Shawna Ashman inspired to paint
It is important to keep in mind that artists tend to enjoy their work. That sense of satisfaction is presumably why they keep chiselling away at it, even in a tough labour market. Jamaica's economic prospects for artists seem particularly bleak, with financial instability, low or no earnings, little job security, and no pension or other benefits.
Shawn Ashman rises above those odds to pursue her first love. Known for her daring colour pallette and emotionally charged abstracts, she has been exploring painting on canvas for more than a decade. Art over
the years has not been her full-time pursuit, as her primary occupation is in the field of computer science, working with the Government.
The Merl Grove High School past student knew from early on that she had an artistic talent. At the time, she wanted to become a fashion designer and had high hopes of attending the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. She received a distinction in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate-level examination in art and fashion designing, and this encouraged her to further pursuing her passion.
However, this leg of her journey was not smooth. She did not have adequate financial resources and had no one to be a guarantor for her application to the Students' Loan Bureau, so her plans were temporarily shelved.
"I was unable to afford the tuition, even though I had all the prerequisites to enrol, and had to look at other career options," Ashman said.
Despite the setback, she decided to attend sixth form. As luck would have it, she received a scholarship to pursue an associate degree in computer science at Viterbo University in the United States. Following that, she also earned her bachelor's degree in business administration from the same institution, and her master's in management information systems from the University of the West Indies, Mona.
"I pursued business and left my drawing skills to lay dormant. In college, I wanted to do art, but given that I was a scholarship student who had up to 19 credits at times, I had to ensure that I maintained the B average that was required of me to stay on the scholarship," Ashman said.
Upon returning to Jamaica, Ashman realised that her passion to draw and paint had not dissipated and she decided to learn how to paint on canvas.
"I saw a roadside artist named Basil Clayton and I asked him to teach me to paint. He told me I could come see him on Saturdays for a small fee and we could paint on the side of the road where he often paints and displays his work. I found such peace in learning and spending time with Basil that I looked forward to our class each week," she said.
Clayton, she said, taught her everything she needed to know.
"I had an amazing time painting, and he gave me assignments that he expected me to complete in a few hours. I worked as hard as I could. He encouraged me to paint from pictures, which I often do, and this was the beginning of a very interesting journey into creating artwork that I so love to do," Ashman said.
She completed a certificate from the Edna Manley College, where she participated in a landscape painting course in 2005.
"Ten years after high school, I decided to continue my dream and enrolled in art school. I could now afford it and did a six-week painting course, where I painted mostly by the beach. I enjoyed the warm sunshine and the water that captured my imagination," she said.
Inspiration for her pieces are drawn from her personal experiences, her African roots, and her inspiration from the divine. Ashman painted sporadically over the next few years, usually adding colour to canvas from her emotions, when she was hurting, extremely happy, or optimistic about something.
She paints while listening to audio books, documentaries, and inspirational music, and gives gratitude to God for His gift of painting through her.
"I found that while listening to my audio books, I painted without missing a beat. I loved what I was doing and also getting inspiration from these books," Ashman said.
Ashman often prays before she paints in the midnight hours and early morning, accompanied by her dog. She is often inspired by her pieces and is often taken aback at the final results. Her work can be viewed at the Grosvenor Gallery as part of the Kingston On The Edge series or on her website at www.shawnashmanart.com.