Swooning. That’s what I do over a friend’s a home in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood oozing with stylish decor inspired by her family’s world travels. So, it was quite a compliment when my friend asked if I’d be interested in displaying my artwork and home decor products in her stunning adobe for yesterday’s Shadyside House Tour.
What’s was even more flattering was that upon my arrival for the installation she announces (with a hammer in hand), “I’m just here to put nails in the wall for you. Hang things wherever you like.” I liken the experience to standing in front of a long table of gourmet chocolates trying to figure out where to start.
After a reconnaissance lap through the house (maybe two), the perfect places for my paintings and handmade pillows presented themselves. One of my favorite art/room pairings was my ink painting of extinct bird species nestled beside a fireplace in the master bedroom. The feminine florals and pink accents in the space made for a fantastic combo with my grittier visual of doomed bird species.
The second-floor bathroom with its stark black and white tiles and claw foot bathtub was an obvious fit for my two Blue Jay paintings. The dark gray backgrounds and white floral motif of my paintings blended like they were made for the space. It also made the saturated blue feathers pop off the canvases.
If our styles didn’t already seem synced enough, the pink arctic florals in my Gyrfalcons on Gray painting hung in the dining room looked almost identical to the pink blooms my friend had included in the row of arrangements on the table.
I stuffed turquoise, teal, orange, and chartreuse throw pillows into my car hoping to find even one fitting chair or bed. As it turned out, every single pillow matched accent colors in her home seamlessly. Apparently, her house is my dream showroom. Luckily, the hundreds of people who came through the house for the tour seemed to agree. A few of these pieces are still available if you are now envisioning one of these paintings on your wall or pillows on your bed. Sometimes all it takes is a little visual inspiration.
My artist residency at at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History is going well, very well. Scientists have lunched with me, summer camp students have made art with me, and I’ve come up with far more viable ideas for great paintings about natural history than there’s time for. Fortunately, a handful of those ideas are clear standouts, including a series of six paintings of nursing mammals that will be used to make a toile-like pattern to be installed as wallpaper in the museum’s award-winning dedicated breastfeeding room. The trouble is, I can’t decide which mammals to include in the pattern. Of course I blame my indecisiveness on the museum because taking stock of the mammals in the second floor dioramas induced an overload of inspiration. So, you get to decide. Between now and midnight on Sunday, August 28, you can cast your vote for the six nursing mammals you think would be best suited for this pattern. It’s hard, but I know you can muster the strength to choose between a zebra and a jaguar. Thank you for weighing in. Ps – I’m dedicating this pattern to the all the moms out there who have trudged into a public bathroom to nurse in a restroom stall, or pump while trying to avoid eye contact with strangers reaching for a paper towel because the only outlet at your disposal is directly next to the paper towel dispenser. There soon will be an especially swanky place for you to feed your little one(s) that will be the envy of all non-lactating persons.
The trouble is, I can’t decide which mammals to include in the pattern. Of course I blame my indecisiveness on the museum because taking stock of the mammals in the second floor dioramas induced an overload of inspiration. So, you get to decide. Between now and midnight on Sunday, August 28, you can cast your vote for the six nursing mammals you think would be best suited for this pattern. It’s hard, but I know you can muster the strength to choose between a zebra and a jaguar. Thank you for weighing in. Ps – I’m dedicating this pattern to the all the moms out there who have trudged into a public bathroom to nurse in a restroom stall, or pump while trying to avoid eye contact with strangers reaching for a paper towel because the only outlet at your disposal is directly next to the paper towel dispenser. There soon will be an especially swanky place for you to feed your little one(s) that will be the envy of all non-lactating persons.
During that project, there were several conversations with scientists and museum staff that set off fireworks of creative inspiration in my head (hopefully I wasn’t giving blank stares while struggling to mentally dog-ear those ideas and keep up with the conversation). My experience at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH) was especially fruitful. However, the two months allocated for the project were just a tease. I wanted more.
Presumably because my interactions with folks at CMNH were mutually enjoyable (or at the very least tolerable), and because my work complements their mission of “increas[ing] scientific and public understanding of the natural world and human cultures,” museum staff and I started planning and fundraising for a longer and more in-depth adaptation of the 2015 project specific to CMNH. Long story short, we found funding, and a few weeks ago I became an artist in residence for six months of making work inspired by the museum’s physical and intellectual assets.
In case all of the above left you scratching your head, here’s a Q&A outlining the nuts and bolts of this residency:
What exactly are you doing? Creating 2D artwork that 1. Depicts the museum’s specimen collections, and 2. Visualizes scientific research conducted by CMNH scientists about our natural world. This also includes exhibiting some of the artwork in CMNH galleries of thematic relevance; adapting these art+science ideas for museum summer camp workshops that I’ll facilitate for kids and teens; exhibiting the work outside of the museum at Boxheart Gallery (November 15, 2016 to January 6, 2017), the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (October 14, 2016 to January 8, 2017), and other venues still in the works.
When and where will I find you in action? On Tuesdays and Wednesdays now through the end of 2016, I will be at the museum working either in a studio behind the scenes, or in a museum gallery where visitors can watch me work and ask questions (and pose for selfies, of course). Some variations in this schedule are unavoidable, so get in touch for my most up-to-date whereabouts, and follow the day-to-day goings on via the hashtag #artofCMNH on Instagram and Twitter. And, like last year, I would be thrilled to schedule a date with you at the museum so you can experience firsthand what an artist set loose in a natural history museum looks like.
Why? I want to make dense science relatable to a broad audience to pique curiosity about nature and foster environmental stewardship. Also, it’s personal. My son will be 39 when, as Bill McKibben predicts, “we’ll have more than reached the zenith of our economy and civilization.” Therefore I feel firmly compelled to ensure resources such as CMNH are valued and utilized to their utmost potential to safeguard the planet he’ll inherit and inhabit. I’ve honed in on a natural history museum in particular because such institutions play a unique role in the future of our planet. They collectively house astounding quantities of specimens from the natural world that are a goldmine of data for people who need to know about our planet’s past in order to preserve its future. They also are one of the best places to cultivate an appreciation for studying nature (seriously, name one child you know who doesn’t love dinosaurs).
Why should I care? Because you love drinking clean water. You love breathing fresh air. You love living in or visiting cities precariously positioned on rising coastlines. Nature is increasingly made vulnerable by the strain of our existence, and that affects us all. My hope is that this residency and the resulting work will shed additional light on the importance of our involvement in caring for this big beautiful sphere we’re spinning around on.
What do you know about science? Well, let me put it this way, I passed my high school biology class because my teacher, who was also my soccer coach, was less likely to make me run extra laps if I didn’t fail in his classroom. I’m pretty sure that was the last natural science class I ever took. However, determination is a powerful thing. So, I keep a dictionary app close at hand while studying research articles written by CMNH scientists on subjects including “Long-term climate impacts on breeding bird phenology in Pennsylvania, USA.” I’m also taking a DIY approach to filling in gaps in my science education with online courses (the broad topic for this month is genetics). My high school biology teacher would be proud.
Maybe, just maybe, this residency will be another needed case study of how art and science go together like peanut butter and jelly (or maybe like adenine and thymine?). I hope you’ll follow adventure on the social intertubes and/or in person. You’ll also get updates here about the scheduled exhibitions, presentations, workshops, and more. Until then, back to making #artofCMNH.
Today, May 4, 2016, is my second child’s due date. But there will be no trip to the hospital. No celebration. Not even eager anticipation of the little one’s late arrival on another day. It’s quite the opposite – my husband and I will anxiously wait for this day to pass because we lost the baby.
Talking publicly about such a personal matter is not therapeutic for me. Actually, I hate it. However, I’m going there anyway for two reasons. 1. Miscarriages are common (up to 25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies). Yet, since it’s rarely discussed, many people feel alone in the tragedy. So, if this has happened to you, I assure you that you are not the only member of this shitty club. 2. My particular experience rocketed me into an already budding and deeper path in my artwork – one that honors the beauty in natural life cycles. Since I anticipate this is going to be consistent theme in my work going forward, I might as well use this misfortune to unpack it.
And with that, here’s what happened:
Months ago, an ultrasound technician told me, as I looked at my little peanut of 14 weeks on the monitor, “I’m so sorry, but there’s no heartbeat.” Suffice it to say I was such a wreck that I couldn’t drive home.
Instead of waiting to miscarry, I opted to have a D and C procedure the next day. The 25 hour period between hearing the terrible news and having the procedure was awful. Really awful. I tried to watch as much mindless television as possible to avoid fixating on the deceased fetus I was still carrying. It felt like holding my breath so as not to breath poison.
The procedure was straightforward and quick. Physically, I felt as good as new in no time. My emotional well-being slowly started to follow suit. I was more grateful than ever for my son, my health, my incredibly supportive partner, and for life in general. Then, I got a call from my doctor. She told me that a test revealed that I had what’s called a partial molar pregnancy. In plain English, my egg had been fertilized by two sperm, and so there were three set of chromosomes (two sets from dad and one from me, versus the healthy scenario of one set from each). This fatal concoction meant the baby and placenta were following a disastrous recipe for development.
Having an explanation was somewhat of a relief, until my doctor told me that in a small percentage of molar pregnancies, tissue left in the uterus will continue to grow and develop into cancer. Think about that – pregnancy can cause cancer. The heartache came rushing back. Fortunately, after months of follow-up tests, it seems I’m in the clear.
In the thick of it, I felt fortunate to have painting as a means of processing what was festering in my mind. On one hand, there’s the pain and unfairness of it. On the other hand, there’s gratitude and trust in nature taking its course. Since my 2015 artist residency at institutions such as the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I had amassed a pile of natural history books to nurture my new found love for science. Several of them were blissfully perfect at addressing this juxtaposition of destruction and beauty in nature, especially Bernd Heinrich’s Life Everlasting. With that book close at hand, I dragged an old botched painting out of storage and dumped my head and heart over top of it.
One of the first things I noticed about how I was executing this painting was that I loosened up – a huge departure from my usual style of very tight rendering. Once I got my fill of therapeutic “scribbling” on the canvas, I found that the small cluster of hyper-realistic pomegranates and a Magpie stood out even more distinctly on a messy background. It also felt symbolic of my mind coming into focus – from chaos to clarity.
Speaking of symbolism, this painting is oozing with it. I read up on symbolism in nature (on a myriad of topics ranging from Dutch still-life painting to religious texts), and found various interpretations of an egg representing life, resurrection and hope; a snake representing the “corruptibility of human flesh“; pomegranates representing fertility; a single magpie (a scavenger that will steal and eat eggs) representing death and misfortune; white lilies representing purity; tulips representing love.
And although I didn’t run across any references specifically to burying beetles, I was compelled to include three of them in my painting. Burying beetles are often described as nature’s undertakers because even one lone beetle can move a rodent carcass to soft soil where it will dig a hole under the deceased for it to fall into. There, underground, the rodent becomes the sustenance for new life. Some may find this repulsive, but without nature’s cleanup crew, circumstances would be far more unpleasant. Being grossed out by decay is probably some form of self-preservation, but I find it to be increasingly captivating and reassuring. Life doesn’t end at death, it starts anew.
Finally, there’s the pattern tile motif in pink. I wanted to continue using pattern in my work, so I designed a stencil in the shape of a seed sprouting into two fully formed blooms on the left and right and a single diseased bud in the center – our chromosomal mess. I didn’t realize until after I finished the painting that I had used the two most stereotypical baby colors to create the pattern.
The evolution of life naturally transforming from one stage to the next can be agonizing and painful, even violent and vicious at times (if the latter piqued your interest, look up “sky burial”). And yet within that there is incredible beauty and tenderness. There’s no grand conclusion to state here, rather a declaration of ease with my fetus with 69 chromosomes, my cancer scare, my husband, and I being part of something that supersedes our individual parts – something I find comfort in. Or better said by Bernd Heinrich in Life Everlasting:
“Just as space-time connects the cosmos, and the molecules that make up our bodies connect us to the past exploding stars, we are connected to the cosmos in the same way we are connected to earth’s biosphere and to each other. Physically we are like the spokes of a wheel to a bicycle, or a carburetor to a car. The metaphor that we are part of the earth ecosystem is not a belief; it is a reality. We are tiny specks in a fabulous system, parts of something grand. We are part of what life has ‘learned’ from its inception on earth and has genetically encoded in DNA that will be passed on until the sun goes out.”
Do you know what will give you a sense of invincibility when it comes to painting pet portraits? Nailing a commission to capture 37 dogs on a single canvas. That gig from way back in 2007 required multiple dog handlers and a spreadsheet to track each dog’s distinct markings and relative size. So when a long-time follower of my work recently contacted me about painting his wife’s two Indian Ringneck Parrots as a surprise birthday gift, I reflected back on the 35 Pomeranians, 1 Yorkie and 1 mutt, and thought to myself, “I’ve got this.”
This new commission was especially exciting because it was the first pet-specific commission I had received since delving into my textile pattern-centric style of work – a perfect fit, if you ask me.
The client sent me photos of the interior of their home where the painting would hang, including the wallpaper, decorative plates, and curtains. I wanted the pattern in the background of my painting to “fit” in the space as you would expect in a top-notch William Morris drawing room.
As with all of my commissions, I first sent the client this rough digital mock-up of the painting (hey, no jokes about my awful Photoshopping – I said it was rough).
And here’s the finished piece. I’ve never been so happy with gold leaf in my work – it must be the stark contrast of gold on top of the dark blues in the background (note to self). I also was in love with the red-ish orange African Tulip Tree blooms – they might become a regular in my painted flower repertoire. And, fortunately, my client’s wife was in love with the birds.
Clearly this client has set a high bar for birthday gift-giving. If you want to up your own game, let’s talk about how I can help you score serious brownie points with a commission for your special someone. Get in touch at ashley at ashleycecil.com.
Ashlee Swift, a fellow native Louisvillian, inspiring young mother, and former painting subject of mine traveled to Las Vegas last week with her fiancé and their families (including her 11 month old daughter) to get married. Before the wedding, the couple were on their way to a take a helicopter ride when a drunk driver hit their tour bus. As a result of the accident, her left arm had to be amputated. She’s still in a hospital in Las Vegas, nearly 2,000 miles from most of her family back home in Kentucky, including her infant daughter.
What’s the favor? Please give to the GoFundMe campaign her family has set up to raise money for her medical expenses. If you are able to contribute to her recovery, send me a message (ashley at ashleycecil.com) with your address and I’ll mail you a hand-painted card as a thank you.
2015 marks the first year I’ve actually accomplished a new year’s resolution (unless you count the times I promised myself to eat chocolate and swear more often). I figured there was no better time to brag about my awesomeness than right before I’m due for the next new year’s resolution (since, given my track record, this year’s success is likely an outlier).
I loved the unexpected requests a few of you made. For example, someone asked for a rabbit. I don’t really draw mammals, but hey, why not? See if you can spot it. But wait, it gets better – my favorite request was made by my talented best friend. She was also the beta tester of the online form I used to collect addresses. I asked her to put something in each field to make certain every part worked. Her response to “Sketch requests (a favorite bird, insect, plant, or surprise me)” was,
“Cat about to chomp a clover but a little leprechaun is standing under it pointing at the bad cat not to eat the plant.”
I know she thought she had outsmarted me, but I accepted her challenge and drew her hallucinogenic daydream like a boss (bring it on, Rosshirt). That fantastic doodle is waiting for you for at the end of this post.
And with that, I wish you a happy new year! Thanks for all of your support in 2015, and enjoy browsing these highlights from the ocean of snail mail sketches now scattered across the country and Western Europe.
The highlight of my week so far was sitting at a long table feasting my eyes on the piles of new giclee prints of my original artwork awaiting my signature. Although I have a slight hand cramp to show for it, prints of the 12 paintings I created during my 2015 artist residency project are now signed and ready for purchase. The originals are available as well – just email me at email@example.com for details.
My own set of all 12 prints are already framed and installed in my living room. Now it’s time to spread them around to other homes! Here’s how you can get your hands on your very own:
Otherwise, all you need is access to the intertubes, where you can make your purchase via my online shop.
Four of the 12 paintings are available for individual purchase for $75 a piece (the four that got the most votes in last week’s poll). The other eight are only available as a complete set of all 12 prints for $875. If you voted for your four favorites, don’t forget to use the voter appreciation coupon code emailed to you for 10% off. And thank you for your support!
I did it. They’re done. All 12 of them. It took nearly four months, access to specimens at three museums and collaboration with three scientists, but I finished each tedious painting of flora and fauna from my summer artist residency project in Pittsburgh.
The paintings photographed beautifully (click the paintings below to enlarge them), but there’s nothing like seeing them in person. If you’re local to Pittsburgh, you’re always welcome to come for a studio visit to see them with your own eyes – just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I handle sales of my original artwork offline anyway.
If signed prints are what your after, you’re in luck. Before you buy however, you have to vote. Although you can buy all 12 prints as a set for $875, only four of the 12 will be available for individual purchase for $75 each, and you get to vote on which four make it into print production. Voting is only open through Thursday, October 22. So, get ready to make tough decisions and
Sorry, voting is now closed.
When the votes have been counted and popularity has spoken, you’ll receive an email with a coupon code for print orders made via my online shop – because I appreciate your good taste and two scents.
If you like to buy things in person and you have a phobia of artist studios, I understand. Let’s rendezvous at one of these upcoming Pittsburgh events:
Update: The votes are in! These were your top four picks: “Raven on Teal,” “Canaries on Purple,” ” Yellow-headed Blackbird on Blue,” and “Bateleur Eagle on Olive.” Thanks to everyone who weighed in. You’ll get your discount code for prints soon.
One Mission. Two Months. 12+ Paintings. Hundreds of new friends (with 2, 4, and 8+ legs). Thousands to thank.
Self-directed residencies are like cooking classes (stay with me) – they have a habit of leaving you exhausted, proud, and wanting to do more without always appreciating the work that everyone around you put in to make it possible. Thank you to the organizations, businesses, friends, family and broader Pittsburgh community for making it possible for me.
For those playing a bit of catch up, my summer artist residency project was fairly simple: 1. Suffocate myself with birds, bugs, and botany, and 2. translate it each day into a pattern, print, or fine art work . I’m happy to report that both objectives were successfully met, plus loads of additional perks. Here are a few highlights:
1. Meeting scientists – Spending my days with ornithologists and entomologists selecting behind-the-scenes bird and insect specimens made for a huge boost in my creative output. Hearing these experts talk about their work and studying their collections flooded my brain with ideas for the paintings that lay ahead. And as word spread about my project, other scientists introduced themselves, which led to opportunities such as touring the amphibian and reptile collections at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Who knows, exotic frogs and reptiles might soon make an appearance in my work.
2. Lunching in good company – I didn’t think there would be such a response to the open invitation for people to come join me for lunch wherever I was painting on a given day. Yet, nearly everyday in July and August an artist, interior designer, retail shop owner, scientist, or just about anyone you can imagine accompanied me for my afternoon break to learn more about the residency.
3. Painting from floral arrangements made specifically for my artwork – Stephanie Kirby of Blue Daisy Floral Designs hosted me at her beautiful shop to paint her signature arrangements. She took my paintings-in-progress-patterns when I arrived and used them as the basis to create custom arrangements. It was such a fun collaboration! Another perk was installing enlarged prints of my artwork in Stephanie’s bridal consult room – check them out if you are in the area.
5. Befriending budding artists and scientists – One thing I didn’t see coming was the fact that my residency schedule overlapped with peak summer camp season. Between the hours of 10am and 2pm-ish, I was regularly surrounded by swarms of curious elementary students. Questions flowed like the juice boxes, but the sticky fingers were worth it because of the many endearing conversations I had similar to this synopsis of a chat with six year old Nora – Her: What are you doing? Me: Painting a moth. Her: That’s really good. Me: Thank you! Her: [long thoughtful pause] Do you want to be friends? Me: Of course!
6. Getting better at what I do. On my last day at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I decided to be a glutton for punishment and paint a Brahmin Moth. After an entire day of painting nothing but this single mind-numbingly detailed specimen, I sat back, looked at the fruits of my labor and thought, “I think it’s fair to say I’ve become a better painter.” Practice makes perfect.
What’s next? There’s talk of a show of all of the finished paintings – stay tuned for details. In the meanwhile, mark these bigger events on your calendar where you can buy prints of my residency paintings, as well as scarves, pillows and other products printed with these works:
Maybe you’ve seen my elusive Instagram or Facebook posts about my “top secret” summer project of 2015. If the suspense is killing you, don’t fret because this blog post is the grand project announcement. The secret is that I’m partnering with Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the National Aviary, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and four Pittsburgh florists to undertake a self-directed artist residency during all of July and August. In plain English, that means I’ll be on-site for those two months at these seven organizations feverishly creating new paintings from their respective specimens, exhibits and floral arrangements.
Why? Well, it’s twofold. Firstly, because I have a young child, I’m not a fit for most formal residency programs where an artist packs up to spend weeks or months of uninterrupted time producing new work at a purpose-specific facility (it turns out, people don’t like toddlers throwing tantrums nearby while they’re making art). Secondly, because I find painting my paintings and selling my paintings to be two full-time jobs, I need to find a ways to get myself in front of new audiences while not compromising on my production time. So, this residency is my solution to staying close to home while creating new work while also meeting new people equally interested in birds, bugs and botany.
I’ve spent six months planning the unique residency in coordination with over a dozen individuals at the seven institutions and businesses. After many emails, phone calls and meetings, we’ve ironed out a schedule for the public to watch me work. I’ll spend one day per week in my studio getting the paintings to the stage where I’m ready to paint the objects in the foreground (birds, insects and plants). On the following three days, I’ll work from live and taxidermied specimens of birds, insects and plants at the participating venues (admission fees apply at the three institutions). On top of the regular painting sessions, social events are scheduled at two florists for you to sip cocktails while enjoying the art and my fragrant floral subjects.
Like all things I plan, this schedule will likely change. So, get the latest updates on my whereabouts from day-to-day on social media (I’m on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook), or email me (ashley(at)ashleycecil.com). I’ll also be using the hashtags #ashleycecil, #byobirds, #byobugs and #byobotany. Hmmm, this sort of feels like a spinoff of “Where’s Waldo” in the making.
Wed, July 1 – National Aviary
Thurs, July 2 – Phipps
Mon, July 6 – Studio
Tues, July 7 – CMNH (insects)
Mon, July 13 – Studio
Tues, July 14 – CMNH (insects)
Wed, July 15 – National Aviary Thurs, July 16 – Blue Daisy Floral: Painting followed by a happy hour from 5:30 – 7:30 PM. RSVP required.
Mon, July 20 – Studio
Tues, July 21 – CMNH (insects)
Wed, July 22 – CMNH (birds)
Thurs, July 23 – Phipps
Mon, July 27 – Studio
Tues, July 28 – CMNH (insects)
Wed, July 29 – National Aviary
Mon, Aug 3 – Studio
Tues, Aug 4 – CMNH (insects)
Wed, Aug 5 – National Aviary
Thurs, Aug 6 – Phipps
I’m back in the dating pool. Well, sort of. Let me back up…
If you follow me on the social intertubes, you’ve probably seen my posts about a series of workshops I’ve been teaching at Pittsburgh’s Assemble. The nonprofit “connects artists, technologists, and makers with curious adults and kids of all ages” through STEAM based programming (science, technology, engineering, art, and math).
The workshops I’m involved with have been specifically for middle school girls participating in the Girl’s Maker Night program. I’ve been guiding them through the process of taking their own artwork inspired by natural sciences and translating it into a repeatable pattern for surface design – ultimately using their pattern to create a silkscreened public art installation for this incredible space. Pretty fantastic, right?
Back to the part of this story about the date – As a result of facilitating the workshops, I was asked by Assemble’s executive director to participate in their annual fundraiser (this Saturday) as one of nine makers donating an experience to share our creative process with winning live auction bidders. The experience (as well as the fundraiser) is called a “maker date.”
What will my date entail you ask? We’ll take a behind-the-scenes tour of the ornithology and entomology collections at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Then we’ll head to my studio for a one-on-one pattern design tutorial (both digital and analog). Who knows, I might even have the resulting pattern printed on fabric for a pillow or tea towel. Oh yes, the pattern-making pressure it on!
The important part is that the funds raised by MakerDate support Assemble’s STEAM in-house programming, making them accessible for everyone. Their school year programs are FREE and their summer camp is FREE for kids who live in Garfield.
So, basically what I’m saying it that you should be there. You could be my date!
My experience at last year’s Kentucky Derby set a very high standard for subsequent Derby celebrations. So when I endeavored host a 2015 party 400 miles from Louisville, Kentucky, I knew I had to pull out all the stops.
As luck would have it, my friend Regina Koetters both owns my favorite Pittsburgh brunch spot, Marty’s Market, and is also a former Louisvillian. Regina and I love to geek out on all things Derby, which over time blossomed into the idea to co-host a Derby party – I would create a new equine artwork to unveil, and Regina would prepare the southern-inspired food. That of course left one critically important element unresolved – who would provide the booze, and more specifically, the mint juleps. The solution was literally a stone’s throw away at Wigle Whiskey. Not only did Wigle craft a mint julep with their spirits, they hosted the full blown southern soiree for over 120 guests at their barrel house on Pittsburgh’s Northside.
Wait, it gets better. One of the highlights for me was collaborating with Pittsburgh milliner Gina Mazzotta on my hat. I gave Gina (pictured above on the left) a yard of my own custom fabric and she worked her magic. The result was a fantastic creation of bold and very vertical awesomeness. My head had never felt so special.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well “Derby attire” translated this far from Kentucky. As illustrated by my friend Jeff’s outfit above, people dressed to impress with full-on seersucker suits, bow-ties, and hats so large air kisses prevailed over hugs to prevent headgear entanglement. Indeed, the competition was stiff for our best-dressed award, which was judged by Kiya Tomlin of Uptown Sweats.
A great perk of throwing such a fashion-forward party was piquing media interest. JoAnne Harrop of the Trib Review wrote a lovely article about our event detailing the many collaborations among local women entrepreneurs and even a fascinating snippet about the origins of whiskey actually being in Pennsylvania. Although not fashion related, Wigle also got a TV spotlight on KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live to share the secrets to making a mint julep like a boss.
And just like that, another Derby has passed. I’m already onto the next several events, including a special Mother’s Day edition of Pittsburgh’s Neighborhood Flea on Sunday, where I’ll be selling my artwork and textile products at Wigle Whiskey. Come say hello and tell me your thoughts on my Derby hat!
I won’t be going home to Kentucky for Derby this year, so I’m bringing the party to Pittsburgh. On May 2, I’m co-hosting a Derby soiree with Marty’s Market and Wigle Whiskey. If you love booze, southern food, live music, gambling, seersucker suits and ridiculously large hats, get your tickets quick because they’ll sell out fast when my co-hosts open the event up to the public next week.
My contribution is of course my artwork – I’ll be unveiling a new painting with an equine twist (sneak peak above of my practice run of painting roses that make the patterned background on the actual canvas). In addition to prints of said painting, I’ll also have new textile products on hand (just in time for Mother’s Day).
There also will be a local milliner, Gina Mazzotta, selling her stunning creations. Actually, I have a meeting this week with the talented Ms. Mazzotta to talk about the hat she’s making for me, which will incorporate my custom-printed fabric into the design. Hopefully the finished product requires ducking under doorways like last year’s hat.
I suffer from a condition I call “Maker Syndrome.” Being a member of Pittsburgh’s Techshop worsens the symptoms, which are creative distraction, idea overload and project envy. It takes a great deal of focus to keep myself on task with an already tedious painting process. So, I’m thoughtfully adding new skills to my repertoire that build on what I’m already good at. My latest budding area of expertise is reupholstering furniture.
The first few attempts were on chairs from Craigslist, like this outstanding find. I sanded them, spray painted them and recovered the seats with my custom-printed fabric.
Then, I landed a commission to give the makeover treatment to a client’s family heirloom dinning room chairs. The commission started with the client picking this existing 24″x24″ acrylic, oil and 22k gold painting of Blue Jays, which I then translated into a design conducive for printing on fabric.
In this particular case, the parts of the original image that were intentionally cropped off at the edges of the canvas had to be Photoshop-ed in so the image could be centered on the seat. The gold leaf in the circular design also had to be replaced with a solid color since an image of gold printed on fabric looks, well, fake.
Blistered knuckles, a box of upholstery staples and an entire season of “Orange Is The New Black” later, I had eight of these beauties to return to my client’s dinning room. They’re a match made in heaven with that rug, right?
It was a lot of fun giving this old painting a new purpose (sans the blistered knuckles part). Do your chairs need a facelift? Or do you need that orange chair above in your living room? Get in touch and let’s talk upholstery.