Today we’d like to introduce you to Ashley Chiang.
Hi Ashley, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I have always been an artist, looking back. As a child and throughout the years growing up. It was always in the realm of expression and giving, and it continued through school, work, and parenting, but very part-time as you can imagine.
Paper has been a constant in my crafts; scrapbooking, card making, paper sculpting, origami, etc. So, in the winter of 2012, when I was perusing the Internet for inspiration for what to make and give my sister, I came across paper quilling. I was immediately entranced and decided I would give it a go with just a few days’ time in between discovering quilling and needing to present my sister with a gift. I dove into images and YouTube tutorials, most of which helped me develop my own methods and techniques since I was adamant to use what I had on hand (loads of card stock, no special tools). Ultimately, I gave my sister an IOU on her birthday because what I thought would be a simple project took me many, many more hours than I’d imagined. But in the end, the project turned out so well and I began to really love the process, I decided to make a few more pieces and add them to a new shop on Etsy. And it took off from there!
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
I am privileged that in that my family (of four at the time; five now), our income was not very dependent on me. So, I have had more freedom than I otherwise would have if I also needed to be earning for our expenses. On the other hand, the time and energy I could spend with art and business was very limited as there’s always been two or three kids, whom I also homeschool, and of whom I was the sole caregiver for many years.
There were very many years in which my very small income from selling art, did not exceed all the expenses I had created trying to sell my work. But it was encouraging to know that people were interested in and drawn to my art, and I knew paper quilling as a whole had so much room to grow within art/craft in the U.S. So, I dreamed bigger every year, even when I knew our finances suffered sometimes because of my business expenses. I am also very fortunate to have a partner and children who love food as much as I do but can subsist on beans and rice when it’s needed.
A couple of years ago I decided to embark on trying to sell my work wholesale – essentially selling to businesses at half off for them to resell at full price. It required a lot of startup costs and since there is only one other example of similar work being sold this way, it felt completely uncharted. The year that I began trying to sell wholesale, I took a business loss of multiple five-figures on my taxes. It was devastating. Financially and emotionally.
When my business felt so shot down and devalued, I couldn’t see a way forward. I am so lucky that the groundwork that I had been laying was, in fact, not for nothing. I had hoped for a fast turnaround from investment to reward and it just took longer than expected. The year after I posted that multiple five-figure loss on my taxes, I had my first six-figure sales year thanks to wholesale. And it’s taught me to plan carefully and hold on to the ideas that have fueled me all along.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am artist, currently using paper, based just outside of Washington, DC in Silver Spring, MD. I was drawn to the largely abandoned craft of paper quilling in 2011 and my practice quickly morphed from the traditional into more graphic and contemporary. My methods and materials differ in almost every regard from traditional quilling but when people come across the work, they often share their own stories of paper quilling, once tried. Using no traditional tools, I curl, coil, and shape paper into a great variety of expression by hand. Sometimes into more organic forms and other times, leaning into my left brain for strict geometrics or patterns. My goal is to always coax the extraordinary from the disregarded. Paper, often ordinary and overlooked, has untold potential I continue to try and unfold.
Collaborative projects to date have included working with The Rainforest Alliance and Domtar Paper for pieces they displayed at GreenBuild Expo in Philadelphia, PA, and GreenBuild in New Orleans, LA, as well as working with Spice 6 restaurant on an extensive paper installation work. More recent commissions have included ad work for Marshalls/ TJX and multiple pieces for Veritiv Paper.
Can you tell us more about what you were like growing up?
I was, and am, questioning. Constantly. Independent, opinionated, colorful. Being creative was constant. Painting, drawing, singing, dancing, sewing, and more. There were many phases that I felt settled in, as I feel settled now, but that weren’t permanent. Always changing and growing is the goal.
I read a lot, loved making things and being with friends. All of which are still true!
- A typical in-person workshop – $ 70 per ticket
- Small retail items – $30-$60
- Pattern series – $185-250
- Large Seasonal Patterns – $300-$600
- A 2’ square commissioned mandala – $1,500