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.


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. 


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!


An artist-in-residence paints a picture of nature conservation

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.

Artist-in-residence Ashley Cecil's workspace at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Caption: My workspace at the museum.

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.

Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil holding bird specimens. 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).

Mixed media paintings of a Magnolia Warbler and Common Yellowthroat by Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil 2016 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.

Ashley_Cecil_bird_conservation_painting_with_specimen_tag Akin to artworks from the Arts and Crafts movement, my paintings are meant to endear you to nature, to these threatened creatures, and to inspire you to get involved with BirdSafe Pittsburgh’s local citizen scientist program or a national program.

Students participating in one of Ashley Cecil's art and science workshops
Caption: Students in one of the three art and science workshops I facilitated during CMNH summer camps.

Clearly, producing the original artwork was a big part of my residency, but I was also: 1. Teaching art and science workshops to museum summer camp students;

Carnegie Museum of Natural History visitors color in a mural by Ashley Cecil 2. Designing and installing within the museum a coloring mural illustrating birds of conservation concern for thousands of visitors to collaboratively fill in;

Scarf and coloring poster 3. Putting birds, botany, and science on products that spread the love of nature to wardrobes and kids crafts rooms alike;

Sample handmade products
Caption: Details of four handmade products inspired by bird conservation and made by fellow Pittsburgh artists.

4. Organizing four other local artists to launch additional hand-crafted items that promote an appreciation for nature;

Ashley Cecil draws and writes on the glass of taxidermy cases in Bird Hall at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Caption: My drawing of a Red-cockaded Woodpecker and a quote by Joel Sartore – “Conjuring a world without birds is a thing I don’t dare imagine, like the death of a child. Their fate is our own.”

5. Merging words of some of history’s most inspiring writers and poets with my avian drawings on the glass cases of Bird Hall;

Sketchbook studies of nursing mammals
Caption: Sketchbook studies of nursing mammals.

6. Uniting furry mothers with human mothers with a wallpaper of nursing mammals for the museum’s breastfeeding area (this will be installed in time for Mother’s Day 2017);

Ashley Cecil holds a bird specimen over a bird-safe window film sample
Caption: A sample window film.

7. Contemplating how my artwork could be translated into patterns for window films to prevent birds from flying into glass;

Four Pittsburgh artist meet with Ashley Cecil at the Carnegie Museum
Caption: Fellow Pittsburgh artists, Kirsten Lowe-Rebel, Gillian Preston, and Allison Glancey met at the museum to learn about BirdSafe Pittsburgh.

8. Hosting visits with people of all industries and backgrounds to show them what comes of an artist being set loose in a natural history museum.

CMNH artist-in-residence Ashley Cecil is interviewed on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live
Caption: My interview on CBS’s Pittsburgh Today Live.

9. And finally, using my work to spread the word about the museum’s research and conservation efforts far and wide – Residency-related artworks and events were featured more than 20 times through online, print, TV, and radio media, including Carnegie Magazine, KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live, NextPittsburgh, Pittsburgh Magazine, the Post-Gazette, TechVibe Radio, and TribLive.

Scientists conducting field research
Caption: CMNH scientists banding wild birds and collecting data.

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.

A child concentrates on coloring birds of conservation concern 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.”


Vote to support art and citizen science workshops for urban youth

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.

ashleycecil-aswp

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?


Art for the birds

Wood Thrush painting
Original artwork used to develop a textile pattern.

 

No really, this is about art that supports bird conservation.

About two months into my artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH), ideas for artwork that I would translate into a new infinity scarf AND a coloring poster got my wheels turning about other Pittsburgh artists who also might like to make natural science-inspired products. After all, why should I have all the fun?

bird conservation inspired textile pattern
The finished textile pattern being printed on fabric for scarves.

 

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).

BirdSafe Pittsburgh-inspired coloring mural
My BirdSafe Pittsburgh-inspired coloring poster.

 

Our put-a-bird-on-it-collaboration will help birds in two ways:

1) A portion of our sales will be donated to support the aforementioned conservation efforts. For example, our contribution will help pay to fly wild birds through a flight tunnel that tests the effectiveness of bird-friend window prototypes, and rehabilitation of stunned birds at a local wildlife center.

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):

WorkerBirdKim Fox of WorkerBird

 

strawberrylunaAllison Glancey of strawberryluna

 

KLoRebelKirsten Lowe-Rebel of KLoRebel

 

Broken PlatesGillan Preston of Broken Plates

 

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!

Now, onto sewing scarves…


Art invasion of the 2016 Shadyside House Tour

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.

An ink painting of extinct bird species by Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil hangs in the master bedroom of a home included in the 2016 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.

Above a claw foot bathtub hangs two of Ashley Cecil's original paintings

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.

Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil's flora and fauna artwork hangs in the dining room of a home on the 2016 Shadyside House Tour

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.

A handmade pillow by Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil adding a pop of color to a child's bedroom at the Shadyside House Tour 
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.


Art for the ArtFund, Back Way to Edinburgh’s High St

Painting of an Edinburgh alley to the high street, 2010
8″x10″ framed oil on board
Email ashley.cecil@gmail.com for purchase inquiries.


Art for the ArtFund, Wilting Tulips


16″x20″ oil on canvas
SOLD


Art for the ArtFund, Sunflowers from Adam


8″x10″ framed oil on board
Email ashley.cecil@gmail.com for purchase inquiries

I was at the Courtauld Gallery today to see “Cezanne’s Card Players” exhibition and visit one of my favorite pieces in the gallery’s permanent collection. I thought it was fitting to make the donation from the sale of this painting to the ArtFund, a registered UK charity and donor to the Courtauld. They,

“campaign,  fundraise and give money to museums and galleries to buy and show art, and promote its enjoyment through  our events and membership scheme.”

I hope to get involved with the ArtFund this year. What a perfect combination of my love for the visual arts and nonprofits!


“Louisville Counts!” benefiting Art Sparks

CH-final-small
24″x30″ oil on canvas
SOLD

While dropping  off  this portrait to my client (Gill Holland of  the Green Building)  I discovered a connection between the portrait and another project Gill has involved me in.   It turns out the children’s book I have been  asked to contribute another piece of artwork to is dedicated to the subject of this portrait, his daughter Cora.

Louisville Counts cover

The book, “Louisville Counts! A Children’s Counting & Art Book,” is a project that assembled 22 artists to create unique, child-friendly pieces of art to accompany 22 pieces of Louisville trivia. Each piece corresponds with a specific number, from 0-21, encouraging the reader to count their way through the book using everything from Muth’s Candies to baseball bats to Olmsted parks and even disco balls.

All 22 pieces  will be  on display September 4th – 25th at the Green Building Gallery and  sold in a silent auction  that runs for the duration  of the show. All proceeds from all sales of the book, as well as the gallery’s share of the sales of the corresponding artworks, go directly to Art Sparks Interactive Gallery, the children’s gallery at The Speed Art Museum.

Participating artists include: Chris Radtke, Nico Jorcino, Jacob Heustis, Cynthia Reynolds, Natasha Sud, Monica Mahoney, Gibbs Rounsavall, Bryce Hudson, Amanda Bishop, J.B. Wilson, McKinley Moore, Julius Friedman, Lloyd Kelly, Russel Hulsey, Billy Hertz, Letitia Quesenberry, Thea Lura, Sarah Lyon, Valerie Fuchs, Skylar Smith, and Stephen Irwin.

I’ll be at the opening reception on Friday, September 4th, which is a First Friday Trolley Hop (for you wine moochers out there).   I hope to see you there.


‘Women of Mass Construction,’ Hannah Lamppin


11″ x 14″ oil on masonite board.
Email me at ashley.cecil at gmail.com for purchasing inquiries.
A donation from sold painting will be made to the Women’s Second Chance Scholarship Fund.

Gallery caption:

Girl Scouting provides a place where today’s girls can become tomorrow’s leaders. Most girls join a local troop for fun and friendship, but they also find out about building character and self-esteem and serving their communities. In Girl Scouts, girls find a safe place to discover, connect, and take action.

Hannah has experienced the fun and games most of us associate with Girls Scouts, but the organization has also helped shape this shy young woman into budding, confident public speaker.   Her experiences with Girl Scouts have provided her with safe and supportive opportunities to tackle her Central Auditory Processing Disorder.   With encouragement and coaching from her troop leaders, Hannah’s language challenges have taken a backseat when she has given speeches across the country and even in Japan.

Hannah’s quote in the painting:

My world was certainly made a better place which has enabled me, by extension, to make the world a better place for others.   It was a very empowering feeling to think I what I said, or what I did, really mattered to these younger girls.