In conversation with Roberta Ashley

"I feel so grateful to live in an era where we are all connected in this way and that we can find and be a part of a global tribe."  ~ Roberta Ashley

Photographer, stylist, shopkeeper & educator Roberta Ashley of Hunt The Pearl joins us to talk about her winding career path from corporate life to artist and how the two worlds serendipitously came together in her newest project. 

Tell us a little bit about you & what roads led to where you are now. 

I am a photographer, stylist, shopkeeper and educator living with my young son and partner, an interior architect, in the English countryside close to the sea. I divide my time between being a Mum, selling rustic wares for the home from my online shop and helping other brands develop their visual story with styling and photography. I really feel like I've been on a lifelong journey to get to where I am now and that it has had many a twisty path.

I have always been creative and had planned to pursue a creative life but made an abrupt about turn for reasons I will never fully understand and headed down a more academic and ultimately corporate route. I spent 15 years working in large, global businesses in talent management, helping people to develop their skills and businesses to nurture their potential. I’m a trained coach and have designed and delivered training programmes all over the world. I loved my work in many ways and managed to carve out a career that worked as much as it could for my values and strengths but I always felt like a fish out of water. It didn’t light my fire, fulfil my creativity or always sit with my core values.

I always had my creative outlets on the side - finding beautiful old pieces for my home and photography, as a hobby and then as a wedding photographer - and hoped that they could become the focus of my career one day. This time came when I had our son and we decided that I would stay at home with him. I started Hunt The Pearl when he was one and I’ve never looked back. I now get to do all the things I love, buying old pieces for the home, photography and styling for my own and other businesses and I still get to help others to develop through our online courses and mentoring. 

You have such a distinct individual style, where do you think your styling sensibility comes from? 

I have always been a visual person and have always noticed beauty and the aesthetics of the world around me. People have often said that I see things in a different way to them and spot beauty in things that they would never have looked at twice. My mum has always loved decorating and styling and my parents took us to auctions and antique shops most weekends when I was a child so I think that definitely helped to build my own sense of style. As a teenager, I would buy magazines and loved cutting out images that inspired me and creating little mood boards for my bedroom walls. I studied art at school and that laid the foundations for a life long love of galleries, art books, film and visual platforms like Instagram which have all helped to hone my own sense of style and creative eye. 

When you're on a shoot for Hunt The Pearl or other brands you work with, what part of the creative process energises you the most?

I love everything about a shoot, from spending time getting clear on the visual goals and collating inspiration, through to sketching out my ideas, styling a scene and the final capture and editing process.  The part that energises me the most though is without doubt, when we are shooting the images, when I have my camera in my hand and I am able to work with the beautiful light and capture that scene. I especially love the more candid or documentary moments; shooting a potter at their wheel or a shopkeeper in their happy place surrounded by the things they love. That is when I am absolutely in my flow!

How important has your community been in your success with Hunt The Pearl?

The community, the online, creative, global one, has been everything for me and Hunt The Pearl. It was the inspiration to get started in the first place and the support I have found for what I am doing has been just amazing. I feel so grateful to live in an era where we are all connected in this way and that we can find and be a part of a global tribe. I know the online community space has it’s challenges and there are some definite downsides to social media but I am just so thankful for how it has enabled me to connect with so many amazing people around the world who are now friends, customers, mentors and ongoing inspiration.     

How integral is beautiful imagery when it comes to communicating a brand's story online? 

Personally, I think consistently beautiful imagery is a crucial aspect of any brand’s online story; especially a creative one. Our world is increasingly visual and while the story you’re telling, the products or services you’re offering, and your brand’s values are all vital components; the visuals are that first connection point. Your images can say so much on their own and can really help to draw the people you want to talk to, to your brand. Having strong imagery that people recognise immediately as mine has definitely helped me to build Hunt The Pearl.     

Tell us what it was like bringing all of your knowledge & creativity together and designing your Product Styling & Photography course with your friend & interior stylist Karen Barlow? 

 Creating our course has been so amazing and I am so proud of what Karen and I have done together. I had the idea to develop something like this early on in my own business journey when I was building the look and feel for Hunt The Pearl. I tried to find a course that could help me to think it all through and hone my own styling skills and couldn’t quite find what I was looking for, so it had been there in the back of my mind to build one since then.

Karen and I were chatting about being a bit lost during lockdown in early 2021 so I mentioned my idea to her and asked her if she would like to work on it with me. Thankfully she jumped at the chance and so we spent three months building it and manically preparing for launch. It was so amazing to be able to bring my old world of designing and running training programmes together with my new world and to be able to share everything I know about my creative passions. It has been so well received and we have been blown away by the support. I have always believed in helping people grow their own potential and live their dreams. It has been the one constant in my career, so I am really glad that I am able to continue doing that.  

You recently bought a new home... congratulations! What has been your approach to styling your own home?

Thank you! Our approach has been to keep it simple and natural. We wanted to celebrate the remaining old features in our cottage; old beams, deep set windows, fireplace etc by keeping things minimal and simple around them.

We love rustic, natural textures and colours so our colour palette is earthy and raw and we have tried to bring natural elements in as much as possible so lots of wood, dried seed heads and foraged finds. We hand built our kitchen using reclaimed floorboards and old school lab worktops and are so happy with it’s simplicity and the natural tones. The house is calming and light. 

Now I have to ask, your previous home had gorgeous cosy dark hues on its walls & your new home is brightened by lovely white walls & floors. Have you noticed any differences in the way you move and live in the space with the different choice in paint colour?

Ah good spot and yes you’re right, a friend said that our new house is the reverse negative of our old one! We loved the old oak panelled walls and low ceilings in our old house. It was cosy and enveloping, especially in the winter months but we were ready for a bit more light again when we moved here and it has been nice to bring this into the house a bit more. Our house stays pretty light on gloomy days with the white walls and floors and we are enjoying that difference, for now. I think it does bring us a bit more energy and weirdly makes things feel a bit more calm. It certainly makes it easier to spot the cobwebs and dust so I am probably doing more cleaning than I used to do in our old house :)

What does a slow day look like for you?

A slow day for me is all about doing things that help me to relax and not stress about the million and one things on the to do list. It might involve being at home with my family, cooking and eating good food, playing with my son or going for a walk in the countryside around our home or along the coast. I guess it’s about slowing down to appreciate life’s simple pleasures and to feel restored.

What is your intention at this moment in your life?

This is quite a pertinent question for me as it’s the start of a new year and I absolutely love reflecting on where I am going in these early days and weeks. I have just done my 2022 vision board which is basically me setting my intentions for the year ahead.

For me, these are to continue doing what I love, to cherish these years with my young son, to further grow the photography and styling side of my business and to also carve out a bit more me time which has been a bit lacking over the past few years. Finding some time to do the things that I love and that inspire my creativity such as getting to more exhibitions or making time each day for some pilates will be the icing on the cake!

Photo credits: Images are all Roberta's own work. 

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