Black Rabbit Studios - Ashley
Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to illustrate children’s books?
My name is Ashley or ‘Terra Mar’ and I am an illustrator, author and architect. I own my own illustration company called Black Rabbit Studios that is based in Ottawa.
I have always loved to read and watch stories. I recently found a box of old sketchbooks full of stories and comics I made in my childhood. So the need to imagine and bring stories to life has always been an underlying drive of mine! Nature and the natural world is a big inspiration to my artwork, I find natural organic forms fascinating to draw.
As for inspiration each story it is different and unique depending on the story’s message. The inspiration for Umi’s Quills was actually based on a dream I had one night that involved feathers growing everywhere.
I remember when I was a child, an adult that I cannot remember the identity of, asked me what I did on the 45 minute bus ride to school every day. I told her I imagined stories. She commented on imagination and how I should enjoy it. I was confused and asked her why, and she said because most adults like herself grow up and lose the ability to imagine.
How did you become an illustrator?
I learned how to draw and create very early on - my mom gave me colored markers before I could walk. She stuck me on a giant pad of teachers’ paper and I had my first taste of creating.
How I became an illustrator is a little more intentional! I would often give drawings or illustrations as gifts to friends and family. From there, I would get requests to create illustrations for a friend of a friend. At this point I realized illustration was something I could turn from a hobby into a career. I soon after registered and created an illustration business called Black Rabbit Studios. This was in 2012, so Black Rabbit Studios is now 6 years old!
How did the name Terra Mar come to be?
I wanted a pen name that had a nice flow to it and easily pronounced. The name ‘Terra Mar’ is actually a simplified derivative of my given name. ‘Tara’ being my middle name and ‘Mar’ which is short for my last name – Marcynuk. ‘Tara’ became ‘Terra’, as I felt it represented a stronger tie to my work, which is heavily inspired by nature.
How many children’s books have you been part of to date?
I have been part of three published books and 4 books created specifically for single print use for individuals/children.
My first children’s book publication is one I both wrote and illustrated, called Umi’s Quills. It is a story about a little fox who wants to fly. It is a poetic rhyming text with Umi exploring emotions and recalling attempts to fly, including gluing feathers to its legs. The book is 40 pages (20 spreads) and left primarily in black and white to encourage coloring by its young readers.
The second children’s book is called All Creation Represented: A Child’s Guide To The Medicine Wheel. It is written by Joyce Perreault and published by Peppermint Toast Publishing. It is a teaching resource for children told from the perspective of an Anishinaabe Ojibwe knowledge holder. The book explains the Medicine Wheel and how different parts of life are connected and balanced with one another.
The third book, If Instead Of A Person, is in the final stages of being published by Peppermint Toast Publishing.
When you aren’t busy creating and illustrating what do you do for fun?
If I am not creating I am most likely tending to my patio garden, cooking a new recipe, or attending a dance class. I absolutely love contemporary dance and the forms you can create with you body as well as the emotions you can project and evoke.
Is there a project you are most proud of that you can tell us about?
This is a bit of a sneaky answer as the project I am most proud of will likely always be the one I am currently working on. At the moment that is a graphic novel called Kuro. It is the whimsical tale of a timid spirit named Kuro and his bargain with a soul collector. The theme of the story explores the bonds of friendship between two creatures – a spirit and a dog. I should mention this story for an older preteen/teen audience, unlike previous books I have been part of.
How does Ottawa play a role or provide a backdrop for your creativity?
Ottawa is gorgeous city with unique buildings downtown, and I love all the greenery it provides. The seasons of the year here, although sometimes extreme (+40 to -40), create a great flow of change that really gets your mind, body and spirit moving.
If you aren’t home is there a favourite coffee shop or place in the city you go, to sketch and come up with ideas?
My favorite coffee shop is the Art House Café on Somerset Street. It has a lovely atmosphere and great events. However, most of my ideas end up coming from travelling through Ottawa, whether it be on the transitway, or walking along the canal or through the Glebe. They are funny places to get inspiration, but I think when I am physically moving my ideas also get moving. I always end up scribbling or jotting notes for later on my phone as I’m going.
What is your favourite neighbourhood in Ottawa?
My favorite neighbourhood would be the Glebe, but all te neighbourhoods in Ottawa have their different vibes and charm, so it is difficult to choose! I would go with the Glebe because I love older buildings and architecture. Buildings with character really lend themselves to stories of the past.
Was there ever a big break or opportunity as an illustrator that gave you the feeling you have to pinch yourself in fear that you might just be dreaming?
No big break yet but fingers crossed! Although I did have to pinch myself a few times after seeing the final print of Umi’s Quills. Having all your efforts and ideas coming together to create something tangible was something surreal.
Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon?
There are a number of exciting projects on the horizon aside from Kuro, the one I mentioned earlier. All of them are in conceptual phase by the authors and getting the stories tweaked just right. One is an educational book and another is one that helps children deal with specific fears….but I am afraid I cannot give any more information just yet! :)