Behind the artwork

Behind the artwork

Meet Ashley McDonald...

We are used to seeing creatives rely on a separate income stream to fund their artistic endeavours. In a very Kiwi take on the struggling artist stereotype, Ashley McDonald did the opposite. She used her nature-centred artwork to pay her way through university and fund an emerging career in ecology and conservation. 

22-year old-Hāwera-grown artist Ashley McDonald recently graduated Victoria University of Wellington with a Bachelor of Science majoring in Ecology and Biodiversity.

It was her unique blend of passions – conservation, the native manu of Aotearoa and painting – that makes her artwork so distinctive. It’s one of the reasons we approached her with a request for some work for our Topflite Hound packaging.

Since the age of 15, Ashley has used her platform as a way of spreading awareness and education to folks all around the world on conservation-based issues.

“Conservation has been a big passion of mine since I was young,” she says. “David Attenborough’s documentaries, particularly Blue Planet, was where I first learned about issues such as climate change and the importance of conservation.”

Over the years she has put this passion to good use, creating art prints with proceeds going towards various conservation efforts, including Kākāpō Recovery, Lake Rotokare Scenic Reserve and to aid wildlife impacted by the 2019/20 Australian bushfires.

Her art career started with one unexpected request from the other side of the planet.

“I simply posted a picture of a fish I had painted to a tropical fish-focused Facebook group, which received a lot of attention. This led to my first ever commission – a pet fish for a lady based in the United Kingdom. From there orders kept coming. And I haven’t looked back since!”

Many of her commissions are now of pets, work the young artist finds particularly fulfilling.

“Creating work for other people is incredibly rewarding and humbling, especially when I am the artist chosen to depict a pet that has passed away,” she says. “The opportunity to bring back to life a lost loved one through my work, followed by the family’s reaction to the artwork – that’s something that makes me very grateful for being able to do what I do.”

Ashley works best in night-owl mode, and paints from a simple home studio set up in her room. Outside of her commissioned pieces, she finds it hard to select a favourite subject but, when pushed, admits a “real soft spot for native New Zealand wildlife… that can’t be found anywhere else.”

She’ll often paint from her own photographs of birds as well as images suggested online. The toughest aspect to capture? “The eyes of a subject and their expression are very important to get right. This will impact the personality that is portrayed, and the eyes especially add an extra element of realism to a piece.”

For those wanting to explore Ashley’s work further, check out her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ashleynatureartist. There are plenty more incredible pieces to enjoy there!