Ashley Bennett-Riley labels herself a talker.
"I'm seriously the most chatty person ever," she laughs.
But, she just gets excited—especially when she's talking about any of her many passions: her husband, Brad; her art; or her business, Facing the Sunshine Stationery and Design.
And fortunately for her—and for her customers—she's immersed in passion every day as she creates unique items in her Nashville studio.
Facing the Sunshine's product line consists of colorful, fun artwork that Ashley carefully crafts into everyday items. The website, shopfacingthesunshine.com, features greeting cards with sassy messages, art prints with cartoonish or abstract images, quirky coffee mugs, and more. It's all part of Ashley's vision to make "weirdly wonderful" products that give others joy.
"I try to make things that I like, and I just hope and pray that other people like them, too," she says. "So, it's really nice when I order a batch of cards and put them out there and make myself a little vulnerable. And then, people actually do end up liking them and relating to them. I think that is probably one of the most rewarding things about making art that's true to yourself."
The business began in 2015, shortly after Ashley graduated from Transylvania University in Lexington with a degree in English. Like many young millennials, she had trouble finding a job to suit her skills and passions. So, her parents, who live in Marshall County, offered some valuable advice: Why not sell artsy crafts and stationery pieces? She already made them as a hobby—maybe they could earn her a living.
And, as parents often are, they were right.
Ashley started designing and selling fun cards and mugs, along with creating bespoke pieces like invitations and programs for weddings and logos for businesses. She even crafted the stationery for her own wedding to Brad Riley in 2017—along with a massive, abstract art piece that served as the focal point of their ceremony's décor. (Read about her wedding in Paducah Life’s 2018 Wedding Book.)
She says that now, Facing the Sunshine not only gives her an outlet for creativity and a way to support herself, but it also creates special moments that she treasures with her customers. "I think one of my favorite things is when I'm at an event or someone stops by the studio, they'll pick up a card, and I'll hear them say, 'Oh my gosh, this reminds me of Mom or Dad,'" she says. "I just love when people find a connection."
And Ashley also wants to encourage each person who falls in love with one of her off-beat designs. She wants them to know that "weird" is beautiful, and she hopes to empower them to access their own wells of creativity.
"Art should make you feel inspired and uncomfortable and brave," she says. "And, I think my style is very weird and very colorful and, hopefully, brave. I just hope it inspires them to make art that makes them happy, too."
At the moment, customers can find Ashley's products in Paducah's Bricolage Art Collective and, of course, on her website. Or you can stop by her studio at 100 Taylor Street, Suite B10 in Nashville to peruse her wares and maybe pause to talk.
Ashley would love nothing more than to sit down with a customer for a lovely, long chat about passion, happiness, and art.