Artist residency at the Richards-Zawacki Lab

Ashley Cecil's sketchbook paintings of frogsApparently, once you start making artwork inspired by biological sciences, there’s no going back. Since embarking on one artist residency after another at science, natural history, and conservation-based organizations in Pittsburgh, I can’t imagine doing anything else. The swelling pressure to reconcile our strain on nature matched with the awe-inspiring aesthetic of life on this planet has me addicted to hanging out in science labs and closed-off museum collections. 2018 will be no exception.

Frogs studied by the Richards-Zawacki LabToday, I start a six-month residency at the Richards-Zawacki Lab (RZL) of the University of Pittsburgh. RZL studies “many aspects of the ecology, evolutionary biology, and conservation of amphibians.” I’m particularly interested in their research on whether climate change “shape[s] present day patterns of biodiversity” among amphibians.

I’ll draw inspiration for new artwork from the frogs RZL scientists study, such as leopard frogs and strawberry poison frogs (the latter are found in the Bocas del Toro archipelago of Panama, where PhD student Yusan Yang is pictured above). I have a hunch these vibrant amphibians will translate rather well into my patterned paintings of flora and fauna.

Wish me luck and stay tuned for news about an exhibition of this work, educational art and science workshops, and more.


Birds and Botany, an exhibition of my work at Phipps

It’s a pretty big deal to be invited to exhibit my work at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. And it’s an even bigger deal that the exhibition, Birds and Botany, is up during the holiday season. If you’ve ever been to Phipps during winter, you are well aware of the massive droves of people the holiday lights draw in, and my work greets the hundreds of thousands of visitors as they queue to get tickets. I like to think I’m offering visual enjoyment while they wait.

The show includes my original artwork resulting from my 2016 artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, as well as the related wallpaper, handmade scarf, and bird-safe window films. The paintings and scarves are available for sale at Phipps. The wallpaper and window films are special orders – shoot me an email for details.

The show is up well into 2018. I hope you’ll brave the cold to see it (the tropical temps inside the greenhouse make it especially worth it this time of year). 

Artwork of Ashley Cecil at Phipps

Wallpaper designed by artist Ashley Cecil installed at Phipps

Artwork of Ashley Cecil at Phipps


Avian bike rack for downtown Pittsburgh cyclists

I’ve done it. I’ve made my first legit artwork in three dimensions. The opportunity to create beyond a canvas came from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which commissioned this bike rack of the wing of Pennsylvania’s state bird – a Ruffed Grouse.

The process of working with the city (for design approvals) and fabricators including welding apprentices at the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh was especially exciting because I love a good technical challenge. Now with the learning curve behind me, I could have this or a similar bike rack built and installed within a few weeks. Want an avian-inspired bike rack outside your building? Let’s talk.

Bike rack designed by artist Ashley CecilBefore and after powder coating.

Bike rack designed by artist Ashley CecilThe bike rack being installed on Liberty Ave in downtown Pittsburgh. Photo by Seth Culp-Ressler.

Bike rack designed by artist Ashley CecilPhoto by Seth Culp-Ressler.


Dressing professionals in custom penguin neckwear

The beloved pattern of African Penguins I created in collaboration with Knotzland for Earth Day 2017 neckwear is in the spotlight once again – this time as both a bowtie AND a scarf for attendees of the African American Directors Forum in Pittsburgh.

Custom scarves and bowties for the African American Directors ForumThe request for the thoughtful gifts came from the gentleman who dreamed up the event, which was “designed to measurably improve diverse, and particularly African American, representation on the boards of publicly traded companies in the Pittsburgh region.” Instead of presenting the forum attendees with another tech device or engraved knickknack, he wanted guests to have something truly unique, memorable, handmade and with a Pittsburgh connection. That’s where Knotzland and I come in.

 Custom scarves and bowties for the African American Directors ForumThe original inspiration for the pattern of African Penguins was an Earth Day nod to the National Aviary’s efforts to conserve the endangered bird. This Pittsburgh organization houses a waddle of these penguins, which were my models for the ink painting used to make the repeating pattern. That design was printed on fabric and then made by hand in Pittsburgh into scarves and bowties.

Now, a crowd of stylish corporate directors and C-suite executives are sporting exclusive neckwear that supports local makers and advocating for environmental conservation (take that, tech-device-that-ends-up-in-the-junk-drawer!).

Hey, would you do me a huge favor? The next time you or someone in your orbit is shopping for a special gift for such an event (or maybe gifts for a wedding party, etc.), please send them this post. Knotzland and I love custom orders, and between our two respective products, we’ve got everyone on your list covered.


Ready or not, the holiday shopping season is here

Although it seems entirely impossible, it’s time for holiday shopping and I’m ready for you! Scarves and prints of my paintings of flora and fauna are bursting out of boxes ready to be packed in my car for the two upcoming shows I’ll be vending at this holiday season.

Wings & Wildlife Art Show 2017The first event is the Wings and Wildlife Art Show this weekend (November 4th and 5th) at the National Aviary. It’s fitting this show comes first since the latest addition to my line of products highlights the National Aviary’s own pair of Guam Kingfishers. Come shop and I’ll tell you all about this bird’s conservation story in person and see the rare birds yourself.

 

Handmade Arcade 2017And then, my friends, is the beloved Handmade Arcade on December 2nd. This shopping bonanza actually scares me a little – Handmade Arcade folks don’t joke around about making their purchases. Last year, I don’t think I made it to the bathroom the entire day because of the steady stream of shoppers, and someone actually insisted on buying the scarf I was wearing because I had sold out of that pattern. I’ve been practicing swiping credit cards and am ready for y’all!

Whether you’re in Pittsburgh to shop in person, or using the interwebs to get the job done, get your 15% off for subscribing to my updates – I really do appreciate that you follow my work. If we see each other in person, just remind me to apply your discount; if you’re shopping online…[only subscribers got the coupon code – sign yourself up to get on board].


My new studio assistant has arrived (and needs serious training)

Artist Ashley Cecil announces her new studio assistantHe’s here! The newest addition to my family and studio has arrived. As said on Instagram with a hint of honest sarcasm, he’s not very helpful yet, but he’s young and trainable.

So, now I get to blame all of my screw ups for the next year on baby-brain (honestly, I’m not sure I ever recovered from baby-brain from my now four-year-old). 


Welcoming 40+ art patrons for a studio visit

Not that long ago, I occupied a studio so cramped that I could almost touch opposing walls simultaneously by merely by extending my arms. Whenever I scheduled studio visits, I had to ask my guest if they were bringing anyone with them because, if they were, I had to rearrange furniture to accommodate. Not anymore.

Artist Ashley Cecil in her studioMy studio now calls to me to do cartwheels in it, just because I can. One of the best perks of so many square feet is the ability to host events and large groups in the space. Case in point, 40+ members of the Mattress Factory’s patrons group, Factory 500, recently made a visit.

Artist Ashley Cecil in her studioIt was lovely having such an engaged group peruse my space and ask about my process and reference materials (such as the museum bird specimens shown above), and make some purchases. The gathering was just in the nick of time – this was my last scheduled commitment before the arrival of my second bambino (I may have cracked a few jokes about watering breaking or inquiring who knew how to deliver a baby). Thank you to the Mattress Factory for coordinating! 


Inspiration during my Lacawac artist residency

This summer, I had the great honor of spending a week at the Lacawac Sanctuary and Biological Field Station as an artist in residence (with my toddler and mother-in-law in tow since they host parent artists and their families for a portion of their residency season). 

Artist Ashley Cecil at LacawacWhat I found most fascinating about Lacawac was that it boasts a now rare “sky lake,” or a lake purely filled by rain or other natural sources free from human contamination (such as chemicals from agricultural runoff, fuel from motorized boats, etc.). This, I learned, makes the lake very sought after by limnologists (folks who study inland waters). And so I got to tag along on some field research and learn about related topics such as lake browning.

Artist Ashley Cecil at LacawacMy own very non-scientific understanding of lake browning is that rising global temperatures equals more rain, which means more soil runoff, which clouds lakes and wreaks ecological havoc (someone much smarter than I can explain it like a pro). This was a sobering bit of knowledge to learn in parallel to taking in and sketching the natural beauty surrounding me.

Artist Ashley Cecil at LacawacThis trip was a lovely reprieve from the rush of my typical residencies where I need to make completed artwork while I’m there. It was an appreciated opportunity to read, research, think, document, sketch, and take in nature. I highly recommend it.


Four exhibitions in five months

From Pittsburgh to Austin to Baltimore, my work is finding its way to new galleries.

2017 has been a nonstop blur of activity, including participation in several group shows around the US. Each exhibition booked thus far is listed below, but I have the most to say about Wall Paintings: Storytellers because, well, I spent eight hours making my piece on the actual gallery wall. The group show of local artists was curated by Robert Raczka, a gentleman I met while installing a drawing on the taxidermy cases in Bird Hall of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Getting the obvious sense that I enjoy making art on non-traditional surfaces, Robert asked if I would be interested in contributing to this show, which is up at SPACE in downtown Pittsburgh through September 3.

For this exhibition, I wanted to stay with the same theme that Robert first associated with me – birds and natural history. I was fortunate to get a spot in the gallery close to the front window, which was perfect for my painted illustration of the problem of bird-window collisions. Here’s a sequence of progress shots as the painting unfolded:

 

As gallery visitors rolled in, it was encouraging to hear people ask about solutions to the problem and taking photos of the artwork to save the BirdSafe Pittsburgh website for reference. I explained some of the volunteer opportunities with BirdSafe Pittsburgh and directed them to websites where they find a list of products available for installation on their own windows to prevent the problem as well as my own bird-safe window films.

And for kicks, this is me early on in the process before I was sweating profusely in the summer heat with swollen ankles. As it turns out, being seven months pregnant is not a comfortable time to be on your feet all day. Being that the event was such an enormous success, it was all well worth it.

But Wall Paintings was only one of four shows for me this year. Here are the others I have/had the honor of contributing one or more of my BirdSafe Pittsburgh-inspired paintings on paper:

Life as We Knew It at Art.Science.Gallery

Life As We Knew It, Art.Science.Gallery, Austin, TX, May 2017

Artist Ashley Cecil participates in Art of Facts, an exhibition at the Heinz History Center

Art of Facts: Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories, Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, PA, July 22, 2017 – January 18, 2018

Birdland and the Anthropocene at the Peale Center

Birdland and the Anthropocene, the Peale Center, Baltimore, MD, October 6- 29, 2017


Partnership with the National Aviary highlights bird species extinct in the wild

Art and handmade goods support conservation of the Guam Kingfisher.

Guam KingfisherPhoto by Jeff Whitlock

A few miles away from my home in land-locked Pennsylvania, two exotic tropical birds are unknowingly under a lot of pressure to get it on. The male and female Guam Kingfishers, who live at the National Aviary, are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan to repopulate the bird species in its native Micronesia. The bird was wiped out in the wild decades ago when, as legend has it, a ship wrecked off the coast of Guam and the hitchhiking Brown Tree Snake swam ashore (sorry about the nightmares I just gave you) where it wreaked ecological havoc. With no predators on the island, the invasive snake gorged itself on native birds and wildlife. Today, less than 150 of the birds are alive, all in captivity, including the pair here in Pittsburgh.

The National Aviary's Guam Kingfisher

This conservation story is what compelled me to pick the Guam Kingfisher as the subject of my latest two paintings, prints of said paintings, a scarf, and note cards for my part in the Aviary’s Maker Challenge. This new program is forging partnerships between local Pittsburgh artists and the Aviary to make handmade products featuring resident birds available in the Aviary’s gift store.

And so with a study skin of a Kingfisher in hand, I set out to visually tell this bird’s story. I decided to create two paintings, or portraits you could say – one of each sex to emphasize the importance of the pair. Of course, I had to include the Brown Tree Snake, a key character in this story, as well as several invasive plant species in Guam.

painting of a Guam Kingfisher in progress by Ashley Cecil

As with most of my paintings, I drew my subjects on craft paper and cut them out to find their perfect place on background patterns of the invasive plants.

painting of a Guam Kingfisher in progress by Ashley Cecil

After tracing the silhouette of the drawings, I filled them in with an acrylic underpainting.

painting of a Guam Kingfisher in progress by Ashley Cecil

And then carefully rendered the likeness of the flora and fauna in oil paint.

Female Guam Kingfisher on Red by Ashley Cecil

Here are the two finished 18″ x 24″artworks on paper.

Fabric featuring Guam Kingfishers by Ashley Cecil

But I rarely stop at finishing a painting, and this was no exception. I used the two images to digitally create a repeating pattern for a new scarf.

 Guam Kingfisher scarf by Ashley Cecil

All of the corresponding products will be sold at the Aviary’s gift store this August. Each item purchased by an Aviary visitors will support the their conservation work, including plans to reintroduce the Guam Kingfisher into the wild.

If physically visiting the Aviary isn’t in the cards for you, these items are also available on my shop. The original paintings are available direct from my studio – just shoot an email to ashley (at) ashleycecil (dot) com to get additional details.


Four new giclee prints available

After many requests, several of my recent paintings are now available as giclee prints.

Hot off the printer, these four paintings are in stock as giclee prints. As with all of my giclees, they are signed and printed on archival fine art paper with a 1/2″ white border. Click on the artwork titles below for more details. Happy shopping!

Common Starlings on Purple  (16″x24″) features Common Starlings, orchids, and beetles over a botanical motif inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement.

Gyrfalcons on Gray (16″x24″) features flora and fauna found in the Arctic including Gyrfalcons, Saxifrage, Mountain Avens, an Arctic While Butterly, and Black Blister Beetles.

 

Female Guam Kingfisher on Red by Ashley Cecil

Female Guam Kingfisher on Red and Male Guam Kingfisher on Red (each 10″x13″) features one of the National Aviary’s Guam Kingfishers, a bird species extinct in the wild due to the accidental introduction of the Brown Tree Snake. These rare birds are part of a breeding program aimed at reintroducing this species into the wild.


Art in your mailbox

It’s time once again for your mailbox to receive some artistic love. My next full-color 5.5″x8.5″ postcard featuring one of my latest paintings is about to be mailed far and wide. This colorful and frameable antidote to unsolicited restaurant menus comes three times a year. You can get your subscription in my shop, or give the gift of tiny flora and fauna art to the person in your life who also needs a break from cringe-inducing junk mail.


Paper collage art for bird-safe windows

Paper collage workshop for bird-safe windows at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh by Ashley Cecil

I recently had the great honor of making Charley Harper-inspired paper collages with budding naturalists at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. But this wasn’t purely about crafting for the sake of creative expression; our creations were bona fide conservation tools. Yes, once laminated, the avian collages were hung on the outside of the artists’ windows to break up the reflection on glass that causes bird-window collisions (one of the leading causes of bird fatalities to the tune of up to one billion birds a year in the US alone).

The workshop came to be after the museum’s program manager learned about my work at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and asked if I would be interested in offering an art and science activity to their museum visitors. Not only did I enthusiastically say yes, I invited the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania to partake in the fun. They were on-site to take visitors out on mini birding walks and to show them how to log what they found on eBird

These kids blew me away. Not only was the activity a win for a surprisingly wide variety of ages, each and every one of them was incredibly focused on the task. I can honestly say I have never taught a workshop with such flawless success (hopefully I’m not jinxing future workshops).

Case in point, the collage above on the right was made by a girl maybe three years old. For those of you not familiar with the dexterity of toddlers, merely holding scissors at that age is a feat of great accomplishment.

And the adults were just as engaged. I think a few of them were using their kids as an excuse to get in on the action.

I’ll close with this little guy, who totally gets Charley Harper. Before I understood were he was going with his collage, I almost interjected and tried to offer help thinking he didn’t grasp the concept. Luckily, I kept my mouth shut and was wowed when I realized this kids knows what he’s doing with scissors and a glue stick.

If you’re interested in hosting such a workshop, get in touch via ashley (at) ashleycecil (dot) com.


New artist residency in science scheduled at Lacawac Sanctuary

My adventure of artist residencies in science is gaining momentum. Just a few days ago, I was accepted into Lacawac Sanctuary’s Parent Residency Program. That means I’ll be spending a week this summer at the nature preserve and biological field station making new artwork inspired by their “natural living laboratory for field-based research and education.”

Lacawac Sanctuary lake and woodsThe parent track of their artist residency program will allow my toddler and mother-in-law to come with me (a rare and greatly appreciated accommodation for an artist with a young family). While they enjoy the 545 acres along the shore of Lake Wallenpaupack, I will be focusing on new nature and science-inspired artwork.

Lacawac Sanctuary educational programmingWhat will make this an exceptional opportunity is meeting with scientists at Lacawac conducting research on topics including climate change. In particular, I look forward to learning about Lacawac’s multiple environmental monitoring systems that collect data on long-term changes in the lake’s water temperature, dissolved oxygen and algae levels, and more.

All of this data is shared worldwide, making Lacawac part of a Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network. The data has been used for tangible applications such as analyzing lake ecosystems following increasingly frequent hurricanes AND as inspiration for artists.

Lacawac lodging and weather stationAlthough I’m very much looking forward to the residency, my son might possibly be more excited about our week in this Northeastern corner of Pennsylvania. The kid loves all that nature has to offer – especially bugs and anything water-related. The experience will surely get Lacawac one step closer to its goal of “shaping the next generation of scientists and earth stewards.”


Making for makers at the CREATE Festival

You’re doing something right when asked to make awards to honor fellow creatives for their talent.

Over the past 10 months, I’ve been participating in the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s (PTC) Co-CREATE Program (think of it as a business course tailored to Pittsburgh artist and creatives). In addition to workshops on intellectual property, marketing and more, my cohorts were a fantastic focus group that helped me navigate launching my first bird-safe window films.

 Awards for the 2017 CREATE Festival by Ashley Cecil
The opportunity also led to an exciting commission – designing and fabricating awards for artists and makers recognized at the PTC’s CREATE Festival on June 1. This was the reason I needed to finally prioritize mastering use of a laser cutter to fabricate my hand-painted designs as 3D artwork. This design, adapted from my 2016 series of bird conservation paintings, appropriately features Mountain Laurel (Pennsylvania’s state flower) and the dearly loved PA Keystone symbol. 

Awardees of the 2017 CREATE Festival
It warmed my heart to see more than a dozen people I look up to receive these awards (shown above from left to right: Ricardo Iamuuri Robinson, Nisha Blackwell, Lenka Clayton, and Jon Rubin). They’re doing the work in the arts and creative industries that make Pittsburgh distinct and exceptional.

Drawing installation at the August Wilson Center by Ashley Cecil
The festival was also an opportunity for me to talk about how art can support bird conservation. Festival-goers first saw my pattern of bird local species drawn on the windows of the August Wilson Center where the festival was held. A few words about the impact of bird-window collisions were included in the installation on the highly reflective glass – an appetizer alluding to more to come on the topic during my presentation title, “Bird Conservation Through Art and Science.” 

Artist Ashley Cecil presents at the 2017 CREATE Festival
On stage, Matt Webb (the Urban Bird Conservation Coordinator for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History) and I shared our experience of collaborating during my artist residency at the museum in 2016 in creating patterns for windows that would prevent birds from flying into the reflective surfaces. The CREATE Festival offered the perfect stage (literally and figuratively) to announce the first of two new bird-safety films featuring my artwork were on the market.

It’s wonderful to live in Pittsburgh where there’s meaningful and growing support of what my fellow creatives and I do.