After working in the government service for over 20 years, Shawn C. Ashman quit her job in December to pursue her passion of being a artist.
She says she is pleased with her decision and encourages others never to give up on their passion and do what drives them.
“Life is a journey,” she told The Gleaner. “You have to follow the calling of the soul, do the things that bring you peace, electrify your heart and serve others.”
Ashman spent her last ten years as an information technology specialist with the Court Administration Division, where she implemented several systems for the courts, including virtual hearings since the pandemic. She still does consultancy in information and communications technology (ICT) but is pursuing her art full-time.
She discovered her passion for painting after completing her master’s degree in 2005 at The University of the West Indies, Mona campus. On a sidewalk with Basil Clayton in Manor Park for a few weeks is where she learnt painting and the business of art.
“I decided to learn how to paint and really enjoyed it. So I started painting at nights and posting them on my BlackBerry phone. Persons, on seeing them, encouraged me to continue painting and then started buying pieces from me,” she said.
Her painting style is generally cubism, and she paints on canvas, wood, bottles and board, using art as a creative outlet. “There was a time in 2012 when I was making art just for the sake of making it. During that time, I was depressed and was going through a tumultuous time, so I started painting a lot for the therapeutic value. It is through this painting [that] I developed the skills and techniques of acrylic painting on canvas and of painting quickly. Art brought me the benefit of art therapy which helped me to cope with life and be in a meditative state, so I would not be stressed about what was bothering me,” she shared.
She has made strides in art. In 2012, she started a business named The Art of Motivation and started selling art “officially”, as prior sales were only helping to replenish supplies. Ashman also wrote a book in 2017 titled Life on Canvas. “It is a creative snapshot of [my] life and how art-making helped [me] to paint life beautifully. The book takes you through different stages of creating a painting, and each stage tells stories of my life,” she said.
Ashman has long used art as a way to express herself. “It was the outlet I used to create beauty in my life, from making vision boards, scrapbooking, paper dolls and drawing. I also use the stages of art technique to make keynote speeches and presentations. Life is like creating art, and it’s really up to us how our masterpiece is presented,” she shared.
Now in a new phase of her life and artistry, companies have been hiring Ashman to do workshops for them, and she uses art as a tool, whether it is therapeutic colouring, vision board development or the paint and sip. She provides a mobile service and visits offices, homes and events to conduct two-hour workshops and parties.
“I bring the supplies to the offices and work with the employees, showing them step by step how to create a piece of art beautifully and as I go through each stage of the art, I will share my story with them and provide motivation during the sessions. I tell them in life, you have to have a plan, you have to have a vision, goals and make sure they are SMART. While I am teaching the participants about art, I am also teaching them about life juxtaposed with art,” she said.
Her workshops are a manifestation of her goals. For a number or years, Ashman did these workshops and speaking engagements on weekends. It was only after she realised that she had little room for growth in her nine to five, being at the top of the salary scale, that she decided to pursue it fulsomely. “I [had] nowhere to go, no scope for upward mobility and so I started making the necessary preparations to transition into art full-time and to do some consultancy in business and IT on the side,” she said.
Ashman said she started to make a new plan for her life because at 45 years old, she would not be in that position for the next 15 years. “I decided last year that I have to make a move while I am young enough to go out and start a new career and lead a more authentic life.”
Commenting on her previous job, the painter said she worked with the government in information technology for 10 years, made a lot of strides, accomplished a lot, and worked on several projects of national interest. She said even though she was impacting lives while working with the government, she wanted to have a more personal type of impact where she could work with people one-on-one and serve her fellowmen in a different way. The last two years have been particularly stressful and challenging, and she fell ill a couple of times. Now that she works at her own pace, Ashman says she can now focus on using art to be more relaxed, in tune and aligned with her purpose in life, and she’s reaping the rewards.
The last three months have been financially rewarding for Ashman, who says she now has a lot of clients. “I am so excited because there are a lot of new things I am working on right now. Just to combine art and technology is fascinating. Actually, I have launched Augmented Reality on my website for Black History Month.” When some of Ashman’s works are scanned with an augmented reality app, videos of the art and the art-making process or a message to the viewers of her pieces are shared.
She has also started the ‘Masterpiece Club’ that allows people to access the newsletter and behind-the-scenes content such as the early release of artwork, special podcasts and workshops. Ashman’s podcast, Piece to Masterpiece relates to life just like her paintings.
Her advice to artists: “If you are passionate about doing something that is not in conflict with your regular job, I think you should pursue it, especially if it brings joy to you,” said Ashman. “Go for your passion and even if you can’t do all you want to do all at once, build your skills incrementally, day by day, stroke by stroke, learn as much as you can and use that skill and talent to benefit others and make others happy too.”