Ashley Church

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Ashley Church


I grew up by the sea in San Diego. As a child, with an ocean view and avocado grove below, I howled to the coyotes on our balcony, serenading the sunset. I made gifts and offerings to the plants and animals around me, typically in scavenged stones, bones and avocados. I danced in my handmade Indian Princess dress (basically boy scouts for girls where you went camping and hiking). I made dirt bike jumps and a course along the rattlesnakes, drew animals all day between the arms of the trees. Made hillside protest for squirrels whose homes were infringed by the new playground. Even as a child, I had the tenacity of a tiger. But my true love was in the sierras up at Lake Almanor, CA and Mt. Lassen National Park where I spent all summer between the moss, deer and loons while staying at my grandfather's cabin.

I come from a family of travelers. My childhood consisted of on a whim getting swooped in a car with endless stickers, and driving twelve hours to Utah to ski for the weekend. Or visiting the National Parks with all of their extraterrestrial wonders.

By fifteen, I had already been to twelve countries and by twenty tasted most of the United States. I found it intriguing that my friends and family were perplexed at how I took the scenic route in finding my own way.

Having taken my youth's desire of living among all the landscapes of the wild west to full fruition, I have recently rousted from cabin life at Lake Almanor, CA to the foothills of Chico, CA.

With my work beginning to catch speed and returning to school in the fine arts, it feels like I'm becoming a full-time artist. I am currently finishing the degree my past self thought I was incapable of and giving myself the gift of structured knowledge - even though I’ve now recognized I’m more of a D.I.Y education seeker.

But between school, art, travel, healthy relationships and balancing self care, like most of us are experiencing, it’s all a dance really. Recently, I started modeling for my figure drawing class as well as others around town. Not just for the sake of extra income, but as a way of embracing my new external figure.

I aim to inspire women whose bodies may have haunted them to take steps towards releasing this pitfall thought process, and radiate body positivity.

The intention for my commercial art versus personal art (although the two seem to be rather intertwined) is to continue projects I find inspiring. This includes creating for organizations that support my moral compass, passions and spirituality. As well as finding the partnership between science, ecology, ornithology, conservation and advocacy. Essentially, I aim to be a modern day explorer and creator.

This past summer the universe aligned me with a dream partnership. An elder of the Mountain Maidu caught me drawing in the sacred Tasmam Koyom Valley and invited me to a pow-wow in the woods. When I shared my work, a fire ignited in them, and soon after I found myself illustrating for the tribal people of my beloved home in the land which saved my life.

With patience and persistence with the ebb and flow, a project I am currently working on is a merger between poetry, writing and illustrating a book. My intention is to take women through the ride of healing themselves through nature, sometimes learning the hard way and the creative process as their eating disorder dies down. I am currently using what I have learned through my own recovery program, and am about to embark on an intensive nutrition program, work with eating disorder therapists and clinicians to create an entirely new meaning of a “self care” book.

Ultimately, I hope to inspire others with eating disorders to unlock the pathway to recovery so that they too can undergo their own butterfly transformation and embark on their creative journey.

Outside of art, other things that make me Howl are...

  • Being of the curious

  • Those brave enough to choose self-inquiry and compassionate enough to nurture themselves throughout the journey.

  • Vulnerability. Whether it is exposing my spoken word to a room of strangers, top roping a new face, or simply inviting the girl I find intriguing on a hike, being vulnerable makes me feel without limitations.

  • The joy in surrender. I come from a past perspective of control. It is something I do my best to remain conscious of and tone down the volume each day. Thankfully, I now realize that adventure and magic come from the days I show up, release expectation, ride the waves and listen to the whispers of where I’m meant to be.

  • Taking on a new challenge or skill-set. Whether it’s a new form of art, learning how to mountaineer, or getting quicker on a skateboard. As someone who used to avoid the process of failing and only aimed for perfection there was so much I didn’t experience out of fear. Now I dance with “keep em’ coming” and failing as the best damn gifts of trying new angles. The yin and yang of never giving up is one of my highs.

  • Art collaborations. I have a burning desire to join inspirational spaces with others and co-create.

  • I do 99.35% of my art outside. My dream days are when I ride my motorcycle out to a trail head, climb a mountain and stop along the way to draw. I have been know to carry easels down cliff sides for the ideal painting spot. I’m a little obsessed with creating in the fresh air sprawled out in the dirt sketching flora, fauna and consciousness.

  • Practicing self care through nutrition and fitness. I have learned so much through my recovery process about what our bodies need to sustain ourselves. As well as a complete mind trip away from intensive cardiovascular exercise towards strength training, yoga and simply the art of playing outside.

  • Skateboarding through the park as a form of detoxification.

  • The plants and animals as my biggest teachers. When I need assistance to slow down, I go for a meditative walk and let my intuition become receptive to their wisdom. The simplicity in knowing everything works out and shedding my snakeskin of a once anxious bird makes me howl with relief.

  • Bird nerd forever. Sand hill Crane unexpected encounters along my travels.

  • There is poetry among the rocks and birdsong. I promise you.

  • Simply the dance of simply being. Of nothing and nowhere. Just a date to be in my body. Not the busy Backson itinerary off a thousand steps ahead. Just laying in a meadow with the sun beams. Listening to the wisdom of the woods and natural law as my guidebook.

  • To give everyday. Something, anything, a smile, a good read, a meal, art, a listening ear.

  • Participating in more male dominated outdoor activities with women of the mountain lion type. This past summer of backpacking with Jessica Kohl, identifying plants with my fellow biologist Aurelia Gonzales and pushing my comfort zone on rock faces with Bree Russell. We ascended into the wild with our mysticism and poetry, journaled behind campfires and howled our names at the top of climbs. Spirit calling, as the natives taught me, lassoing our souls back home. Was there something sacred to not just heal your wounds alone from the shame, heartache and grief. To be collaborated with the companionship and compassion of wild sisterhood we long to nurture. For us women you see, particularly those of the mountain lion and buffalo variety, we feel exempt and tend to our caves, assert strength we thought necessary to compete on our patriarchal planet.

  • Sharing what I have learned with such an intensive recovery from Anorexia and paying it forward. Being the flame to the campfire to show others that they too can trade in for a canvas they only dreamed of.

While there are still lessons I will battle for the rest of my life, in a year and a half I have freed myself from the chains of anorexia. The woods and the natural world taught me this. For that, I forever owe them my life.

Eventually, I regained my health and got my period back after an on and off five year absence. I started to understand who I was and exactly why I was here. The wheels started to rumble and I began to turn my sketchbooks into actual pieces; from black and white to explosions of color; and from the tiniest notebook possible to wanting to fill entire walls. One by one opportunities for illustrations jobs and a mural came my way. I recognized I was onto something so I hunkered down, laced up my moccasins and embraced myself as an artist that protects inspires, and supports healing in others. Upon returning to myself, there flourished bouquets of creativity that prior had been captive.

I have loved, lived among, lost and will continue to seek the places I have embodied in this piece. They are the summit lakes we have swam bare breast, The never ending rows of sage we have nestled to our noses, the desert starlit night repels along arches, or even simply, the quick jaunt of release up Flagstaff.