Gifts for the nature lover on your list

This holiday season you’ve got a lot of new flora and fauna textiles to choose from for the nature lover on your shopping list.

First and foremost, my new frog terrarium infinity scarf featuring extinct or endangered species is available on my online shop. The paintings for this pattern were inspired by my artist residency this year at the Richards-Zawacki Herpetology Lab at the University of Pittsburgh, which studies how to best conserve and care for vulnerable amphibian populations.

This year I’m also offering my online customers free gift wrapping with your purchase and direct shipping to the recipient. If you’re interested, place your order and then drop a line to ashley@ashleycecil.com with the recipient’s name, shipping address and any note you’d like me to add from you to them.

And of course, those of you who subscribe to my email and/or mailing list get 15% off every order. Enter your info here to get your coupon code.

PLEASE NOTE: Online orders for local pick up must be made by December 11; online orders to be shipped must be made by December 13!

Scarf printed with paintings of extinct frog species in terrariums by artist Ashley Cecil

Scarf printed with paintings of extinct frog species in terrariums by artist Ashley Cecil

For those of you shopping at Handmade Arcade in Pittsburgh this Saturday, December 8, you’ll have an exclusive collection of new patterns to choose from. I’ll have a very limited number of several new patterns I’m testing in preparation for my exhibition at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden opening in January. This is your only chance to get one for this holiday season. These patterns are so new I don’t even have the scarves completely sewn yet or photographed, but here’s a teaser of the patterns you can expect to see on Saturday.

Happy shopping!

Samples of botanical patterns by artist Ashley Cecil

Handmade Arcade 2018


Exhibition at Phipps will highlight our bonds to the botanical world

My habit of embedding myself where you wouldn’t expect to find an artist has most recently led me to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, where I’ve been serving as an artist in residence since July. I’ve taken a deep dive into learning about human relationships with plants, and that is the very subject of my upcoming exhibition of residency artworks at Phipps opening on January 11, 2019 (and save the date for the closing reception and artist talk on March 7).

I’ve spent hours in the greenhouses asking questions about the ways plants serve people. The scientists, horticulturists, educators and more were happy to indulge my inquiries, since they love any opportunity to gab about nature.

Photos from Ashley Cecil's artist residency at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Photos from Ashley Cecil's artist residency at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Photos from Ashley Cecil's artist residency at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Photos from Ashley Cecil's artist residency at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

With my sketchbook in hand, I jotted notes about the intricate ways plants provide for us, protect us and delight us. These powerful gifts often go unnoticed, although examples of their vast contributions to human welfare are everywhere – from the clothes on your back to the wood forming your home. And so I started making paintings of the best examples. I translated those paintings into the repeating patterns below and now I’m in the process of adding the human element.

Surface pattern of pitcher plants by artist Ashley Cecil Surface pattern of golden rod by artist Ashley Cecil Surface pattern of collard greens by artist Ashley Cecil Surface pattern of cacao leaves and pods by artist Ashley Cecil Surface pattern of brake ferns by artist Ashley Cecil Surface pattern of beech tree leaves by artist Ashley Cecil

This week I’m overlaying each of the six botanical patterns with the silhouette of someone from southwestern PA whose work embodies the human/plant connection, from a food security advocate to a nature-inspired material scientist. Each painting is a celebration of plants that serve our human interests and an individual harnessing that botanical benefit. I hope, come January, it will inspire or deepen your biophilia, or love of nature.

Stay tuned for more!


Sirens from the rainforest

Questions about my trip to the Amazon rainforest have been nonstop. I’ve been awkwardly silent about my participation in LABVERDE because I’m struggling to adequately describe the experience which transcends my vocabulary and possibly my emotional intelligence. In lieu of the story you’re asking for (although I am including photos for you), all I can cobble together right now is a reflection on this bit from my sketchbook – the most poignant example of how what I learned and saw in the rainforest is playing out in my head, my heart and my home.

My oldest son just turned five. Fast forward to 2050 and he will be as old as I am now – 37. While that seems inconsequential, it’s a grim milestone that will mark what some scientists who lectured during LABVERDE estimate as a terminal climate tipping point in which nature’s systems will collapse because of our species’ booming population and our commensurate consumption.

My experience at 37 is that I have half my life ahead of me, and a privileged one at that. His experience at 37, and that of his little brother, may be dire. You know the story – flooded coastal cities that cause a massive global refugee crisis; the rampant spread of deadly diseases no longer kept in check by once diverse and self-regulating ecosystems. If I think too long about what lies ahead for my boys, my chest gets tight and the tears blur my vision. I look at their sweet faces, not yet blemished by wear of the world, and often feel panic. Maybe this is a small taste of how parents feel when their children are diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Clearly, I’m in a complicated headspace. While the informative science lectures were thoroughly depressing, daily excursions into the rainforest were euphoric and dreamlike. I tried to remind myself between bouts of despair that being in this place, in this very moment, to witness this incredibly powerful yet fragile ecosystem is an honor. I felt an intense sense of reverence. I (we) should be present it in, know it, exist with it.

It’s estimated that our universe is 13.8 billion years old. As poetically described by Carl Sagan’s cosmic calendar, in which the entire history of the universe is contained within a single calendar year, humans only came onto the scene in the final hours of December 31, making any one individual’s life nearly too short to measure. Being alive in 2018 in this biologically evolved form (that took more years to engineer than I can conceptualize), to see the iridescence of a morpho butterfly and hear the haunting call of a howler monkey, is extraordinary.

I came back from Brazil with a new goal – to instill that sense of wonder and elation in my boys while preparing them for terrifying challenges ahead. It’s manic, especially with mounting evidence that we are screwed.

Being in a state of emotional paralysis leaves me in a strange place to make artwork from my rainforest experience. I’m grateful for your interest in knowing nature through my work and eventually I’ll think my way through this on canvas. Stay tuned for posts that break down highlights from the trip in more digestible chunks as well as how it all plays out in my studio.

Until next time, remember there are people running for political office who make ignorant and dangerous statements such as climate change is happening because “the Earth moves closer to the sun every year” and “humans have warm bodies, so is heat coming off?”. Please vote.

All of the following photos are by Bruno Zanardo for LABVERDE.


Six month artist residency at a herpetology lab summed up in two minutes

It’s such an honor to be warmly welcomed into a science lab to share their findings about our impact on this world through my visual interpretation. Here’s six months of work as an artist in residence at The Richards-Zawacki Herpetology Lab summed up in under two minutes.

Thank you to everyone at the lab, Pitt Bio OutreachThe Maker’s ClubhousePittsburgh Parks ConservancyFrick Environmental Center and Presented by Jeffrey Jarzynka for making this project a success! And thank you to Elizabeth Craig Photography for capturing the adventure in this video.


Artist talk July 19

Ashley Cecil's artist talk, July 19, 2018

If you weren’t at the opening reception of my exhibition Edged Out, you missed one hell of a celebration. Over 250 art and nature lovers packed the world-renowned Frick Environmental Center to see how art inspired by science can be a powerful conduit to knowledge.

On July 19 at 7PM, I hope you’ll come learn about my immersive six-month residency at the Richards-Zawacki Lab during an artist talk at the Frick Environmental Center. Both the principle investigator of the lab, Cori Richards-Zawacki, and I will be giving a light-hearted presentation about our collaboration (no PhD in biology required). You’ll get a taste of Cori’s scientific research and how that work inspired the paintings and sculptures in the exhibition.

If you’re not able to attend the talk or see the exhibition, you can view the available artwork here. You also can learn about the project through the wonderful press coverage we garnered – my interview on the environmental radio show The Allegheny Front is possibly my favorite.


Artist residency at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Artist Ashley Cecil starts an artist residency at Phipps

Today I start my next nature and science-based artist residency, this time at the beloved Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. This six-month immersive project comes on the heels of my residency at the Richards-Zawacki Herpetology Lab, which only technically ended a few days ago (although stay tuned for a few more exciting events and updates about that project). But there’s no time to waste – research projects are underway and sustainability events are coming up at Phipps that I want to incorporate into my work.

Artist Ashley Cecil start a new residency at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Just this morning,

  • I brainstormed with Dr. Ryan Gott, Associate Director of Integrated Pest Management, about potential themes of plant ecology (think invasive species management and protecting pollinators).
  • Dr. Sarah States, Director of Research and Science Education, filled me in on Phipps’ Botany in Action Fellowship program – a gold mine of scientific research I might tap into.
  • Dr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas, Research and Science Education Outreach Manager, and I shared ideas for teaching the public about plants through art workshops.

That was just the beginning – additional conversations were had about exhibiting my work at Phipps, interacting with daily visitors to the conservatory and much more. Suffice it say you’re in for a treat!

If you’re on the social interwebs, follow the daily goings on via Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I tag my residency posts with #sciartpgh.


LABVERDE: Art immersion in the Amazon

Artist Ashley Cecil participates in LABVERDE

Big news: I’ve been invited to participate in LABVERDE this August in the Amazon rainforest. The art immersion program is based at the Adolpho Ducke Forest Reserve in Manaus, Brazil. It was “created to strengthen the limits of art through a broad array of experiences, knowledge sets and cultural perspective involving art, science and nature. The program’s main goal is to promote artistic creation through a constructive debate about environmental issues generated by both theory and life experience in the Amazon rainforest…LABVERDE promotes an intensive experience in the rainforest mediated by a multidisciplinary team of highly qualified specialists in art, humanity, biology, ecology and natural science.”

In 2017, 210 submissions were received from 36 different countries. 30 artists were accepted, including myself. Sadly, I had to defer my participation because I got pregnant between submitting my application and being accepted (it wasn’t safe to travel to the country of origin of Zika given the circumstance). Luckily, the program organizers held my spot for the 2018 so I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to be a part of this niche program is so well aligned with the theme of my work.

While at the Adolpho Ducke Forest Reserve, I’ll conduct research by collecting photographic reference, attending ecology seminars, completing group assignments and going on guided tours in the Amazon rainforest both on foot and via boat. Topics covered will include, “landscape representation, climate change and environmental impacts, wild edible plants, entomology, botany and natural history of organisms.” All of this will serve as inspiration that I’ll later use to create new work that piques your curiosity about nature and environmental stewardship.

Special thanks to the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council for awarding me an Artist Opportunity Grant to support this endeavor.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.”


Now available: art for bird-safe windows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil

Bird-safe window film by Ashley Cecil


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

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

Ashley Cecil Knotzland bow ties

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

Sketches by Ashley Cecil for bow ties patterns

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

Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil collaborates with Knotzland Bow Ties

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

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