Photo Gallery

By Kristina Pritchett

Ever since she was a child, Ashley Keene knew she wanted to be an artist.

“I remember painting with crayons a little mermaid scene on my desk when I was little and my mom getting mad about it,” Keene said smiling. “I told her, ‘It’s a work of art.’”

Since then, she knew it was ingrained in her to be an artist.

And now, at 31 years old, she’s made art her career.

Keene’s work has been seen in Dana Point during the Elephant Parade, on one of the kickball walls at R.H. Dana Elementary School, on a utility box in San Clemente and on public art banners in Laguna Beach. She’s had showcases, and has been a part of art walks and shows.

In 2013, when the life-size elephant statues came to Dana Point, Keene said it was a special moment to produce art in the project.

“I didn’t realize it was going to be such a big event,” Keene said. “I was really honored to be the local chosen artist, and it was a lot of fun.”

She said she was able to work with kids on painting miniature versions of the elephants and was extremely pleased when her statue sold.

“A good amount of money went to Asian elephants; I was really proud of that,” Keene said.

Last year, Keene submitted her work for R.H. Dana Elementary School’s 50th anniversary.

“I grew up in Dana Point, both of my parents went to Dana Hills, (and) my grandma has lived here for 43 years,” Keene said. “It was suiting to be able to design the mural.”

Today, though Keene has moved to San Clemente, her mural still stands brightly on the kickball wall on the school’s blacktop with a design of whales and other marine life swimming, a tall ship in the background with the iconic bluffs.

Keene said she enjoys doing public art pieces and feels it’s part of her duty as an artist.

“I feel obligated a little bit to get my art out there,” Keene said. “I want to give my local community some art.”

Currently, Keene works freelancing gigs and works on different pieces on commission.

“I do graphic design, I do murals or renovations,” Keene said. “I do different commissions from things like surfboards and skateboards, sometimes broken records.”

Using recycled materials is important to Keene and growing up in Dana Point only cemented that philosophy.

“I think people are always breaking boards and trashing them, and they can be utilized still. I want to help preserve the area, and I’m always looking to do that in an art form,” Keene said.

The surfboard artwork began when she was interning at Lost Surfboards in San Clemente. She said her boss showed her videos of how to paint on the boards and from there, it stuck.

“A lot of my friends would break their boards and just throw them away, so I would take them, clean them up and paint on them,” Keene said. “I feel like they have some character because it had a life before me and it was something someone loved.”

The iconic beaches have inspired her, and many Dana Point locals would recognize her scenic pieces.

“My dad lives right over there,” Keene said pointing to the residences across the street from the parking lot that leads to Strands Beach. “I grew up coming here, and it’s always been a part of my life.”

Along with Strands Beach, her most recent piece showcases Killer Dana.

Keene said some of her other inspirations come from her annual trips to Yosemite with her family and everyday life.

“We always go hiking and camping so I’ve grown up in the outdoors,” Keen said. “Those things are usually what inspire me.”

When asked what her favorite piece of artwork was, she said it’s usually her most current piece.

“They’re all kind of snapshots of what I’m going through,” Keene said. “As I go on, I like the most recent thing I’m doing. It’s kind of like writing a book, but a visual one. Whatever is going on in my life comes out in the art piece.”

She said she works on making each piece better than the last and wants to continue to grow.

“I’ve fine-tuned it a little bit, I’m trying to put more time into [the craft] to make those finishing details really pop,” Keene said. “Hopefully, throughout my career it will always be getting better because I never want to say I’ve reached this point where I want to be; I always want to be getting better.”

Lately, Keene said she hasn’t been showcasing her work as much because she’s focusing on creating more pieces.

“I’ve been painting more rather than worrying about showcasing as much,” Keene said. “I definitely want to and plan to in the future, I just want to get prints available to be able to sell them.”

Keene will be one of the artists at the Dana Point ArtFest on May 21, which runs along Del Prado.

To see her work, visit www.shleeart.net.

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