We're longtime fans of Ashley Marti here at WM Goods. Her Portland based blog, Local Haven
and coordinating Instagram
account are the stuff of dreams, filled with gorgeous photos and delicious recipes featuring local and seasonal ingredients. When she's not creating inspiring content for her own brand, she works as a prop and food stylist and creative consultant on commercial and editorial photoshoots and well as styling over 25 cookbooks.
In preparation for our July Create + Connect featuring Ashley (details below), we sat down to ask her a few questions regarding how she got into food styling (what is that, even?), how to balance the freelance life and her favorite spots around Portland.
You work as a food stylist and recipe developer, among other things. Can you give us a brief description of what it means to be a food stylist?
A Food Stylist is someone that is hired by a photographer, agency, or brand to present the food or product in a visually appealing way based off of the clients’ mood board and vision. This can include recipe testing days before a shoot to ensure that the final result will look camera ready. Sourcing and shopping for the shoot, arriving on set with a (secret) bag of tools, making the food (sometimes that means making very fake food), plating the food, and touching up the food until the shot happens.
Did you grow up cooking or surrounded by cooks? Was there someone or something that inspired you pursue a career working with food?
I grew up surrounded by a lot of cooks in the family. But really it came from being a stylist in apparel and footwear for so many years and coming home at night and cooking up dinners or baking treats for friends. It allowed me to express my creativity in a much different way than I did in my day to day job. Eventually I needed to move on from styling athletic wear. One day a photographer friend of mine needed extra set of hands on a food set and I stepped in. Six years later I’m still here.
Portland has an incredible food scene, from restaurants to markets to producers and growers. How has living in Portland helped or challenged you with the growth of your career.
In my early days of this newer career move it helped me greatly that Portland (which can be a very small town in the food industry) was such a creative, innovative, and food driven town. Brands and magazines didn’t necessarily always have the biggest budgets, but the amount that I learned putting myself out there to take as many jobs that I could really helped me absorb this industry and challenge myself greatly. I’m a big believer in the early years to work very hard, assist experts, make little money, until you develop your craft. Now my clients are based 85% outside of Portland (mainly in NY, LA and SF), however I always jump at the opportunity to work with a smaller local brand when the opportunity comes up.
You have an incredible following on Instagram. How has social media influenced and affected your career path.
Oh, how Instagram has changed! We had it easy in the early days. That being said, I worked really hard to make my content visually appealing, very (very!) consistent, and stayed engaged with my audience. In very little time my following grew, I got recognized by many larger accounts, and new opportunities started coming my way. I urge everyone from freelancers to brands to take the time to build an account that is beautiful, visually consistent, and a little bit fun! Instagram allows us to show our work in a way that didn’t exist before, beyond your portfolio (which I still believe to be very, very important, so please keep your portfolio updated!). I am very grateful to have a lot of very wonderful opportunities come up because of the account I have created and maintained on Instagram. From big magazine features, being hired on wonderful cookbooks, to traveling to Europe. It is not always easy, and often times discouraging, but if you can find a way to share your unique voice with others, then the rewards are endless.
Your recipes are so tasty, beautiful and veggie heavy (with some sweets and cocktails mixed in of course). What inspires your cooking?
Seasonal, local produce from farmers growing beautiful food in my area, always and forever! As well, I love to eat out and experience other chef’s interpretations of food. They are constant inspiration and I love trying to recreate their dishes at home! I’m also a cookbook collector and love not only looking at the photos and reading recipes, but to read the how’s and the why’s. How they became a food writer, and the steps they took along the way.
Freelance can mean working like crazy for what feels like weeks and months at a time with few breaks between jobs followed by slow periods. Do you have any tips for finding work/life balance while working freelance?
To be honest, work/life balance is a daily juggle, and something I’m always working to improve. To making sure that I am devoting the time I need to myself and my family, while at the same time continuing to put my work out there and staying relevant in a competitive market. As for the highs and the lows, I would say what I have learned most of the years is that you always need to be setting aside money to save. Because it does not matter how great your last month was, or what you made last year, you can truly never predict what your income will be in the months to come. So, when you land that big job, have fun, maybe even reward yourself, but then tuck the rest away.
Where do you hope to see yourself and your career in 5 years?
It’s hard to say what will happen to social media in 5 years, but what I know is that my portfolio will continue to build and represent what I can and want to do. I hope to still be food styling and taking on more creative directing roles. I’m currently working on a book and hope, if I can survive this one, to make many more books. I’ve styled over 25 books and I’m thrilled with the opportunity to make something that is my passion and style.
What are your favorite restaurants, coffee shops, and hidden gems in Portland?
I heart this question because I truly believe we are so lucky in Portland! Let’s talk restaurants… for Dinner: Coquine, Kachka, Lovely’s Fifty Fifty, Han Oak, Ava Gene’s, Afuri, Tusk! Lunch: Guero, Hat Yai, Bollywood Theater, Nong’s (which is my favorite food on shoots for lunch), Matt’s BBQ. Brunch: Maurice, Tusk and Proud Mary. Drinks: Expatriate, Canard, Pepe Le Moko, Angel Face. Quick Stops: I love what Holiday is doing (revival of Roman Candle). I adore Upper Left for coffee and they have a great food program. I love Tea Bar. Heart Coffee is pretty amazing. And Stumptown is always a favorite. Shopping: hello WM Goods! Frances May, Alder + Co, Palace, Beam + Anchor, and Canoe.
Thank you Ashley!