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.”
The 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.
What 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.
Although 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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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).
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.
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 iton the Apple App Store and Google Play Store).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
New spacious studio digs for painting, design, and classes.
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.
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.
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.
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!
With each day that passes with the new leader at the helm of the United States, I grow more fearful of what lies ahead for my child and for many others. The alarming statements, executive orders, and appointments have cast a wide net that leaves almost no American unaffected. Some days the breadth of challenges seem too immense to tackle. Then, the words of Wendell Berry shake me out of our my stupor:
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
The issue that I’ve been the most absorbed by over the past year is climate change, which is also regrettably out of favor with the new administration. Because the threat of climate change is so pervasive, urgent, and increasingly politicized, it requires support from people of all professions – scientists to philosophers, educators to entrepreneurs, policy makers to painters. It’s personally given me fresh direction and purpose in my work. And now, with my six-month artist residency at a top-five natural history museum completed, I have outcomes to share that demonstrate that artists and scientists belong side-by-side to tell the story of our impact on this planet and to make a call to action.
In my personal experience, scientists’ hard work is often buried in paid subscription publications and are only decipherable to their peers anyway. What a missed opportunity. If the research was easy to access and understand, you might care about integrative taxonomy, bird phenology, and the Anthropecene. It might even change your behavior (to your great benefit). The missed opportunity is what shaped the mission of my artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH), which was to make dense science relatable to a broad audience to pique curiosity about nature and foster environmental stewardship.
During my residency, I spent more than 500 hours digging through thousands of specimens and creating artwork that painted a picture of nature conservation. One of the topics I quickly gravitated toward was bird conservation and the museum’s work at Powdermill Avian Research Center in partnership with BirdSafe Pittsburgh. Together these entities “work to research and reduce bird mortality in the Steel City” (it’s estimated that up to one billion birds die in the US every year from colliding with windows).
I created and exhibited six mixed-media paintings that each captures a local bird species heavily impacted by window collisions (details and prices for these works are available here). Each portrait is framed by a silk-screened design of both Mountain Laurel (PA’s state flower) and the iconic Pennsylvania keystone symbol. Below the paintings are replicas of the museum’s specimen tags – one for each bird of the same species added to the museum’s collection due to a window strike since 2014.
This residency was a learning experience beyond my wildest imagination. My greater understanding of science and people’s enthusiasm for conservation and collaboration has solidified this direction in my work for the foreseeable future.
As scientists continue to make the Anthropocene a common concept, and the public gains access to more scientific research (for example, research funded by NASA is now available to all for free), I hope other creatives will be inspired to visualize it through their work. This, of course, will broaden our collective understanding of climate change, but it will also encourage people to connect with science and nature through art. Or better said by Oscar Wilde,
“No better way is there to learn to love Nature than to understand Art. It dignifies every flower of the field. And, the boy who sees the thing of beauty which a bird on the wing becomes when transferred to wood or canvas will probably not throw the customary stone.”
A small action on your part can have a big impact in Pittsburgh – vote with a like to support my collaboration with the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania to offer art and citizen science workshops to urban youth – Voting has closed.
Good news! I’m joining forces with another outstanding nature conservation organization to offer art and science programming for youth this spring, and you can help make it happen. The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania and I are in the running for a “100 Days of US” grant through the Sprout Fund to support a series of workshops that fuse hands-on art activities with citizen science.
Watch our proposal video to learn more. Then, cast your vote today with a like in the upper righthand corner of the page – Voting has closed.
Your vote gets us one step closer to providing children with hands-on learning and direct interaction with nature to help them develop their own works of art that will tangibly be used as conservation tools in their own communities.
And, they’ll get to interact with live birds. You don’t want to rob a child of the opportunity of getting up close and personal with a live bird, do you?
For nearly two years, it has warmed my heart to see people who admire my work display my art postcards on refrigerators, office desks, and in frames. For 2017, I hope you’ll join my growing list of art-by-snail-mail-patrons by purchasing a $15 one-year subscription to these full-color 5.5″x8.5″ postcards featuring my latest paintings. They go out at least three times a year and also make a great gift for your fellow lovers of flora and fauna. It’s the perfect remedy to the bill and jury-duty-notice-blues.
And since it’s Cyber Monday, use the coupon code “ilovesnailmail” by to get 15% off your entire purchase when you buy a subscription with any other item in my shop (good through 12/5/16).
The election week was tough, to say the least. What’s an artist to do? Keep making work that connects people to nature and to science that demonstrates the need for environmental stewardship, because there’s never been a more pressing time to give our attention to findings that institutions such as the Carnegie Museum of Natural History are revealing about the health of our planet.
EXHIBITION OPENING: EMERGENT PATTERNS Nov. 19, 5 – 8PM, Boxheart Gallery (4523 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15224)
Join me for this public reception featuring original artworks resulting from my residency. My work will be exhibited alongside paintings by fellow nature artists Augustina Droze and Deirdre Murphy. Not in Pittsburgh? Send an email to request images and details of the artworks.
Thank goodness it wasn’t one of those ideas that only makes sense in my head, validated by the fact that FOUR fantastic makers enthusiastically raised their hands to make new products visually related to a bird conservation program closely connected to CMNH – BirdSafe Pittsburgh.
In partnership with several local organizations, BirdSafe Pittsburgh is “working to research and reduce bird mortality in the Steel City.” What’s the problem? It’s estimated that up to one billion birds die each year in the US from colliding with windows, which is one of the leading causes of human-induced deaths among birds.
Yes, that’s utterly depressing, but I’m getting to the warm-fuzzy part. Between now and this year’s Handmade Arcade, the boss ladies listed below and I are in production mode making our goods, which will be launched at Handmade Arcade. These items, varying from blown-glass jewelry to a silk-screen print, will be available individually and as a complete set (if you can’t make it to Handmade Arcade, you will be able to order the individual products on our respective websites).
Our put-a-bird-on-it-collaboration will help birds in two ways:
2) We’ll be signing interested shoppers up for the BirdSafe Pittsburgh citizen science program, which entails monitoring your home for window collisions and reporting your findings, and/or walking designated routes throughout Pittsburgh looking for birds that have collided with windows (dead birds are brought to the museum to be added to their collection; captured live birds can be taken to the Animal Rescue League’s wildlife center to be rehabilitated and released). If you’re so inclined, go ahead and sign up now. Here’s a national program and the Pittsburgh-specific one.
And with that, I’d like to introduce my creative cohorts making art for the birds with me (and tagging the process via #artforthebirds on the social interwebs):
It’s such an honor to work with these talented women and the BirdSafe Pittsburgh program coordinator, Matt Webb. There’s hardly a more blissful combination of things I love than art and ornithology. Ahhh!