OKC Artist, Ashley Showalter, and Her Journey to Mental Wellness - 405 Magazine

OKC Artist, Ashley Showalter, and Her Journey to Mental Wellness

Discover how Ashley Showalter found solace and healing through art.

Artist Ashley Showalter shot for 405M May 2024 issue by Charlie Neuenschwander.

Ashley Showalter calls herself an “accidental abstract artist.” In 2014, while attending the University of Oklahoma, Showalter experienced a mental health crisis. When she entered treatment, she was encouraged to draw. Though she remembered doubting her artistic abilities, she said the relief she found while creating was immediate. She has been drawing ever since. 

Showalter’s art may have started more or less on a whim, but her bright and pattern-filled pieces feel delightfully intentional. The portraits she created during the COVID pandemic, inspired by her followers’ Instagram selfies, are reminiscent of Picasso’s cubist works, infused with color and personality.

Artist Ashley Showalter working on her latest piece. Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander.

Today Showalter is an avid recovery advocate, working for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and often participating in mental health conversations. We recently spoke with her about her art, job and mental health journey — and how they all connect.

Q: How does your artwork relate to your mental well-being?

A: “Art helps me tolerate tough emotions, and I can get them out in a healthy way. So when I draw, I hyper-focus on the details of my drawing. And a lot of times my mind will become very quiet. It’s almost like a meditation. It’s just something that’s been a regular part of my routine since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.”

Q: Tell me about the patterns — the checkerboards, polka dots and leopard prints — in your portraits. 

A: “In my recovery journey, another coping skill that helps me stay well is dressing well. Fashion is one of my hobbies. And so, when it comes to the pattern work that’s in my portraits, a lot of those come from fashion, inspired by patterns you see in clothing. My favorite part of my portraits is making the outfits.”

Inside Ashley Showalter’s Oklahoma City studio. Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander.

Q: Do you have a favorite piece you’ve created?

A: “My favorite piece is called “You’re All Invited.” I’m a really inclusive, optimistic person, so I think that title fits my personality — but I love the painting itself … During COVID, I propped up a giant canvas.. It was like 2 feet by 4 feet, and I took out Posca pens, which are my favorite drawing paint-pen tools, and I just made face after face after face that was unique. I ended up making over 300 faces on one painting … I just made them all different; not one face is like another.”

Q: Your mental health journey plays into your artwork as well as your job as a children’s outpatient case manager. What is that like?

A: “I mainly work with teenagers. That’s kind of my jam house; I really like working with transitional ages. My role is helping support them with gaining independence or learning how to take care of their mental illness … If someone is struggling with something that I can relate to, I will share a small part of my story to help support them and give them hope or guidance on maybe what worked for me.”

Q: What do you want viewers to see in your artwork?

A: “Well, I like using art as a way to talk about mental health. So, when they view my art, I want them to think about hope and how healing is possible, and that the world can be bright and colorful.”

Painting by OKC Artist, Ashley Showalter. Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander.
Interested in checking out more local artists? We spoke with 4 artists in the metro on their creativity and inspiration in this feature.