Mon | Dec 17, 2018

Shawn Ashman Upcycled her life

Published:Sunday | January 14, 2018 | 12:00 AMJody-Anne Lawrence
This old wine bottle was accessorised with old broken jewellery to make a new statement piece.
Shawn Ashman takes what is discarded and turns into works of art.
Ashman did not learn as quickly as other children, but her mind was just filled with so much beauty to focus on the things that would hold her back.
The woman behind the beautiful paintings and rustic art work.
Ashman does a bit of sip and paint, but instead of canvas, sometimes she uses bottles.
A few of Shawn Ashman's upcycled bottles.


Shawn C. Ashman came from humble beginnings, but she knew there was more out there for her.

Ashman is an artist. She was initially taught to paint by Basil Clayton, and together, they would spend afternoons painting by the roadside as just a hobby. It eventually evolved into something much more. She did a short course at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, and tried her hand at different fine art. But then she wanted more from her work.

"I create beautiful paintings, yes. But so what? There needed to be more. There needs to be a story. What better story than my own? And then I thought of up cycling taking things that are cast out or thought of to be useless, and make them into something more," Ashman tells Outlook.

From there, she began to use old wine bottles, scraps of fabric and broken jewellery to create masterpieces. Never did she think that after her childhood, that she would be where she is today.


Up cycling her life


Growing up in the inner city of Grants Pen, her father tried to protect her from all the ills that could afflict her, not realising that he was 'stifling' her growth. She always wanted to explore, and her mind was always busy.

Her father, in his attempt to keep her away from some of the casualties of every day life in her community, built a high fence around their home. However, Ashman, being the curious child she was, unscrewed some nails in the fence and snuck out from time to time to play games with the neighbourhood children, or just to peek out to see what was happening on the outside.

Learning in school also proved to be a problem for Ashman. Subjects that required a lot of reading were not her strong suit, as she had a problem retaining the information. She was considered 'dunce' and 'slow'. For a while, she believed she was, and would never amount to anything. Some of the beating she received was just as damning to the spirit as the words.

Her resources were also limited. No electricity and few toys, she was forced to be creative, and found pleasure in creating paper dolls. She drew things out to be able to retain them or re-enact them like games. This was an indication that she was not only a visual learner, but a gifted child.

Despite all that she went through with the verbal abuse and believing that she was a dunce, Ashman still pushed herself beyond her limits. Her inspiration came from Oprah Winfrey. She remembers using her pit latrine at home and looking in the Star where she saw a picture of Oprah Winfrey smiling despite all the negative remarks about her weight. Then and there she decided, 'I am going to be happy like Oprah, no matter what they say."

With no electricity at home, she snuck out of he house and studied under the street light with her sister, passing her common entrance to attend Merl Grove High School. She worked extra hard to achieve good grades, and forged her father's signature on scholarship applications. However, she needed a reference, and there was no one who she knew. She walked into the police station and then asked for Senior Superintendent Cornwall 'Bigga' Ford and after waiting for what felt like hours, she proceeded with a tear-filled pleading and begging. She recalled telling him she did not want to be an inner-city casualty, she wanted to be successful. He listened and agreed.

She went on to do her associate degree at the University of Wisconsin's North Easter Wisconsin Technical College, and gained another scholarship to achieve her bachelor of business administration in computer information systems at Viterbo University. She returned to Jamaica teaching O'Level Information Technology privately before going into the public school system.

"My friends thought I was crazy because that cut my salary drastically. But I had a bigger plan," she told Outlook.

That she did. Her master's degree was her bigger plan, and she knew that if she was not working in the public sector, she would not be able to get the scholarship she needed. Everything fell into place, and she completed her master's in information system management becoming financially stable to take care of her younger brother.

Ashman now works as a director with the Government Court Management Service. This is her nine to five. Her passion is what she does at nights - weaving broken pieces together, painting on tossed-out sheets of glass, and making it into something relevant and beautiful; something that we all can love and appreciate. According to Ashman, like her creations, everyone can up cycle their lives. She encourages individuals to do this in her book, Life on Canvas: The Art of Painting Your Life Beautifully.

In it, she shares the obstacles she has had to overcome, and to encourage persons who feel less than worthy, to become someone who can make a difference.

Ashman hopes to share more and encourage youths to tap into their artistic side and give back. Changing the world into a positive light is all she aims to do, and is using canvas to do it is the way in which she knows how.