EDGED OUT: An exhibition of work from an artist residency in herpetology

Artist Ashley Cecil announces her latest exhibition Edged Out

For the last five months I’ve either been in a science lab or my studio. On June 28, I hope you’ll come celebrate the light of day with me at the opening of my latest exhibition, Edged Out.

The exhibition is a series of paintings and sculptural works about human influence on nature. The artworks specifically focus on the vulnerable state of amphibians, a modern canary in the coal mine offering us a prophetic glance at what lies ahead for all inhabitants of an ailing environment.

These artworks are visual translations of research conducted by the Richards-Zawacki Herpetology Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. During my six-month artist residency at the lab, I’ve immersed myself in scientific topics represented in this exhibition, such as habitat loss, disease and conservation methods.

Please RSVP here for the opening reception June 28, 6-9 PM.
A public reception will follow. The Frick Environmental Center is located at 2005 Beechwood Boulevard, Pittsburgh, PA 15217.

Until then, get your fix by perusing this photo archive of the residency unfolding…

Ashley Cecil shares her artist residency at a herpetology lab on Instagram


Bare breasts for natural history

Artist Ashley Cecil nurses her son in a natural history museum breastfeeding room adorned with her nursing mammal wallpaper

Do you remember that time I asked you to vote for your favorite six of 10 nursing mammals to include in a contemporary twist on a toile wallpaper? Thanks to your input, the wallpaper is now a reality and it is adorning the walls of the nursing area of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Installing the wallpaper took a little longer than expected, but in the end the timing was perfect since the delay meant I had enough time to grow my own mammal to nurse just as the wallpaper was being installed (just before Mother’s Day no less). Capturing that photo was well worth the wait.

Artist Ashley Cecil paints a diorama of jaguars in a natural history museum

If you lactate or otherwise feed young human mammals, I highly recommend checking out the space in the first floor of the museum. If not, check out the dioramas that inspired the wallpaper on the second floor. And if you’re imagining this wallpaper in your nursery, lactation room, etc., you can order it on my website.


Catching the kimono craze

Kimonos are every where I look this year, and for good reason. Who doesn’t want to sport both elegant and super comfortable attire? The trend comes at a serendipitous time since I’m adding this item to my own lineup of textile products.

My seamstress, Lauren, and I had a great time working through the details of this chic top. We decided on an airy chiffon fabric that’s perfect for spring and summer (and is a nice complement to my heavier infinity scarves). We  included velvet trim around the neck and down the front. And we went the extra step to add ties at the bottom of the sleeves as an accent and to give the top a little weight.

Currently, the kimono is available in two of my flora and fauna patterns. If you purchase yours now, I can gift wrap and ship it just in time for Mother’s Day (domestically at least). The mothers in your life will thank you.


Updates from an artist residency in herpetology

Move over canary in the coal mine. Amphibians are an understated climate bellwether deserving of the spotlight in my current artist residency. Now two-thirds of the way through my post at the Richards-Zawacki Herpetology Lab at the University of Pittsburgh (or RZL), there’s plenty to share about how I’m using art and STEAM education to communicate plight of amphibians, such as habitat loss and disease.

One of my favorite works-in-progress is the painting above.  This small study was inspired by the lab’s research on a fungal pathogen nicknamed Bd, which causes the often fatal disease chytridiomycosis or chytrid. Chytrid is threatening frog populations globally at an alarming rate and in many cases is causing extinctions. The issue is becoming so pervasive it’s getting picked up by mainstream media. For example, researchers at RZL recently had an article of the topic published in Science, which in turn was reported on by The New York Times, The Atlantic and others.

Diving this deep into herpetology as the subject of an entire body of artwork has only been possible by embedding myself in the lab, interacting with the researchers as they “do science” (such as Veronica Saenz, above, who is researching how climate change affects Bd). One of the most useful experiences has been participating in lab meetings where scientific articles are discussed and presentations are rehearsed. Four months in, I’m proud to say I’m now capable of getting through a lab meeting without having to use the dictionary app on my phone.

Other paintings I’m working on focus on habit loss and fragmentation, last-ditch conservation practices, and, as shown in the teaser above, a nod to local species that includes visualizations of their calls (spectrograms) and flora of their native habitats.

Once again, folks in the lab provided the inspiration for this painting. I stumbled across spectrograms of frog calls while sharing desk space with a member of the lab who was reviewing audio clips from his laptop. I couldn’t help but ask what he was working on. When he showed me his screen, the spectrograms immediately reminded me of an ikat pattern, a perfect visual to add to one of my canvases.

As with my residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, this project also has involved more than creation of my own work. For example, this go around I’ve tried to connect other professionals interested in working across disciplinary lines in hopes of sparking new collaborations. And so I recently gathered over 40 artists, scientists, museum administrators and educators at my studio for a drawing session and mingling.

The idea for the event took shape after I noticed a pattern among the friends I’ve met during my cross-disciplinary projects – scientists sheepishly confessing they love to make art, and more and more artists concentrating on climate change and science as the subject of their work. It seemed worthwhile to bring them together to exchange business cards while laughing about non-dominant hand and blind contour drawings. Although the latter two exercises broke the ice, the most engaging exercise was putting everyone in pairs to recreate a single drawing together. That sounds easy, but only one person was doing the drawing and he/she could not see what was being drawn. The second person orally instructed the first on how to make the drawing. Everyone in the room was smiling ear-to-ear (well, except for the sleeping baby).

There’s plenty more from this residency in the works that I’ll share in the coming weeks – adventures in educational outreach, my foray into steel sculpture and plans for an exhibition in June. Stay tuned.


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.