Illustrator in Residence Ashley Barron Takes You Down the Road to Becoming an Artist

September 27, 2017 | Ken Sparling

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Guest Post by Illustrator in Residence Ashley Barron

Artist Ashley Barron is the library's 2017 Illustrator in Residence, based out of Northern District Branch during October. Renowned for her delightful paper collage work, Ashley graduated from OCAD University in 2007 and has since illustrated a number of children's books, including Kyle Goes Alone and Up! Her award-winning illustrations have appeared in magazines, animations, ad campaigns and window displays.

Ashley at her desk

The road to becoming an artist can have its share of self-imposed obstacles. Insecurity and perfectionism can prevent you from taking necessary risks with your art, and shyness can keep your work locked away where no eyes will ever see it.

Luckily, there are ways to combat these negative inner thoughts that may be stifling your creative growth as an artist. Here are some of my tips:

Ditch the sketchbook (to beat perfectionism)

Learning how to draw is a messy process. Your sketches aren’t always going to look the way you want them to. And if you’re a bit of a perfectionist (like I was), the thought of messing up a page in your pristine sketchbook can keep you from drawing anything at all!

So what to do instead?

Well, why not sketch on loose sheets of paper, coloured paper, scrap paper, post-it notes, napkins or whatever you can find. Working outside the confines of a book gives you the power to toss out drawings you don’t care for, without guilt. But hold onto the ones you do like because then you can repurpose your sketchbook into a scrapbook and paste all of your favourite sketches and doodles inside.

Ashley's scrapbooks

Find an Art Buddy (to beat shyness)

We grow as artists when we share our work and bounce ideas off of other people. And it’s a good exercise to start practicing now because once you reach art college, you’ll be critiquing you and your classmates work 95 percent of the time.

So my suggestion is to start small. Find a friend who somewhat matches your enthusiasm for art class and make it a habit of sharing your drawings with one another. Ask each other what parts of your pictures are working and which are not and why.

Over time, as your confidence grows, you’ll take criticism a lot less personally and instead see it as a constructive tool for making better work.

Get Offline (to beat insecurity)

Social media can be a blessing and a curse. It’s fun to look up and follow artists you admire and aspire to be, but too much gazing and not enough doing can lead you down a spiral of self-doubt. Comparing your skill level with those at the top can feel paralyzing and cause you to question your worth as a budding artist.

On top of the comparison trap, it’s possible that consuming so many images can result in a sort of sensory overload.

The creative mind needs breathing space in order to function. So, do yourself a favor and go offline for a bit to practice your art without the interruption of what everyone else is doing. You’ll feel more focused and proud of the small victories you’re making.

Attend out one of Ashley's programs at Northern District Branch.

Schedule a one-on-one portfolio review with Ashley.

Check out some books that help Ashley get the job done!

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp

Offers great tips about opening your mind for creative thinking and unconventional ways to build towards your goals. 

Picture this by Molly Bang

Picture This, by Molly Bang

Explains the fundamentals of composing a picture using the most simplistic shapes and colours to get the message across.

Inside the business of illustration by Stven Heller

Inside the Business of Illustration, by Steven Heller

Probably a tad dated, given it was published right before social media became a thing, but most of the information is still very relevant. 


The Joanne Fitzgerald Illustrator in Residence program, presented in partnership with IBBY Canada, connects a published children's book illustrator with the community through a series of workshops for aspiring illustrators, artist portfolio reviews and school visits.