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. 


Now available: art for bird-safe windows

Big news! My artwork is available as bird-safe window films.

Have you ever been enjoying a cup of coffee while soaking up the sunshine pouring in from the window next to you when a bird, seemingly on a suicide mission, slams into the glass at full force? This is not a rare occurrence. Bird-window collisions are one of the leading causes of bird fatalities. Up to one billion birds die annually in the US alone from flying into reflective glass.

During my 2016 artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I learned a great deal about this problem, including how the loss in bird populations impacts us – birds aid in pest control, pollinate plants, disperse seeds, and more.

This problem can be prevented by installing bird-safe windows or window films that break up the reflection on glass that’s fatal to these creatures. But here’s the rub, in my personal opinion, most of the products currently available on the market are quite frankly not that attractive. One particular variety, vertical stripes, is effective but also will make your windows resemble a jail cell. Nothing I’m aware of offers much aesthetic value. However, as of yesterday, that’s no longer the case.

I’ve shared my pattern featuring six species of high-risk birds with Decorative Films, a company already in the bird-safety window film business. They’ve fabricated the pattern into two varieties of window films – one is a subtle design of a transparent soft gray where the negative space of the pattern is clear film for minimal obstruction of your view; the other is in full color for privacy and maximum window pizazz (click the photos below to be taken to the corresponding product).

I can’t wait to see these installed in homes and commercial buildings. If you’re a Pittsburgh customer, I hope you’ll consider getting in touch with me at ashley (at) ashleycecil (dot) com so I can connect you with the BirdSafe Pittsburgh coordinator – they’re looking for building owners willing to offer their home or commercial property for bird-window collision monitoring before and after the films are installed.

Please share your thoughts on the films and share the films with friends!

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil


Deck your walls with flora and fauna wallpaper

At long last, it’s here! Wallpaper that is.

Wallpaper by Pittsburgh artist installed in the artist's home

If I had a dollar for every time someone who bought one of my scarves said, “you should print this on wallpaper,” I could have already wallpapered my own house in gold (instead it’s now wallpapered with my own designs). Problem solved because it’s now available on my shop.

Each standard roll of this woven wallpaper is 2′ wide by 12′ long and printed in the US. The material is eco-friendly and contains no formaldehyde, phthalates, or PVC. The self-adhesive backing is mess-free, repositionable during installation, durable, and easily removable (pretty much perfect, right?). Rolls cut to a custom length can be ordered to fit your specific space and minimize waste. Simply send your wall dimensions to me at ashley (at) ashleycecil (dot) com for a quote.

Museum Flora and Fauna, a wallpaper design by Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil
This pattern, titled Museum Flora and Fauna, features birds, bugs, and botany from Pittsburgh museums including Phipps, the National Aviary, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.


Extinct, a wallpaper design by Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil
This pattern, titled Extinct Birds, is my newest creation. I was inspired to make the original artwork of bird species lost forever after reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction.
Nursing Mammals on Blue, a wallpaper design by Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil
And this beauty is one of three color versions of a pattern of nursing mammals, which I developed during my artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.


Collaboration with Knotzland: my patterns on eco-friendly bow ties

If you’ve ever wished I offered more masculine goods, today is your today.

Ashley Cecil Knotzland bow ties

I’ve partnered with Nisha Blackwell, the founding rockstar of Knotzland, to put my nature-themed patterns on her artisan bow ties for both dapper guys and fashion-forward gals.

Sketches by Ashley Cecil for bow ties patterns

The idea was hatched at my studio while Nisha and I brainstormed conservation-centric design and fashion for this upcoming Earth Day (April 22). Later, I made drawings for two new textile designs – a botanical pattern of plants found in Pennsylvania, and a pattern of African Penguins (the beloved residents of the nearby National Aviary and also an endangered species).

Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil collaborates with Knotzland Bow Ties

This limited edition of neckwear is more than handmade and handsome – it’s also extra eco-friendly. Nisha and I saw our collaboration as a perfect opportunity to involve two other Pittsburgh companies to deepen this Earth Day story of environmentally-friendly goods created by independent makers. First, we reached out to Thread International, the East Liberty-based textile company manufacturing fabrics from post-consumer plastics sourced in Haiti and Honduras. Thread provided the necessary yardage for the edition of 12 bow ties (six of each pattern). The final partner, Modesto Studios, a Wilkinsburg-based print shop, silk-screened my designs onto the fabric. The last hands to craft the neckwear were Knotzland stitchers, Pittsburgh residents often apprentices in training on their way to launching their own textile businesses.

The small batch of bow ties are now available online, just in time for you to snag one and sport it at the many upcoming Earth Day events near you.


Art, technology, and bird songs all wrapped up in Dawn Chorus

If you use a smartphone, love the sound of songbirds, and appreciate nature art, then this post is for you.

During my artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I crossed paths with technologists at the Innovation Studio, “the design, development and workflow laboratory at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.” After a few chats about possible ways of blending physical art and museum-centered technology, we found a first fit in Dawn Chorus, the newly launched alarm app for smartphones that stirs you from slumber by the call of songbirds (download it on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store).

Screenshots of the Dawn Chorus, a smartphone alarm app that wakes you up to the sound of songbirds

In nature, a dawn chorus is a swelling serenade of songbirds beginning at the break of day. In this digital version, you can set the time of the chorus and snooze it. There’s also information about each of the featured bird species, including conservation risks, and ways to help the feathered vocalists. 

Screenshots of Dawn Chorus, a smartphone alarm app that artist Ashley Cecil contributed botanical art to.
App screenshots curiosity of the Innovation Studio

My contribution to the visual interface of the app is modest – the botanical accents of Mountain Laurel, which you may remember from my bird conservation-inspired residency paintings and pattern (and this scarf). The wonderful bird illustrations are by the talented Sam Ticknor.

Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil's handmade infinity scarf 

Go on and download it. You know waking up to the sound of a Magnolia Warbler or a Scarlet Tanager will make you much happier than your phone’s default alarm.


Write to legislators with resistance postcards

Many of you are writing to your legislators expressing concerns regarding a plethora of topics deeply impacted by new leadership and proposed policy change. Thank you! If you’d like to add powerful visual messages to your snail mail efforts, Kelly Beall, the mastermind behind Design Crush, has made over 40 illustrated resistance postcards available for download on her website (here are the latest 17 and the original 24 postcards), including the one below from yours truly and a few of my person favorites from Brandy Marie Little and Allison Glancey of Strawberryluna respectively.

Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil's resistance postcard design for Design Crush

Brandi-Marie-Little-Design-Crush

Strawberryluna's design for Design Crush's #resistance postcards

Happy resisting!


New original artwork for sale: Blooms and Bird February 2017

Per your requests, I’m vowing to do a better job of sharing new available artworks as I finish them. And the latest painting off my easel is Blooms and Bird, February 2017.

Mixed media painting Blooms and Birds February 2017 by Ashley Cecil
Creating this 12″ x 16″ mixed media painting was an exercise in one of my favorite studio practices – repurposing my favorite imagery and tools from past paintings to create a new “best-of” version. When I start a new painting or a series of paintings, I find new photo reference, experiment with new styles and methods, and make new stencils for my patterns. Inevitably, I end up favoring individual components of each piece – a plant species I previously didn’t know about, or maybe a new stencil pattern. All of those components get stored for later use, and that’s exactly how this particular painting came to be.

The flowers in this piece are inspired by a well-worn photo book on making floral arrangements. I especially love the wilting tulip – a botanical pose I’ve used many times. Then, the mix of both loose and tight rendering with multiple mediums is a favorite style of working on my wedding bouquet commissions. Lastly, I reused two stencils, including the falling bird. What do you think of the result?

The painting is posted for $600 on UGallery where you can also find more of my available works.

Enjoy.

Detail of mixed media painting Blooms and Birds February 2017 by Ashley Cecil

Detail of mixed media painting Blooms and Birds February 2017 by Ashley Cecil

Detail of mixed media painting Blooms and Birds February 2017 by Ashley Cecil 


20 images x 20 seconds to explain art unfolding in a science museum

Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil sums up her work at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History with 20 images in under 7 mins at PechaKucha Pittsburgh

My mother loves to tell people that I’ve been dominating and belaboring conversations since 1983. Apparently, as a young child, my preferred style of communication was to be the only person participating in a “discussion.” It’s true, I can be long-winded. But I love a good challenge, which is why I enthusiastically accepted the invitation to explain my six-month artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History with a mere 20 images each displayed for 20 seconds to the loyal following of PechaKucha Pittsburgh-goers. That’s over 500 hours of work summed up in 6 minutes and 40 seconds. No big deal. I can do this.

If you’re interested in witnessing this small miracle of oral precision, please join us:

PechaKucha Night Pittsburgh Vol 26
Thursday, March 2 at 6 PM
Alloy 26, 100 S Commons, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15212
$10 Members* / $15 General Admission
*Members include all members of AIA Pittsburgh, AIGA Pittsburgh, and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council

More event details are available on the PechaKucha website and their Facebook page.


New studio location at The Shop

New spacious studio digs for painting, design, and classes.

Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil in her new studio
After finishing a painting at my last studio, I would hold the piece in my hands and turn circles in my 180 square foot space uselessly searching for any available surface to put the painting on. When people were scheduled to come for a studio visit, I had to ask if they were bringing a guest so I knew if I had to rearrange furniture to accommodate for a third chair. But since moving to my new digs, I could now do cartwheels in my new studio, and maybe I will.

Ashley Cecil's new studio is at The Shop.
Last year, my husband and I took over an old mechanic’s garage in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood and renamed it The Shop. In addition to my studio, the building is home to a second location for the booming Natural Choice Barber Shop, and offers over 3,000 square feet for community events and programming.

The Shop hosts a Valentine's Day making party for refugees.
Case in point, we recently hosted a 300+ person Valentine-making-party for refugees in Pittsburgh. Even Mayor Bill Peduto and Councilman Dan Gilman joined us to make Valentine’s to welcome our new neighbors.

Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil in her new studio
What I love most about being back in a studio with room to stretch my awkwardly long arms is that the scale of my paintings are not restricted by cramped space. Although I do enjoy making intimately-scaled paintings, it’s nice to have the option to go as large as what will fit through the studio door, which in my case is a garage door. Yes!

As always, studio visits are encouraged. Email me at ashley (at) ashleycecil (dot) com to schedule a time. And now, more than two of you can come at once! Woohoo!