrant textures. I try to work with the natural grain of the live edge and burn my ideas into the wood first. Typically I keep some of the wood natural while the flowers or scenery I will fill in with color, giving them an appearance of ‘popping off the wood’. I got into the art of woodburning after I worked in the Washington Conservation Corps doing trail & restoration work. A coworker, Nyssa, had gifted our crew all with burnt ornaments she made from wood rounds from a thinning project we were on together. I had a simple wood burning tool at home and cherished her gift. She inspired me to give it a try and to this day, Nyssa is a huge inspiration to me with her artistic creations. As I have developed the business side of my artistic career I have definitely been challenged. Nothing specific comes to mind but more so one big question of “WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?!” I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but am I? When the pandemic quarantine hit Flagstaff the only source of income I had was my art. This is the moment I was forced to jump off the cliff and spread my wings and see what would happen. Could I actually support myself on my artwork alone? Previously I had just sold at small markets, via Instagram or word of mouth around town. When none of those options were going to cut it, I decided I needed to make a website. How do I do that? I don’t know how to computer!? What’s a TPT License? Should I get an LLC? How do I pay my taxes? The Covid19 quarantine graciously blessed me with nothing but time so I had no excuse but to work on growing myself not only as an artist, but also as a business. I made my own website. I started learning to run a shop online. I got my LLC and a fancy business bank account. I got a studio downtown Flagstaff. Next thing I knew I was running a business. This moment brings tears to my eyes as I saw my dreams fabricate right in front of me. The challenges that came up were met by myself and my team of friends and other business owners with advice. A group of amazing women in town and myself are involved in an unofficial female entrepreneur group all learning to start our own businesses. We lean on each other for support, problem solving and marketing ideas- we collaborate on how to create strength within our community. Right now, I am proud of this last year and how much I have grown. I have worked so hard and even though there is still so much I would like to accomplish, I am very stoked with where I’m at. I am learning to appreciate being in the moment and recognizing my diligence but also give myself a break and remember to practice self-care. I have sacrificed socializing with friends, sleep, and even, dare I say it- skiing… to grow my art into a business. I have never worked so hard for something in my life and for that kind of self-control and drive, I am proud. Growing my art into a business hasn’t been easy but I have never felt more excited or sure of my path and I am looking forward to what the future has to offer.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
In Flagstaff, there is an art to proudly sharing information about your town without giving away local secrets, so lets see if I can get it right- There is so much to love about northern Arizona. Each season change is beautiful in its own way. In fall, the aspens change color. I adore winter, the way the snow makes everything look so magical. Summer weather is never too hot and Springtime brings the most incredible desert blooms. If I had a friend visiting for a week, I would love to show them around in Springtime. This time of year, everyone is coming out of their winter hibernation routines and getting into the sun. The town almost vibrates with social excitement to see your Flag family more. I am an early riser and most mornings I have my tea and then skip out my door and walk a few blocks to the trail system that links into Buffalo Park. If you are familiar with the Arizona Trail, this is where the trail comes into town from the North. I spend most mornings trail running this area of Flagstaff. If you visit me, I promise I won’t make you run at 7000 ft elevation- we can hike the trails instead. After that I might roll into town, I live just a short walk or a very fast bike ride away from Historic Downtown Flagstaff. On any given day you can find local music scattered throughout downtown on the patios of breweries and restaurants. I love a Sunday afternoon getting my boogie on to some local jams in the sunshine. While I’m downtown I try to support my favorite small businesses. IL Rosso Pizzeria & Bar is a must. Bob makes the best Italian I’ve ever had… the meatballs *drool*. Besides meatballs, most of my allowance is spent on tea at Steep Leaf Lounge or Super Salve products from Winter Sun Trading Co. If I’m in the mood to end the day with an adult beverage and the patio weather is still hanging around, I’ll stop at Pay n’ Take on the way home and chat with whichever friend had the same idea. If it’s chilly out, I’ll hit the Rendezvous at the Monte Vista Hotel, one of the most haunted hotels in Arizona. I love the history of the building, stop in for a Whiskey Chai and ask the front desk for a list of all the ghosts that inhabit the hotel. Another great thing about this time of year in Flagstaff- the fabulous Spring skiing conditions! There’s nothing like beep-boppin just minutes up to the local ski hill, seeing all your friends and catching some afternoon runs together. If you get tired, grab a Bloody Mary at the 9500 bar and pull up a chair on the deck for some sun. Skiing in 60 degrees? Don’t mind if I do. On a different day we would cruise a few minutes south to Oak Creek Canyon for a dip in the creek. My advice here- skip Slide Rock and Sedona and find your own secret spot between the red rocks and away from the crowds and traffic. The water is cold but the sun is so warm its perfect for a floatie and a good book or, my personal favorite, sketchpad and watercolors. Lastly, I would take my friend boating. Where we go depends on the water and weather. Upstream from Lee’s Ferry is just a short drive away and puts you deep between two sheer walls in Marble Canyon. This is a great introduction to the beauty that is Grand Canyon. If we wanted to go somewhere a bit closer, we would paddle the Verde River, perfect for friends new to reading water. The list really goes on and on for what there is to do in Flagstaff but luckily if we really wanna pack it in, we can ski and hit the creek in the same day!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I am grateful to have an amazing support system in my life. My large Midwest family, have been nothing short of a fan club. Both my parents have run their own small businesses and always encourage me to follow my own path to my own dreams, whatever path or dream that may be. This has always encouraged me to keep going and be proud of who I am even if I was doing things differently than everyone else. My partner, Marc, is such constant steady support for me every day. He believes in me but also goes out of his way to help with anything I need- finding wood, taking photos, making me laugh when I’m overwhelmed with projects, etc. In addition to family, I also live in a small town with the most incredible community of people. Flagstaff is home to many strong, badass women as well as a very active local art community. Being surrounded by people I admire inspires me to be the best version of myself that I can. While growing as an artist, I have been managing a small local restaurant in Flagstaff called IL Rosso. The owner, Bob, has been somewhat of a mentor and role model to me as I can relate to someone working very hard, coming from nothing, achieving goals, and doing it ‘my way’. I am so thankful to have these people in my life to push me to accomplish my dreams and keep on going.