I was thrilled to recently interview Ashley and her assistant, Megan, two contestants on TLC’s show, Craft Wars. At the time, the episode with their crafting challenge had not aired.
CM:How did you get started crafting? Did someone in particular inspire you?
Ashley: I used to make things with my grandma when I was little, but then got away from it as I started focusing more on my drawing. I made a return to crafts in 2007 when I started building huge Halloween displays for a contest at my former job. People were offering to buy pieces of the set when the contest was over, and i thought, “Hey! There’s a market here!” My mom is my major halloween inspiration. She doesn’t just answer the door with candy. She camps out on the lawn in full gypsy palm reader attire, crystal ball and everything, and makes kids endure a little scare if they want
Megan: I’ve been crafty for as long as I can remember. In fact, there was a long period of time, when I didn’t think I COULD do anything besides make & create. I grew up in a creative, “art-friendly” house. When I majored in Art at SDSU, nobody in my family batted an eyelash. They did encourage me to go into a field that would allow me to support myself, so I studied Graphic Design.
After working for a few years as a designer, I began to gravitate towards marketing. I really enjoyed the networking aspects of marketing and found that I took all of the criticism of graphic design too personally. I also had a very difficult time creating or making anything for myself when I was working as a designer. It sucked all of the creativity out of me, and left me feeling empty at the end of the day. Marketing became my professional passion for almost 10 years.
In 2010, I was laid off from a job I had had for about 6 years, and loved. Treasured. My commute was a whopping 3 hours each day for this particular job, and I barely flinched. Getting laid off was the hardest thing I had experienced in my life. It shook my confidence and made me question my personal worth. While I began the painful and depressing job hunt (usually while crying in my pajamas), I began crafting and making art. I needed to feel something again. I started writing down the projects I was making and blogging about them. The response was immediate, and my craft blog: Radmegan: In Words & Pictures was born.
I sort of treated it like a full time job for the first year. I was cranking out new projects 4-5 times a week. The pace was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. I began selling some of the items I was making in my etsy store. I also started getting invitations to speak at conferences, teach live classes, host craft parties and record craft and photography workshops. In two short years, I had begun to carve out my new career without really realizing it. While the pay cut I took was substantial, I felt more satisfied and inspired than ever. My confidence soared with each new project. I felt alive.
CM: Tell us about your appearance on TLC’s Craft Wars. Did you have any idea what was going to be involved or required?
Ashley: It was the biggest adrenaline roller coaster I have ever ridden! I literally lost 5lbs that day. You get a general rundown of how things are going to proceed, but there’s really no way to prepare for competition. Being a skilled, and even organized, artist doesn’t mean machines won’t break or that the clock won’t run out. It was nuts…but I have to say I’d do it again.
Megan: Craft Wars was unlike anything I’d done before. I knew it would be fun since Ashley (a fellow craft instructor at the Urban Craft Center) asked me to assist her, but I had no idea how intense crafting would be with a giant neon count-down clock. That was stressful to say the least. I also didn’t put much thought into how I would LOOK on camera. I mean, the shooting day was so darn long and honestly, I could have stashed a hairbrush and lip gloss SOMEWHERE. Also, why did I not think of wearing Spanx?! I know it’s taboo to discuss, but if there was ever an occasion to wear helpful suck-it-in undergarments, I do believe that being on National television is it. Boat, missed.
CM: Without revealing the outcome of your episode, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
Ashley: The craft closet is a temptress! There’s such smorgasbord of materials that you feel obligated to use as much as you can, and we all know that sometimes you ought to just STOP. I think it’s very difficult to see that in the middle of all the panic. If I could go back, I’d hope I could dial back my innate desire for gaudiness juuuust a little.
Megan: Besides forgetting to wear Spanx and brush my hair, I wish I would have really tried to enjoy the process more. I felt like I was crafting for my life (and I think it showed on my face!) Building something in in someone else’s craft “closet” (while on television) is like going to a party and being asked to whip up Thanksgiving dinner… and p.s. the President of the United States will be there. No pressure, right?
And full disclosure, I kind of wish that I would have had the nerve to try out for the position of craft lead, myself. Yea, I said it. I love Ashley and we were a powerhouse team. In fact, I’d totally want to partner up again if I were the lead someday (because she’s that awesome), but I would just love to do this whole thing over again, and see what the experience is like as the one making the big decisions and feeling the BIG pressure. Being an assistant on Craft Wars came with a lot of responsibility, but I’m ready to take on the weight of the crafty world as the lead. So yea, really hoping the show gets picked up for more seasons, and that I can try out!
CM: Overall, how do you feel about Craft Wars?
Ashley: Normally I’m not a reality tv watcher, but I think anything that gets people interested in making art is a good thing to have in the world. I’ve been checking on the Twitter feed, and while the show certainly has its critics, many more people are being entertained and empowered through learning how they can make things at home. A friend of mine asked me to help her make some wedding decorations based on something she saw on CW. She’s going to make something completely custom for a day she’ll always remember, and that to me is way cooler than buying mass produced goods that are in thousands of other weddings pics too!
Megan: I know there are critics out there, but I think that Craft Wars is doing something great for the craft industry. There are a zillion cooking shows. Oodles of decorating shows. Tons of gardening shows, etc… How many CRAFT shows can you think of? There are SO many people who enjoy making things by hand. Why on Earth are there not more television shows to reflect this? I LOVE Craft Wars. I said it.
CM: Do you think the show helps or hurts the crafting industry, and why?
Ashley: I don’t see how it could be harmful, really. One good thing I think the show has done is show that the definition of “crafting” is broader than you might think. We’ve seen woodworkers, metal smiths, jewelry makers, painters. I make costumes and puppets! “Crafting” doesn’t have to mean something like scrap booking or crochet, which really surprises some people.
Megan: I would hope that the show is helping the industry. I really think we need to champion the folks who are making things by hand and carrying on skills that their mothers and grandmothers passed down to them. In my mind, exposing people to new ideas, techniques, and projects they can make at home is a good thing. As I said earlier, I really hope that Craft Wars gets picked up for another season. It’s been a lot of fun to watch, and not just because I’m on the show, because it reminds me that I’m part of a community of people who are carrying on skills that have been around for hundreds of years.
CM: There have been a lot of critics about crafting in general, and this show in particular, since Craft Wars debuted. Do you have a response to those critics?
Ashley: Shut up and go make something! Kidding! Honestly, I can see why some hardcore crafters are concerned. As an artist, I understand that we want to hold on to our work and keep it special. Having your favorite hobby (or for some of us, our living) suddenly lumped into the same entertainment category as The Bachelor and Dr. 90210 could be very disturbing! We want art to remain honest. My recommendation for critics is to focus on the crafters themselves, not the format of the show. Appreciate that those people really put themselves out there, knowing they could fail for all the world to see, and made some interesting pieces under some really crazy constraints!
Megan: Critics about crafting?! That’s really disappointing to hear. I’ve seen some of the chatter online about the format of the show, or nit-picking over comments made by judges, but I’m not interested in that stuff; people are always going to want to voice their opinions… But critics about crafting itself? I find that disgusting and sad. It takes a lot more creativity, imagination and courage to make something, I mean, really, physically MAKE (build/sew/glue/staple/etc.) something and put it out there in the world (or even out in your home), than it does to plug into an electronic devise and kill an afternoon twiddling your fingers. Boo on the critics of crafting.
CM: Do you have any advice for any of our readers who’d like to appear on a reality challenge show?
Ashley: Show them that you have something unique to offer. I think standing out from the crowd is half the battle, whether you’re trying to get on reality tv or applying for a regular ol’ day job. What makes your friends say,” That is SO you!” Also, if you manage to get selected for a show, for goodness sake hit the gym for a few weeks beforehand! I was amazingly wrecked and sore after competition day, so a little dose of jock in your art nerd life might save you some pain!
Megan: To anyone interested in appearing, I would say go for it. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also super rewarding. Especially if you are working with someone you like and respect like I was. In fact, I’m hoping that the Craft Wars producers are inundated with applications for the next season so that more show like Craft Wars start cropping up! I’d watch them all!
Thank you so much, Ashley & Megan, for your candor and insights. Craft Wars definitely sounds challenging, but also a lot of fun!
Note: Ashley & Megan’s episode aired on Tuesday, August 14, 2012, and they won their challenge! Watch TLC’s Craft Wars on Tuesday nights to watch and support other fellow crafters.