Designer Spotlight: Ashley Spencer on Creating Slipcovers for Your Walls
Art captured Ashley Spencer, principal and lead artist for Casart Coverings, as a child growing up in New Orleans, and she minored in fine arts at The University of the South in Sewanee, TN, before obtaining stints working in museums as a special project assistant at the National Museum for Women in the Arts and at the National Gallery of Art in their Exhibition & Design Department.
Everything changed when Spencer discovered she had Hodgkin’s disease while pregnant with her first child, Piers (b. 1988). “Through this time, I did considerable rethinking of where I might find fulfillment,” she said. “Cancer at a young age, especially in connection with a high-risk pregnancy, perhaps helps illuminate priorities.”
Drysdale Faux Linen. Photo credit: Casart
After her treatment, she refocused on family and spent time with her newborn son. But art never totally left her side. She kept pursuing artistic endeavors — for example, creating tiles for their fireplace based on a four elements of nature theme that incorporated Piers’ foot and handprints for the fifth spirit element. She also dabbled in freelance artwork, specializing in fine pen and ink drawings for cards, magazine illustration and graphite portraits. “Doing this, I learned how to start a business while working from home so I could also focus on raising my two boys,” she said (second son, Jackson, was born in 1992).
Artichoke paneled wall. Photo credit: Casart
The Beginnings of a Business
Her business Casart Coverings officially started in January 2009 with her mother and sister as initial partners, but it really began earlier than that. The illustration segment rolled out after Piers was born while Spencer still was undergoing cancer treatment. The decorative finishing part of Casart was added in 1995. “My vision was to make my decorative finishes and artwork portable by finding a way to print them onto removable wallcovering as a design solution for homes,” she said. Some of her initial challenges involved learning about print technologies and how to reproduce the products as well as researching and finding quality wallcovering materials that were cutting-edge and new to the market at that time. She also found owing a business daunting, balancing the creative end with administrative and marketing work.
The designing part came easier. Spencer finds inspiration everywhere. “Nothing inspires me more than nature, either in its most intricate detail or in the broad strokes of splendor in a landscape scene,” she said. Much of her motivation comes from her childhood. “I had strongly supportive parents and instructors, but none more inspirational than my eccentric Aunt Katherine from Kentucky, who spent her life drawing and painting, all around the nation and in Europe. My circumstances didn’t allow me to live her life, but her focus and discipline were inspirational for a young girl, and later a young mother. I pay tribute to with her own collection,” Spencer said.
Each design collection almost seems to have a purpose for Spencer, from mastering faux finishes that can be used as subtle backdrops to patterns that enliven a space to murals that command visual attention. For example, the Light Rain design was inspired by the magic that outdoor string lights give to gardens. “With a humorous play on words, I thought it was ‘lighthearted’ to turn something as simple and overlooked as a light bulb into a pleasing pattern design.”
Accessories by Casart
Exploring the World Through Design
Spencer likes to explore the world and some of her designs show her propensity for research, such as the My Shells design, which depicts scientific illustrations of shells strategically placed on different types of coral branches that represent the “family” trees of two different classes of Mollusca Phylum.
Often, Spencer collaborates with a client when a project involves customization of a Casart design or creating a new work altogether. “I call this ‘co-creating’ a project,” she said. “Those results are the most rewarding because they come from others’ creative thinking of new ways to enjoy or use a design that I hadn’t thought of before.” Spencer finds such collabs awe-inspiring — for example, when a mother wanted a mural of hands holding chopsticks to teach her children the correct way to hold chopsticks when they lived in Hong Kong.
Nature Noticed H Panel wallpaper. Photo credit: Casart
Sometimes some of Spencer’s decorative painting projects can lead to new Casart designs. For instance, a client once wanted hand painted clouds in their daughter’s bedroom. Spencer suggested painting these puffs in a smaller scale, which would then be enlarged and printed onto Casart Light wallcovering so they could be installed more easily. “Although their design was custom and completed for them in specific colors, their cloud design is now offered as the Cumulonimbus Cloud wallcovering,” she said. “This sparked an entire series of Cloud designs.”
Creating these custom projects are time-consuming and can take a total of six months to a year to complete the artwork, scan it to create the print and web files, and then add those to the website. “With people staying home during the pandemic, they want more customization and ways to personalize their space because their space has become their sanctuary – not just for work but for safety and sanity,” she said. “Bright, happy colors, bold as well as calming designs are timeless trends.” Spencer wants to capitalize on this by introducing more nature themes since people are appreciating the great outdoors more and are looking for ways to bring it inside.
Nature Noticed V Panel 2 dining room table. Photo credit: Casart
Once Spencer’s boys went to school, she had more time to expand her illustration work to include decorative and faux finishing as well as paint consultations. She could offer such finishes and also murals as practical wallcovering, which could be removed and reused. “This also allowed my artwork to be easily used in interiors to quickly transform a space,” she said.
Now her goals are to expand her designs to offer a wide range of accessories that complement and complete the look of Casart wallcoverings. “I’m working on this now,” she said. “With over 100 different designs in multiple colorways, this will take some time.”
Featured photo credit: Casart by Ashley Spencer
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