This story was originally published in Quinte Arts Council’s Umbrella magazine, fall 2019.
Or a photographer, designer or illustrator, for that matter.
While she is arguably all four of those things, Ashley King struggles with the idea of owning these titles. The feeling is rooted in imposter syndrome, in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and fears being called out as inadequate or worse, a fraud. It is a mentality familiar to many and crosses all disciplines, though it seems especially pervasive in the creative community.
“I know it’s not good to compare myself to other people, but I often feel like I don’t have enough years of experience in [any] one medium,” said King. “There are people who are far better and have years and years of experience.” Though she is equipped with a design education, has created art for years and completed projects for local businesses, this feeling of inadequacy continues to follow her.
Part of this doubt comes from a perceived hierarchy in what is considered ‘art’ and who is truly an ‘artist’. She finds that the reaction to digital art is less enthusiastic compared to other media like screen printing or Risograph printing.
“Some people, when they see that it’s digital, they don’t say ‘artist’ they say ‘graphic design’, whereas to me graphic design is more of a functional piece… something that has a purpose or a message to communicate. Something that would be considered ‘fine art’ is just for the person who made it, an expression of [themselves] without having client input or a goal in mind.”
Being a graphic designer and an artist aren’t mutually exclusive. Ashley infuses her style into her commercial work and has created designs for The Brake Room, MacKinnon Brothers and the Belleville Slut Walk, and has a special fondness for typography.
Though an artist’s work can often be identified through a watermark on a photo or a signature on the corner of a painting, the mark of a graphic designer is a more subtle infusion of style. This presents a unique challenge for designers marketing themselves.
“I do offer traditional graphic design services like business cards or logo design; with those, it’s the designer’s responsibility to somehow get it back to their name. I’m not going to have my name on someone else’s business card, so I need to have [it] on my portfolio website or on my Instagram page.”
While marketing poses a challenge, so does the mentality of self-promotion. “It’s really weird to be [my] own hype man… and be genuine to who I am,” said King. It comes back to that pesky imposter syndrome. There’s a lot of vulnerability in putting your work out there and asking people to pay attention, but King puts herself out there to strengthen her feeling of being an artist.
“Doing art shows is nice because it [feels] validating–someone might come up and say they like a piece, and then we have a conversation where I’m in the role of the artist.”
Despite her earlier doubts, King’s pursuit of multiple artistic media has fostered an assuredness that you don’t need to stay in your own lane: “Just because you haven’t settled and don’t have one craft that you’ve mastered, doesn’t mean that you’re any less of an artist.”
Perhaps you can call her an artist, after all.