MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Five years ago, Edina native Ashley Mary decided to go back to school. She left her full-time job at a local church to pursue a degree in graphic design from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

That risk turned into a big reward.

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Step inside Mary’s Northeast Minneapolis studio and you are surrounded by kinds of color. Even on a cloudy day, the pinks, purples, yellows and shades of blue with the stroke of her brush are ubiquitous.

“I don’t come to my art as being a perfectionist,” Mary said. “I want to have room to play, to mess up and try again, and put layers on top of something. That’s how I treat life and I love that sense of exploration.”

She now lives close to her Northup King Building office, but this isn’t the career she anticipated.

“As a kid, I expressed my creative abilities in singing, acting, plays or lack thereof,” she said.

She didn’t start painting until college; at first it was just for fun, and then it became more. Her degree in graphic design from MCAD allowed her more freedom to transfer her work on the pallet to print or patterns.

“It’s definitely a hustle. I do wear a lot of hats — while I’m also a painter, illustrator, graphic designer for clients, I also do prop styling and client direction,” said Mary, “I have to keep my hands busy. I made these earrings I’m wearing.”

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She usually starts her pieces by ripping paper from colors she sees in magazines or even paint swatches.

“It’s just a matter of arranging a puzzle that you don’t have a set pattern, you might to see what fits or trim it a little.”

Some pieces started out that same way and one now even sits in the corner of her studio. You may have seen her work at Target. She worked Minneapolis based Design Loop on these cellphone cases.

“It’s always a little surreal when you see your product or name, and I feel really fortunate for the opportunity … It planted a seed in me and it’s given me a sense of direction,” Mary said. “The longer you’re here it makes it harder to leave, it’s really about the sweet people and the connections you make here and especially in the creative community, I’m constantly meeting people I’m inspire by and want to work with.”

While this acrylic artist’s work has evolved the past nine years, her commitment to bright, beautiful colors has not waivered.

“I have always described my art as really playful, really light and really happy,” Mary said.

It’s hard not to feel happy when you’re surrounded by all this color.

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For more information about Art-a-Whirl, where you will be able to see her work, click here.