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7 Years Since Shillington: Ashley Ronning, Illustrator and Founder of Helio Press

Ashley Ronning has done heaps since graduating from Shillington Melbourne seven years ago. Some serious hustling and dedication saw her go full-time as an illustrator back in 2015, and now she’s got a thriving freelance career, her own risograph printing business Helio Press and boasts more than 20k Instagram followers. You go, girl.

Read on to hear about her “wobbly path” to an illustration career, the zine community in Australia, her favourite creative collaboration, why she chose Shillington back in 2011 and the most popular item in her online shop.

Can you tell us the major stepping stones in your creative career? How’d you get to where you are today?

Oh my word, it was a wobbly path. I had gone to uni in Canberra to study arts but soon found it wasn’t for me. I moved to Melbourne in 2011 and studied part-time at Shillington. One of my teachers Steph nudged me towards pursuing graphic design and prop making in film and tv. I did that between hospo work for a few years, while quietly working on my illustration skills in my down time. I decided film wasn’t for me, and slowly built up illustration commissions til I could make it a full time job in 2015. I’ve also been working on my side project since 2016, Helio Press. That’s where I do riso printing and publishing.

You said in an interview with Outlier that “you didn’t know [illustrating] was a job until design school”. What’s it like to now work full-time as an illustrator?

I had no idea! I just thought graphic designers did the drawing or you went through a traditional art practice before having work in illustration settings. I really love being an illustrator!

Creative problem solving is what drew me to graphic design and its what I love best about illustration.

I’m constantly finding the best way to represent an idea through my work, whether its a commission or my own personal work. There are down sides of course, like trying to keep regular work going and boring business stuff, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything right now.

Tell us more about Helio Press, your risograph publishing and printing project?

Helio started while I was searching for a way to share my amazing risograph printer with more people. I started by publishing riso zines for artists, and slowly expanded for riso printing for anyone’s projects.

I’ve just started a series of workshops to demistify the process. It’s so amazing to see people’s eyes light up when they get the hang of it!

You’ve been part of a fair few creative collaborations. Could you tell us about one of your favourites?

Definitely the exhibition pieces I made with my pal Rosaleen Ryan aka Mamoru. We were asked to be a part of a group exhibition at Guild Of Objects where pairs would combine their skills to make a collaborative art work. We made a series of resin objects from another world. There were petrie dishes, a magnifying glass and a terrarium!

You’ve held two solo exhibitions. What does it feel like on the night?

I never get enough rest before a solo show so I just feel nervous and exhausted! I also feel a bit disconnected from the work at that time as I’ve started at it for so long that I’m not sure if its decent anymore!

What’s the zine community like in Australia? Any tips for young designers looking to get involved?

The zine community in Australia is one of the best in the world!

There are lots of fairs going, there’s a few zine shops and sooo many wonderful and generous people who love sharing the world of zines. The best way to start your journey into zine making is to just make a very quick and silly zine! Making the first one is the hardest, so rip off that band-aid first. Once you’re on a roll, approach a shop like Sticky Institute who will take your zines on consignment and start trading your zines with like-minded zine-makers.

Back in January you shared your Goals for 2018 on your blog. How are you going with them? Give us an update!

I’ve been meaning to make an update! Here’s a picture of where I’m at!

Garden—have had almost no time out there but I got a green house for my birthday last month and I have big plans for spring. Deep work—definitely more distracted than ever at the moment unfortunately, this one will be the hardest to improve. Read more—I’ve read and listened to a bunch more books this year! My favourite so far has been The Natural Way Of Things by Charlotte Wood, and I’m currently reading No Way! Okay, Fine by Brodie Lancaster and the 33 1/3 book about The Modern Lovers. Stress less—I’ve been pretty dang stressed this year but less that last year, and having a pretty relaxed week this week. About to go on holiday to Japan too! Drawing technique—I’ve specifically wanted to slow down my planning process and take time to make work that I’m really proud to show people rather than rushing through. I’ve improved my work with this perspective but I still have further to go. And lastly—bass skillz—I definitely need to practice more but I’ve gotten way better and more confident and my band Eat-Man released an EP in July!

What’s the most popular item in your online shop? How do you decide what makes the cut to add to the shop?

That’s tricky. Right now it’d be the To-Do Lists, maybe because they’re so new. I think people are really trying to find better ways to be productive, I’ve found the lists really help me so I wanted to share them. I’ll put any personal project in the shop that makes it through my brain and into a real thing!

Why did you decide to study design back in 2011? Why did you choose Shillington? Did you have any previous experience?

I’d studied graphic design in year 12 and really loved it. I was torn between studying the arts and graphic design but went with the uni for the arts. Once I realised it wasn’t for me, I packed up and moved to Melbourne. I looked through quite a few courses before I chose Shillington. I went there because it seemed really practical and I loved the prospect of being finished within a year! 

What lessons did you learn at Shillington that you still use in your creative practice today?

Heaps! I feel like I got a really good grasp on photoshop, illustrator and indesign, I use design concepts like hierarchy, alignment and composition in my illustration work all the time, and I learnt how to plan and finesse a project from start to finish.

What would you say to someone considering studying at Shillington?

If you are a practical learner, have heaps of self-motivation and love to learn, then Shillington is perfect for you. I loved my time there and I’m so glad I went.

Anything else you’d like to share?

It would take 22,263,889 rolls of hubba bubba tape to encircle the earth.

Huge thanks to Ashley for sharing where life has taken her since Shillington! Be sure to check out her website and Instagram as well as Helio Press’s website and Instagram.

Top photo of Ashley by Tatanja Ross.

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