Meet Ashley Hohnstein. Ashley is a fantastic graphic designer, art director, illustrator, and printmaker living and working in Minneapolis, MN. Originally from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, she attended and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stout with Graphic Design. During college, Ashley discovered her love for process, illustration and hand lettering, and has continued to apply this passion and techniques to her work today. Ashley is an incredibly prolific creative, initiating several personal projects, working with local and national clients, and exploring new mediums and formats to enrich her art practice. Ashley is currently an Associate Graphic Designer at Target for their in-house creative studio.
We have had the opportunity to work with Ashley in several Light Grey Art Lab Exhibitions, such as Stacks and the current Skate or Die Skatebaord Show. It is always a pleasure to see her intricate line work, gorgeous letterings, and sensitivity to design applied to the exhibition topics and themes! We are thrilled to present Ashley's work, share her inspirations, and learn more about her process! You can check out Ashley's work on her website here, and view her work for the Skate or Die Exhibition on the Light Grey Shop.
Could you describe your studio practice? What is your space, items you are surrounded by, studio rituals? Do you have any must-have materials?
When working at night and on weekends, I have a pretty good studio space in my apartment. It’s actually technically a very small dining room. I have a big desk and a small laptop with a second monitor I plug into. Not because I work off of both screens, but because one of the main things I need to get work done when I’m alone is a steady non-stop steam of Netflix as background noise.
My walls are covered in printed ephemera, gathered from many years of what I can only call “selective hoarding” from antique stores, museum kiosks, abandoned houses, and bits and pieces of paper from everywhere. I like to spread out things when I work, so my desk is never tidy and tends to have stacks of sketches at both ends. I have a lot of different notebooks with different textures and grids, and love sketching with felt-tip pens and various brush pens, and have many different processes I use to take my work into the computer.
Home Studio Inspiration
At Target, I don’t have much control over my environment since it’s a large corporate office. I still have a double monitor set-up, though this one is without Netflix, and keep a good stash of pens and paper at work for doodling and sketching. My closet/shelf tower at the end of my desk is covered with a curated selection of the earlier mentioned printed ephemera that doesn’t fit on my walls at home. The really nice thing about my space at work is that it’s partially desks, and partially critiquing space, so the room is covered in in-process work from other brands that the team works on. It’s pretty cool to walk around and get inspired by the diverse body of work happening in the space!
Your work has a very whimsical and playful quality! What are some of your favorite ways of working, techniques, or designs?
When starting a project, I normally make a lot of lists and a plan of action before I really jump in and start. After that, I’m normally rapid ideating in large brain-dump lists and then I start sketching. If I’m doing something that’s hand-drawn, I’m normally starting in pencil and layer over it with tissue paper refining with different felt-tip pens, brush pens, or even india ink with different brushes. Then, I will scan that in and manipulate it in Photoshop until I get to the aesthetic I’m going for. Some work is a lot less fussy than others, of course. If I’m doing purely digital illustration, which for me is pretty geometric and vector based, I jump back and forth between sketching and Illustrator pretty quickly to test things, and then back to the drawing board. At the stage I’m currently at, I’m still exploring a lot of different styles. Sometimes I’m frustrated about that, and other times it’s really great- I’m trying to embrace it.
We loved having you contribute to the Skate or Die Exhibition! Could you describe your process for the project? What were your considerations, concepts, and topics?
I LOVED this project, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to contribute. I love all things creepy and spooky, and combined with my middle school desire to be a skater kid (even though I have no coordination whatsoever and everyone called me a poser) - it was a perfect storm for me. I actually jumped around quite a bit with what I wanted to do, originally settling on an overly-ambitious idea to do a board covered in icons from all genres of everything spooky (movies, halloween, ghost hunting, etc.), with no repeats. It was crazy. I don’t know what I was thinking. So, as with most of my projects, I had a “get real” moment and re-adjusted my expectations and made myself actually choose an idea vs. doing all of them. I ended up making a very geometric and flat representation of a graveyard. With custom type, fun illustrations and a lot of pattern - it’s kind of a dizzying design up close but from far away looks pretty rad. I started with big list of all the stuff I wanted to throw in, and rather than keep it scary, I made it funny with the copy on the tombstones. It was a blast to make, and turned out even better than what envisioned it being!
You often have the chance to work with packaging and interesting project parameters. What is the best part of working in packaging/design?
My favorite part about working in packaging is that it’s not just a flat graphic or a thing on a website, it’s a physical object that can often compel someone to pick up and interact with a product. Working at Target allows me to work on a crazy variety of brands with different looks and feels, and sometimes even help ideate new ones. It’s super fun, and pushes me to try new styles (and strengthen ones I already work with). Unfortunately, with crazy far-out timelines on the work, none of the actual real-world packaging I’ve worked on at Target is in stores yet or something I can share here :) Just trust me when I say it’s been a blast!
Do you find time to work on personal projects? What are some of the biggest differences in your personal verses professional approach to art making? (experimentation, trying new formats, design challenges, etc. )
After spending the day at my job with Target, I still have plenty of time and energy to pursue selective freelance projects and personal illustration work on the side. I’m very conscious of my work load, and try to always be working on at least a few things. I don’t have a lot of hobbies beyond design and illustration, so this is what I do for fun too! I think the biggest difference is just that with my full-time design job, I’m working on large teams on projects with a large scope within specific parameters.
When I’m doing personal work, I have a ton more freedom to do what I want and I really use projects like that to explore new techniques and methods of creating. Like I said earlier, I think I still have a ton to learn, so I just try to do something new every time. I did a one-a-day called What I Learned for a few months last fall, and that was amazing. Just taking my day and reflecting on it, and doing a spot illustration to accompany led to so much personal and creative growth in a short amount of time.
Home Sweet Home
What is the best creative advice you have ever received?
The best piece of advice was something I actually heard Debbie Millman say in a lecture at AIGA MN Design Camp two years ago. It was something along the lines of, and I’m completely butchering/paraphrasing this into what my brain liked, “If you don’t love what you’re doing, after trying pretty hard at it for awhile, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.” I know this isn’t specifically creative advice, but it was a MAJOR lightbulb moment. Rather than driving myself insane pulling late nights and trying to do 10x too many things in areas I’m totally not into, I limit myself and invest a lot of time in personal projects I really love working on and make me feel fulfilled as a person.
What projects are you currently working on?
At Target I am on a wide variety of projects ranging from major rebranding and conceptual work, to working within existing style guides to improve packaging and create packaging for new products. I love that I work on so many different things. They’re on brands from Market Pantry to up&up to Threshold, and everything in between.
I’ve finally adjusted to my Target workload, so I’m starting to work on personal projects again. There are two big ones currently in planning phases. One of which is a blog with two of my crazy-talented BFFs, Heather Christianson and Julia King. We all have super different styles, as evidenced by just a glance at our portfolios, but we’re going to start a blog of some sort creating art based on the same theme a few times a month. The project is a means for loosely collaborating, keeping in touch, and to push ourselves to grow faster in a fun environment. I’m really excited about that!
The other project is that I’m starting to explore actually selling prints or products in some sort of online venue. I have a teeny bit of experience with that with the letterpress studio I worked at, but I’d like to toy around with zines and prints on Etsy, or maybe throw some work on Society 6. It’s really fun taking my nights and weekends to push my illustration and lettering work into new areas.
Wish We Were Here
Do you have any favorite resources? Books, magazines, media, artists, other?
Oh boy, it’s hard to narrow it down. Some of my favorites currently are Andrew Kolb, Philip Eggleston, Eight Hour Day, Dana Tanamachi, Justin Pervose, and so many more. I could list them for days (and I might be willing to share my bookmarks if you email me and ask nicely :) One of my favorite places to discover work, is Niice.co, which pulls from a lot of major blogs and work sharing websites. For general life inspiration, I love reading the Great Discontent which is a long-form interview blog with all sorts of creatives. They post one a week, and they’re always very motivating!
Thanks, Ashley! This was incredible!
You can find Ashley's work on her website, twitter, instagram, dribble, and say hello: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also see her work for the Skate or Die Exhibition on the Light Grey Shop here!