Artist/Author Spotlight Ashley Wolff

Ashley Wolff has been a visual artist since she declared herself one at the age of 5. She grew up in Middlebury, Vermont and holds a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design.

Ashley is the author and/or illustrator of over 60 children’s picture books including In the Canyon by Liz Garton Scanlon, Baby Bear Sees Blue, Baby Beluga by Raffi, Stella and Roy Go Camping, Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar? by Philemon Sturges and Bonnie Lass, When Lucy Goes Out Walking, I Call My Grandma Nana, Compost Stew by Mary McKenna Siddals and the beloved Miss Bindergarten Series by Joseph Slate. Her books have won numerous state and national awards. Please visit her website for more information.

  • When did you start drawing, and what inspired you to do so?

I drew from my earliest memory of childhood. My mom claims I once drew all over my bedroom wall with the contents of my diaper – I of course deny any knowledge of this incident!

  • Did you always dream of becoming a well-known artist/illustrator?

I didn’t really think about it until I got to high school and realized I was a more enthusiastic drawer than most and could get positive attention for this ability. I didn’t really think about illustrating books until well into art school, then it seemed like the obvious thing since I tend to see pictures whenever I read.

  • What styles/methods do you like to use the most?

Over the years I have developed a lot of different styles to illustrate different types of stories. I really do love carving linoleum blocks and making hand-painted prints. I first started this in art school to emulate Mary Azarian, a Vermont printmaker and illustrator I’ve admired since I was a teen. I used this technique most recently for Baby Bear Counts One and In the Canyon. Compost Stew was done in collage, some of it actual recycled materials like nut shells and sea weed. It presents a different kind of challenge, but doesn’t lend itself to every project. Another favorite is what I call ‘painting up from black’  – using opaque gouache on a background of black paper, a technique I developed to mimic printmaking but which can be a bit faster and a lot more painterly. I used this for Home Sweet Home and The Pen That Pa Built.

  • What styles/methods do you like to use the least?

I don’t really bother to work in styles I dislike, but there are a few that I seldom use. However, my next book with be in one of those: using acrylics to make fairly realistic paintings. I’m a little apprehensive that I can re-visit it successfully!

  • Who are your sources of inspiration?

I’m inspired by the fantastic beauty of nature: plants, animals, and humans are so complex and interesting.

  • You paint murals, illustrate picture books, and use your artistic talents and a myriad of ways. Tell us a little about the work you do, and perhaps which one is your favorite.

Creativity is a human condition which we all express differently. My urge is towards visual outlets and, in a way, they are all the same. Translating what I see into what I can depict is the work of my life-since I first began as a child.

  • Currently, one of your many hats is teaching at Hollins University. What classes do you teach, and do you find time to teach and/or attend other classes outside of Hollins?

Teaching at Hollins has become such an important part of my life. I’m the daughter of a Phd in Economics who spent his teaching career as a professor at Middlebury College. He was Professor Klaus Wolff and when I am called “Professor Wolff” I must admit I look around for him! I’ve been teaching the introduction to Picture Book Writing and Illustrating Class, but this year I am teaching the Advance Picture Book Writing Tutorial and an art class called Printmaking for Illustration. I teach at the Highlights Foundation, and of course, visit schools all over the US and sometimes oversees.

  • As a professor, you may think education is important in the world of arts. There are some who think a degree or a form of education in the arts isn’t necessary to succeed. Please tell us your thoughts on pursuing a degree in the arts versus finding one’s own way without education.

It’s true, I do value education and I respect those who do the teaching, but I think the value of a degree lies equally in the company of others seeking the same knowledge. I learned so much from my RISD colleagues as we all worked together to prepare our assignments and then again, when I saw their work critiqued.

  • You have a few bi-lingual titles in your repertoire (listed on this page). In what language are these books, and did you have specific children in mind when you translated your books?

I was not the decider about whether to make my books bilingual. In two cases the original text was already in Spanish (De Colores and Los Pollitos) In the case of the others (I Love My Mommy Because and I Love My Daddy Because,) the motivation was to make them more accessible to more children. I wish more books were translated but it is expensive to create alternative editions and publishing is nothing if not bottom line driven!

  • Your visits to classes look very fun! What should we expect when you come to visit a class?

When I visit a school I come prepared to meet children and be a real person. I try not to insert much technology between us, just a digital projector for slides of my early childhood art and how I learned to draw and create. I want them to be impressed with how similar I was to them, not how different. I talk, show pictures and then draw a story on an easel, involving the students as the characters. When I leave I want at least one boy or girl to say to themselves “I could be an artist too – she was just like me when she was a kid.”

  • Tell us something fun about yourself!

I’m a mom to two young men. They are both over 6 feet tall and have huge muscles. One keeps bees and chickens and one makes movies. They are the real Stella and Roy!

What are your thoughts?