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!


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.


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

Artist Ashley Cecil announces her latest exhibition Edged Out

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bare breasts for natural history

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

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

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

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

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


Catching the kimono craze

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

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

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


Updates from an artist residency in herpetology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Artist residency at the Richards-Zawacki Lab

Ashley Cecil's sketchbook paintings of frogsApparently, once you start making artwork inspired by biological sciences, there’s no going back. Since embarking on one artist residency after another at science, natural history, and conservation-based organizations in Pittsburgh, I can’t imagine doing anything else. The swelling pressure to reconcile our strain on nature matched with the awe-inspiring aesthetic of life on this planet has me addicted to hanging out in science labs and closed-off museum collections. 2018 will be no exception.

Frogs studied by the Richards-Zawacki LabToday, I start a six-month residency at the Richards-Zawacki Lab (RZL) of the University of Pittsburgh. RZL studies “many aspects of the ecology, evolutionary biology, and conservation of amphibians.” I’m particularly interested in their research on whether climate change “shape[s] present day patterns of biodiversity” among amphibians.

I’ll draw inspiration for new artwork from the frogs RZL scientists study, such as leopard frogs and strawberry poison frogs (the latter are found in the Bocas del Toro archipelago of Panama, where PhD student Yusan Yang is pictured above). I have a hunch these vibrant amphibians will translate rather well into my patterned paintings of flora and fauna.

Wish me luck and stay tuned for news about an exhibition of this work, educational art and science workshops, and more.


Birds and Botany, an exhibition of my work at Phipps

It’s a pretty big deal to be invited to exhibit my work at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. And it’s an even bigger deal that the exhibition, Birds and Botany, is up during the holiday season. If you’ve ever been to Phipps during winter, you are well aware of the massive droves of people the holiday lights draw in, and my work greets the hundreds of thousands of visitors as they queue to get tickets. I like to think I’m offering visual enjoyment while they wait.

The show includes my original artwork resulting from my 2016 artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, as well as the related wallpaper, handmade scarf, and bird-safe window films. The paintings and scarves are available for sale at Phipps. The wallpaper and window films are special orders – shoot me an email for details.

The show is up well into 2018. I hope you’ll brave the cold to see it (the tropical temps inside the greenhouse make it especially worth it this time of year). 

Artwork of Ashley Cecil at Phipps

Wallpaper designed by artist Ashley Cecil installed at Phipps

Artwork of Ashley Cecil at Phipps


Avian bike rack for downtown Pittsburgh cyclists

I’ve done it. I’ve made my first legit artwork in three dimensions. The opportunity to create beyond a canvas came from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which commissioned this bike rack of the wing of Pennsylvania’s state bird – a Ruffed Grouse.

The process of working with the city (for design approvals) and fabricators including welding apprentices at the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh was especially exciting because I love a good technical challenge. Now with the learning curve behind me, I could have this or a similar bike rack built and installed within a few weeks. Want an avian-inspired bike rack outside your building? Let’s talk.

Bike rack designed by artist Ashley CecilBefore and after powder coating.

Bike rack designed by artist Ashley CecilThe bike rack being installed on Liberty Ave in downtown Pittsburgh. Photo by Seth Culp-Ressler.

Bike rack designed by artist Ashley CecilPhoto by Seth Culp-Ressler.


Dressing professionals in custom penguin neckwear

The beloved pattern of African Penguins I created in collaboration with Knotzland for Earth Day 2017 neckwear is in the spotlight once again – this time as both a bowtie AND a scarf for attendees of the African American Directors Forum in Pittsburgh.

Custom scarves and bowties for the African American Directors ForumThe request for the thoughtful gifts came from the gentleman who dreamed up the event, which was “designed to measurably improve diverse, and particularly African American, representation on the boards of publicly traded companies in the Pittsburgh region.” Instead of presenting the forum attendees with another tech device or engraved knickknack, he wanted guests to have something truly unique, memorable, handmade and with a Pittsburgh connection. That’s where Knotzland and I come in.

 Custom scarves and bowties for the African American Directors ForumThe original inspiration for the pattern of African Penguins was an Earth Day nod to the National Aviary’s efforts to conserve the endangered bird. This Pittsburgh organization houses a waddle of these penguins, which were my models for the ink painting used to make the repeating pattern. That design was printed on fabric and then made by hand in Pittsburgh into scarves and bowties.

Now, a crowd of stylish corporate directors and C-suite executives are sporting exclusive neckwear that supports local makers and advocating for environmental conservation (take that, tech-device-that-ends-up-in-the-junk-drawer!).

Hey, would you do me a huge favor? The next time you or someone in your orbit is shopping for a special gift for such an event (or maybe gifts for a wedding party, etc.), please send them this post. Knotzland and I love custom orders, and between our two respective products, we’ve got everyone on your list covered.


Ready or not, the holiday shopping season is here

Although it seems entirely impossible, it’s time for holiday shopping and I’m ready for you! Scarves and prints of my paintings of flora and fauna are bursting out of boxes ready to be packed in my car for the two upcoming shows I’ll be vending at this holiday season.

Wings & Wildlife Art Show 2017The first event is the Wings and Wildlife Art Show this weekend (November 4th and 5th) at the National Aviary. It’s fitting this show comes first since the latest addition to my line of products highlights the National Aviary’s own pair of Guam Kingfishers. Come shop and I’ll tell you all about this bird’s conservation story in person and see the rare birds yourself.

 

Handmade Arcade 2017And then, my friends, is the beloved Handmade Arcade on December 2nd. This shopping bonanza actually scares me a little – Handmade Arcade folks don’t joke around about making their purchases. Last year, I don’t think I made it to the bathroom the entire day because of the steady stream of shoppers, and someone actually insisted on buying the scarf I was wearing because I had sold out of that pattern. I’ve been practicing swiping credit cards and am ready for y’all!

Whether you’re in Pittsburgh to shop in person, or using the interwebs to get the job done, get your 15% off for subscribing to my updates – I really do appreciate that you follow my work. If we see each other in person, just remind me to apply your discount; if you’re shopping online…[only subscribers got the coupon code – sign yourself up to get on board].


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.


Deck your walls with flora and fauna wallpaper

At long last, it’s here! Wallpaper that is.

Wallpaper by Pittsburgh artist installed in the artist's home

If I had a dollar for every time someone who bought one of my scarves said, “you should print this on wallpaper,” I could have already wallpapered my own house in gold (instead it’s now wallpapered with my own designs). Problem solved because it’s now available on my shop.

Each standard roll of this woven wallpaper is 2′ wide by 12′ long and printed in the US. The material is eco-friendly and contains no formaldehyde, phthalates, or PVC. The self-adhesive backing is mess-free, repositionable during installation, durable, and easily removable (pretty much perfect, right?). Rolls cut to a custom length can be ordered to fit your specific space and minimize waste. Simply send your wall dimensions to me at ashley (at) ashleycecil (dot) com for a quote.

Museum Flora and Fauna, a wallpaper design by Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil
This pattern, titled Museum Flora and Fauna, features birds, bugs, and botany from Pittsburgh museums including Phipps, the National Aviary, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.


Extinct, a wallpaper design by Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil
This pattern, titled Extinct Birds, is my newest creation. I was inspired to make the original artwork of bird species lost forever after reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction.
Nursing Mammals on Blue, a wallpaper design by Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil
And this beauty is one of three color versions of a pattern of nursing mammals, which I developed during my artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.