Ashleigh’s Happiness

The traditional and digital art of Ashleigh Corrin

It should come as no surprise to our community that Sherrie Carter’s daughter is following in her mother’s creative footsteps, although with a modern twist. Sherrie, of course, is well known for the distinctive Americana look of her creations featured in her shop Sherrie’s Stuff. While her daughter loves the same hands-on, traditional art, she’s also moved into creating digitally as well.

Ashleigh Corrin is a talented, professional artist, illustrator, and graphic designer. A Fauquier native, her roots here are deep: her mother’s family has been in the county since the early 1800s.

Ashleigh was influenced heavily by Sherrie and her grandmother, Eva Walker, while she was growing up. “My mom could do anything she wanted,” Ashleigh explained. “I watched her put up drywall in our basement, build birdhouses she’d sell in craft shows, make figurines out of clay, and more. She was an incredible role model. She introduced me to arts and crafts, and I would help her paint. She even let me paint a mural on my bedroom wall. She always encouraged my creativity.”

When Ashleigh graduated from Liberty High School, she knew where she wanted to go. Sherrie always told her she could do anything, and if she wanted to pursue art, she should go for it. Ashleigh also had an art teacher at Liberty, Gary Colson, who also encouraged her. “He felt that I should go ahead and pursue art in college, he told me I was good enough, and that kind of helped me. I really needed that validation,” Ashleigh said.

Ashleigh headed off to VCU, widely known for its arts program. “I absolutely loved growing up in Fauquier, but I was ready for something new,” she said. “I was ready to move to a city, I was ready for a different energy and more diversity. VCU allowed me to really embrace who I was as a creative. I met so many different types of people from various backgrounds. It was exactly the life experience I felt I needed.”

Ashleigh studied Communication Arts, a big part of which was illustration. She was able to expand on and explore mediums that she had always liked (painting, collaging, linoleum printing, and drawing) as well as those she wasn’t as familiar with.“The program and teachers were fantastic. They made a true effort to expose us to different mediums to help us discover our interests.”

It was at VCU that she was introduced to digital illustration. She was enchanted with the concept, and realized the enormity of what could be created digitally. Using mostly Photoshop, she learned the mind-blowing number of tools and brushes that could be used to create layers and texture, so similar to her hands-on creativity. “You can take it as far as you want, and do all sorts of projects. My mom’s influence still stayed with me, and I found a way to blend the two and make that work for me.”

By my junior year of college I realized that I wanted to create art with a positive theme. I wanted whatever I did to have purpose, and I always had a desire to include messages of encouragement, especially for young people.

Ashleigh’s style is far from traditional. “I love using lines and movement to bring energy to a piece. I enjoy incorporating childlike silliness here and there that I think we all can connect to,” she explained.

Ashleigh exhibited her work online on different artist directories, including a site called womenwhodraw.com. It was there that in 2017 that her work caught the eye of publisher Claudia Bedrick at Enchanted Lion Books, an independent children’s book publisher based in Brooklyn, New York. Bedrick connected her with children’s author Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie who was working on a book for children called Layla’s Happiness.

“When I saw Ashleigh’s work, the draw was immediate. There is a wonderful energy in her work, there is a clarity and a freshness there. It was obvious to me that Ashleigh had the talent and the sensitivity to bring Layla to the page in a way that would render the love, joy, and community that nourishes her visible,” said Ekere.

Layla’s Happiness was published in 2019, and has earned a 5-star rating on Amazon. The story, geared for ages 4-8, is a whimsical portrayal of what makes a little African American girl happy: simple things like feeding chickens, dancing in the garden with a ladybug, climbing a tree, or eating spaghetti without a fork.

This book was a dream come true. My hopes of creating art with a positive message for young people became a reality with this opportunity.

Why is this book so special to Ashleigh? “I loved the topic of happiness,” she said. “I love that it’s about a little Black girl and the simple things that make her content. Growing up as a Black artist, you almost feel like you should be making a point about the Black experience, but this book is just about happiness. We all have the same experiences as everyone else. It doesn’t always have to be about any kind of struggle. I’m fortunate to be making art during a time in our history when we can create and share ideas as simple as the topic of


happiness using a female, Black protagonist.”

“People in general, whether you’re an adult or a kid, need to be reminded that your happiness is often found in the smallest things. Sometimes you lose sight of this as you get older.”

What’s in the future for Ashleigh? “I’d love to work on more children’s books. I feel like my style fits well for this type of work and I think I’ve found a new niche, and truly hope more opportunities open up for me here. I truly believe that the sky is the limit.”


Layla’s Happiness is available at The Open Book in Old Town Warrenton

Awards:

The 2020 Ezra Jack Keats Award winner for Illustrator is:

Ashleigh Corrin, for Layla’s Happiness
Written by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
Published by Enchanted Lion Books

Seven-year-old Layla keeps a happiness book. Spirited and observant, Layla has been given room to grow, making happiness both thoughtful and intimate. What she discovers is that happiness can be found in simple things… her dad talking about growing-up in South Carolina; her mom reading poetry; her best friend Juan, the community garden, and so much more. This is a story of flourishing within family and community.

Corrin said, ” As a first-time illustrator for children’s books, I doubted myself. Winning this award serves as affirmation and encouragement. What an honor! I have always looked to Ezra Jack Keats for artistic inspiration, and because he celebrated ideas and feelings through the eyes of a black child.

“Sometimes authors and illustrators don’t use black characters as the protagonists of their stories because they feel identifying with a black child will be too difficult for a “mainstream” audience. I think Keats, and many authors and illustrators since, have proven this isn’t true. That’s what I hope Layla’s Happiness continues to prove. It was important for me to make sure Layla was represented in the best way for young black girls and that all readers could celebrate each moment of happiness that Mariahadessa was expressing through her poem.”

Pam Kamphuis
About Pam Kamphuis 102 Articles
Pam Kamphuis is an editor and writer for Piedmont Virginian Magazine and Piedmont Lifestyle Magazines.

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