Ashley's smiling face
I would like to introduce everyone to Ashleyjlong, an author who has been on our site sharing many awesome tutorials in a plethora of genres. In her day job she is an animation director located in Los Angeles, California.
She is probably most famous on the site for her Alien Queen cosplay that came out in October of 2014, but after the halloween season she kept crafting and kept sharing her awesome projects with us. So I decided that we the community definitely needed to hear more about her!
How did you find Instructables, and what made you start posting projects?
I had intended to finish my Alien Queen costume for Comic Con in July 2014, but work got too busy for me to make that deadline. I ultimately finished her in September, and after all that work I wanted to have some kind of grand unveiling. Halloween seemed like the perfect opportunity. Friends had been sending me links to various online contests, and I stumbled onto Instructables. I was really excited to see Décor and Props categories in addition to costumes. At a previous animation studio I worked at, I was an undisputed Halloween decorating champ. I’d build a new monster costume every year and some of my close friends would collaborate with me on building a complete environment for it. We turned our office space into a neon tiki jungle, Aztec temple, and a haunted pet shop, just to name a few. The Instructables community reminded me of those builds and those friends (love to Harry and Lisa). I continued to post because of all the great feedback from other users, and because I had quite a backlog of fun projects to share.
|One of Ashley's decorated offices
Have you discovered new things about Instructables since joining that have kept you coming back?
I have to say I was pretty intrigued when I found out Instructables offers themed contests ALL year, not just for holidays. I’ve always loved themed challenges. If you show me where the bar is set I can’t resist but shoot to exceed it, or at least offer something really unique. That’s how I try to approach my day job too. Sometimes the contests also get me working with materials I wouldn’t have gravitated toward on my own, which helps expand my crafting database!
Now I know this isn’t a fair question, but which one of your instructables is your favorite?
I’m not sure I can pick a single favorite. The Krampus Hat and the Krang Hat have a silliness to them that I really enjoy, as does the Naughty Snowman card. The biggest audience responses have come from the carnivorous plants and the Alien Queen. My favorite user interaction was definitely on the Cthulhu Airplant Caddy, when a user named BigCthulhu commented saying that he approved of the likeness and that I would be spared when he returned.
|He lives above the kitchen sink
Have you ever had a project just go completely wrong, or not turn out at all? If so, what did you do?
I have! A few years ago I got invited to a roller disco birthday party and wanted to create something fun to wear. I was trying to alter the neckline on a sequin dress I've had since 8th grade (it was a little tight since I’m now easily 30lbs heavier), and it just didn’t turn out looking very polished. I was upset because I felt I had wrecked this dress I’d hung on to so long, then I sort of panicked and cut off the top so I’d have a skirt to work with. I immediately regretted that as well. I ended up just having to walk away from it for a few days and came back later to tailor it. My sewing is all self-taught, and I’m still learning when it comes to legit garments. I cringe a little every time I take that skirt out of the closet, but then when I wear it I get compliments, so I guess it turned out ok. Just don’t ask to see the waistband up close.
In your "on season" you’re an animation director and freelancer. Do you feel that making instructables fulfills a different craving than your animation work? Or is it all the same creative energy for you?
My three-dimensional works definitely satisfy me in a unique way. They exercise different parts of my brain and my body, and I think that’s healthy given that my day job is spent mostly drawing into a computer screen. I really enjoy working with different textures, and colors that don’t come from a Photoshop color picker wheel. Plushes, costumes, sculptures, and puppets are all something you can feel and keep. You can show them to others and get a very immediate reaction, or give them to someone else and make them happy. Some of that can be said of drawings as art, but drawing for animation is something different. Each drawing is only on screen for fractions of a second. I’m very proud of the shows I’ve directed and the productions I’ve boarded and designed for, but only other animation professionals will truly understand the amount of work you put into those things.
|Ashley working at her desk
Your projects encompass so many different techniques: paper crafting, sewing, drawing, etc. Is there creation process that you are especially fond of?
Hmm…that’s a tough one. While drawing is almost always the starting point for a project, I do think that hand stitching has opened a lot of creative doors for me. In 2007 I taught myself how to hand sew while making prop monster babies for a Halloween display. I was using a bag of scraps I got for free on craigslist and my grandma’s old sewing kit. The “trash into treasure” aspect felt really rewarding and inspired me to pursue sewing further. Hand stitching is a major component in my costume and creature projects, and I like the control it gives me vs. a machine. If you’ve never sewn, learn a simple running stitch and hemming stitch. You won’t be sorry.
Is there somewhere or something that you consistently draw inspiration from?
Creatures: large and small, real and imaginary. I grew up very interested in animals and, fortunately, was surrounded by them all the time. We had all the usual domestic pets like cats, dogs, and hamsters, and then some less ordinary stuff like sugar gliders, seahorses, peacocks, and a very ill-tempered octopus. I’ve always been fascinated by the way animals look and move. Imagine you’re an alien who has never seen a cat before, then look at your cat. When you stop taking for granted that you know what a cat looks like, you can truly notice how incredible they are. I’m not sure I’ve ever drawn anything as elegant as that explanation might imply, but that’s where my love is. You’ll almost never see me drawing people outside of work. If I want to see people I’ll go to Starbucks. If I want to see something interesting, I’ll draw from the world of creatures.
|Quite a collection of fun creatures
It seems as if you’ve been a DIYer/maker for a while. What do you remember as your first project, and how old were you when you made it?
I checked with my mom on this one, because I wanted to see whether my earliest project memory was, in fact, the first. She told me that my first words were “I do!”, as in “I’ll do it!” Apparently I would take objects right out of her hands and try to do things for myself; assembling a toy or taking a pencil and just doodling. She told me, “You really weren’t a very happy baby. You became much easier to deal with once you started being able to create.”
I feel lucky to have had parents who supported this creativity completely. They were letting me choose my own art classes and enter drawing contests as early as 5 years old. Some of my earliest projects included a clay sculpture of a squirrel, various puppets made from socks or paper, a little red corduroy voodoo doll (I have no idea), and tiny chariots made from beads and toothpicks that I would tie to my hermit crabs’ shells for them to pull.
Since you did so well in our Halloween contest in 2014 do you have any plans for 2015? Care to tease us with some details?
Actually, I haven’t settled on anything yet. I’m open to ideas! I’ll definitely aim for something a bit more portable than the Alien Queen was. It’s a cool costume and I’m glad I finally got the idea out of my head, but it was VERY limiting. While my goal of keeping it very lightweight was met, the sheer size made it absolutely off limits for crowded parties and I couldn’t always fit through doors. Maybe I’ll get inspired by a piece of clothing I run across, like I did with the Falcor dress. I love the 80’s and early 90’s sci-fi/fantasy universes (He-Man, Thundercats, Labyrinth, Dark Crystal), so it's very possible I’ll draw from those worlds again.
|Alien Queen Costume
With your instructables about your carnivorous plants, geckos, and air plants, I imagine your home being so alive and vibrant. Would you say active vibrant environments help inspire you, or do blank spaces urge you to fill them?
People who come to our apartment for the first time usually say, “There’s so much to look at!” I’ll admit it: I love clutter. I’ve always populated my environments with bright colors and precious objects. Vintage toys, framed art by friends, and unique furniture pieces are a few of the must-haves. All the pets and plants definitely contribute to the feeling that I’m living in Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Sometimes a Crate and Barrel catalogue will come in the mail and I’ll wonder what its like to be able to decorate like a grown-up; to buy a white sofa with navy pillows and think, “that’s enough." For me, too much is never enough. The first purchase I made when I got promoted at my original animation job was an armchair covered in hot pink faux fur.
|One of Ashley's carnivorous plants
Have you ever made anything off of Instructables? What was the process like?
There’s a lot of neat stuff I’d love to try, though I’m somewhat at the mercy of my workspace (i.e. living room, balcony, or back alley when the landlord isn’t looking). We don’t have a workshop or a garage, so projects that involve any power tool larger than a Dremel get filed away in the “When I Win the Lotto and Buy a Maker Space” category. Most of what I’ve tried so far has been recipes. Fully illustrated guides are a big help for cooking and baking since I’m not a natural there. Strawberry Vanilla Chia Jam, by user health nut, is one of my favorites so far. This stuff is SO easy to make and it tastes great on greek yogurt, pancakes, and ice cream! I’ve made it several times for myself and packaged it up as gifts.
Do you have any advice for any aspiring or current makers?
For aspiring makers--don’t be afraid to ask someone else about their techniques. Many makers are happy to share their knowledge as long as you approach them with professionalism and courtesy. If you know the maker is selling their works/wares, be respectful of any existing copyrights before attempting a similar project.
For current makers –Let’s remember to share with each other, not just the younger aspiring crowd. The artistic community is a much nicer place if we can be willing to teach each other and discuss materials and techniques. Protecting your intellectual property should certainly be a priority, but don’t let those worries close you off from colleague dialogue entirely. Don’t hoard your tips and tricks away like they’re FBI secrets. You make awesome stuff, I make awesome stuff. Let’s combine our powers of awesomeness by exchanging ideas.
Well I personally greatly enjoyed interviewing Ashley, and I hope everyone enjoyed reading it! If you have a questions that I didn't ask you can post them here!