About Ashley Anastasia Howell

Ashley Howell is a freelance graphic designer born and raised in Toronto Canada. Ashley can be humble and at times shy although approachable with a down to earth outlook. She is an only child, who found her love at a young age and worked to build since she was a young teenager. Ashley has always been passionate about design. Ever since she found a stack of DIY magazine’s called Step-by-Step at a pawn shop, begging her mother to buy for her. She read them back to back. Ashley attended the best arts high-school in the city and graduated from Humber College in two thousand and four with a certificate in Advertising and Graphic Design and additionally attended a print production follow-up course in two thousand and five. After almost a decade, working for various corporations in the sports industry, she decided to make a change. In early two thousand and fourteen she branched out and started her own freelance business, tackling the food and beverage industry, an area she had been fascinated by for many years. She will admit, starting a freelance business was truly a challenge. It took many long nights hard work and perseverance to gain clients and a good reputation. A lot of clients came from word-of-mouth and still do to this day. In two thousand and fifteen, her work with the Julia Child Foundation has not gone unnoticed. To this day, her logo design is displayed in the Smithsonian Museum for the Award and she is truly honoured to have been a part of the project as she had the opportunity to meet some high-profile chefs, and names in the food industry. Ashley has also had the pleasure to be named Freelancer of the Year, twice by Toronto based studio, Co-op. They put on an annual event honouring ten great independent workers in the creative industry. Prior to this award there was few to if not no freelance recognition awards, so the recognition meant a lot to Ashley, especially being only a few years into her freelance career. Her work has become focused in brand identity design, including menu design, packaging and online marketing for both large and small clients. This became possible with Ashley’s strong background in both print and digital, along with becoming familiar in various hands-on activities like screen printing, photography and as of late, film. Over the years, she has won several awards, met some amazing people and hopes to retain a healthy amount of success. Although, her main goal is to simply be the primary go-to for all her food-based clients for any of their creative needs.

Interview with Ashley Anastasia Howell

Ashley Anastasia Howell ("AAH") interviewed on Thursday, 16 May.

Could you please tell us about your experience as a designer, artist, architect or creator?

AAH : I have been working now in the design industry for 14 years and with education 17. I spent the first ten years mainly in the sports industry and got a feel for the food and hospitality after doing my first menu design. I knew at that point I wanted to specialize in food. When I branched out into freelance work, I have had the opportunity to work for some amazing companies including the Julia Child Foundation, Restaurants Canada, University of Toronto, Mucho Burrito, Belmont Meats, Sugar Suite Cakes as well as a social marketing agency called Branding & Buzzing in which I have worked with their clients including McCormick for Chefs, Club House for Chefs, Jarritos Canada, Canola Oil, Bonne Maman and other local restaurants.

How did you become a designer?

AAH : My story about design started when I was about 11 years old. My mother would take me to a cottage every summer, just the two of us. This particular year we had a cottage just outside of Midland and one of the days we went into town to walk the small strip of craft stores and antique shops. One of the shops in particular that we walked into had a stack of magazines. At the time I had a fascination with magazines and to be honest I still do but particularly these magazines. I started going through the pages and realized I had to have them. It was a pile of Step-by-Step Graphics – if your not familiar with them, they are mainly how-to guides for graphic artists along side some D.I.Y. info, kind of a cross between Martha Stewart and Layers magazine. I was in love. I ran to my mom asking if she could buy then for me and so we lugged back the whole pile. They were my bread and butter the following weeks as I read them back to back. It was what I wanted to be when I grew up. At the time it was called a ‘graphic artist’. Whatever it was called I wanted to do that. A few years later I had to decide what high school to go to and of course I picked the one with the biggest art program in my area. Non of my friends were going there but I went regardless. There I learned photography from a dark room, draw live nude models and print techniques like silk screen, lithography, block printing and etching. I have to say some of the best years of my life and I actually lived out what I read those few years earlier.

What are your priorities, technique and style when designing?

AAH : Generally I get sparked with inspiration the moment I get briefed, or have a general idea of what the client is looking for. This is good for the types of projects that have quick turn around times. Regarding the process, I try to dive into research and sketching as much as I can, and if time allows for it. And lastly, if the project allows for me to explore new programs, processes or tools, I try to as much as possible. This is always a good area to expand and learn even if it is a new avenue, yet to be explored.

Which emotions do you feel when designing?

AAH : Happy! I feel alive when I am in full creative mode and have some freedom to play. The most exciting is if you visually find a cue, whether it is finding the right negative space, balancing things or just make something look exactly how it was envisioned. The clients reaction is always amazing when they feel the same way and see how they envisioned it as well. Being a designer is a lot like being an artist, you need the passion behind your work and the results will create a sense of happiness when you persevere through any trials the process causes.

What particular aspects of your background shaped you as a designer?

AAH : I think being an only child inevitably forced me to be creative, to survive the torture of boredom. My grandmother used to have what we called 'shmata magazines' which were a slang Ukrainian term we used for gossip magazines, and I would cut out pictures and make collages with the cutouts. That began my obsession with magazines and collages. This would have definitely been my early days of creative exploration. My non-design skills can be found in the kitchen, as not until I got married did I realize I had a knack for baking which can be a creative output in one form or another. This went hand in hand with my niche of targeting the food industry. If I had to describe my design journey it would be 'exploring'. Always trying to find different things to produce and ways to produce them. Nothing particularly has single handedly influenced my work, but I can say it has been a series of events, people and other work that has all collaborated to make my experience unique from everyone elses, as I am sure applies to other creatives.

What is your growth path? What are your future plans? What is your dream design project?

AAH : My dream project would be to design a restaurant from top to bottom including the branding the environmental design and website. Although right now I feel I want to explore more package design. So either, or would work for me. My general plan is to be comfortably happy in my freelance career, as well having design clients who understand my work for all aspects of what it is, including the process and final product. I would also like to include more charitable work, a good balance of work and a variety of mediums. The overall goal is to keep learning.

What are your advices to designers who are at the beginning of their career?

AAH : Keep exploring, find what makes you happy and dont listen to the nay-sayers.

You are truly successful as a designer, what do you suggest to fellow designers, artists and architects?

AAH : Make mistakes it is the best way to learn and dont give up. Your never too old to learn more.

What is your day to day look like?

AAH : Wake up, have coffee, walk to desk and work. Or go to meetings and look for new work. I enjoy reading design blogs and books when I can. Although as of late I am starting to understand the importance of balance. One can spend many hours just working there is always something to do. But it is truly important to take some time for yourself as this can nurture the creative process.

How do you keep up with latest design trends? To what extent do design trends matter?

AAH : Pinterest or Behance is always a good place to see what is current, trending and new. Although I at times I can be a traditionalist and base some of my designs on classics or even combining different existing styles. This is a great way to develop new ideas and styles. Although trends do matter in the sense of being current but I feel they can fade out and make designs dated. Although it also depends on the project as some clients request to be trendy and in this case you need to know what is current.

How do you know if a product or project is well designed? How do you define good design?

AAH : A well designed piece evokes reaction. Michael Bierut's book said it best; Design will... 'sell things, explain things, make things look better, make people laugh, make people cry, and (every once in a while) change the world'. That said, there are no mistakes in making a good design, it is just learning.

How do you decide if your design is ready?

AAH : I have still gone back on older pieces of design I have produced and feel I could have improved. Improvements are a process but timelines can alter the process and restrict improvements. I always try to improve a design if the timeline allows.

What is your biggest design work?

AAH : My most well known design is the Julia Child Award and logo. I was chosen from international proposal submissions to design the logo and award for the foundation. Each year the Julia Child Award is given to an individual who has made a profound and significant difference in the way America cooks, eats and drinks. An annual gala is held in the fall in Washington DC and the logo and award is continuously displayed in the Smithsonian Museum. I had the opportunity to go to the first Gala in 2015 when the award was presented to Jacques Pépin who worked along side Julia Child for many years. The night was quit spectacular I met some high profile Chefs including Sara Moulton, Alton Brown, and of course Jacques Pépin himself. The experience and feeling of accomplishment made the design great.

Who is your favourite designer?

AAH : Milton Glaser and Aubrey Beardsley were two of the original creatives that I was inspired by. Additionally, Louise Fili, Jessica Hische and Paula Scher. They are all great inspirations. If I had the choice to meet any designers it would be Keith Haring as I did a project on him in grade school. It is sad he died quite young.

Would you tell us a bit about your lifestyle and culture?

AAH : I dreamed of living in New York, but after travelling to Europe I think I dream of living in France. Culture is an inspiration wherever I go and I wish I was able to travel more. I definitely feel design has a huge impact on any culture or society, but I also think variety is key as well as this fosters creativity and advancement through exploration. Good design makes things easier, it helps get the truth and builds advancement. I love things that are well designed even if it is the kitchen utensils I use. Or the writing of signage that is clear and legible. It's obvious it is necessary for advancement because of the outcome.

Would you tell us more about your work culture and business philosophy?

AAH : I work well alone but I also enjoy a group that is open to ideas and easy to communicate with. These are things that are crucial to the success of a group. I feel the best ideas comes from open minded individuals and groups and ones that persevere through hurdles and challenges. I also think people who are fun and find 'play' an important role of the creative process to be more likely to achieve greatness in any project. Helping and giving is also key as this will then generate ideas that contributes to the final end result. These types of people are hard to come by, and I feel this is one of the biggest challenges especially in collaboration. Open Mindedness is crucial in a creative setting.

What are your philanthropic contributions to society as a designer, artist and architect?

AAH : I always leave one project a year to a donation or charity and I feel this is a good way to give back and feel this is good to stay level headed. Plus it promotes being humble. Giving back and good design is crucial not just in the creative industry but in most industries. We are facing tough challenges in the world and feel this outlook is crucial to survive, as long as one is not being taken advantage of.

What positive experiences you had when you attend the A’ Design Award?

AAH : This design award has had a very intricate process, and positive impact on me, which makes me feel like I am part of a prestigious group of designers. As a freelance designer, this would help me gain recognition which is extremely hard, as competition is aggressive to say the least and this validates my work. It is a pleasure to be a winner and I am humbled. I would love to be the designer of the day!

Ashley Anastasia Howell Profile

Edible Ampersand Personal Project

Edible Ampersand Personal Project design by Ashley Anastasia Howell


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