It’s time once again for your mailbox to receive some artistic love. My next full-color 5.5″x8.5″ postcard featuring one of my latest paintings is about to be mailed far and wide. This colorful and frameable antidote to unsolicited restaurant menus comes three times a year. You can get your subscription in my shop, or give the gift of tiny flora and fauna art to the person in your life who also needs a break from cringe-inducing junk mail.
If you use a smartphone, love the sound of songbirds, and appreciate nature art, then this post is for you.
During my artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I crossed paths with technologists at the Innovation Studio, “the design, development and workflow laboratory at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.” After a few chats about possible ways of blending physical art and museum-centered technology, we found a first fit in Dawn Chorus, the newly launched alarm app for smartphones that stirs you from slumber by the call of songbirds (download iton the Apple App Store and Google Play Store).
In nature, a dawn chorus is a swelling serenade of songbirds beginning at the break of day. In this digital version, you can set the time of the chorus and snooze it. There’s also information about each of the featured bird species, including conservation risks, and ways to help the feathered vocalists.
My contribution to the visual interface of the app is modest – the botanical accents of Mountain Laurel, which you may remember from my bird conservation-inspired residency paintings and pattern (and this scarf). The wonderful bird illustrations are by the talented Sam Ticknor.
Go on and download it. You know waking up to the sound of a Magnolia Warbler or a Scarlet Tanager will make you much happier than your phone’s default alarm.
The election week was tough, to say the least. What’s an artist to do? Keep making work that connects people to nature and to science that demonstrates the need for environmental stewardship, because there’s never been a more pressing time to give our attention to findings that institutions such as the Carnegie Museum of Natural History are revealing about the health of our planet.
EXHIBITION OPENING: EMERGENT PATTERNS Nov. 19, 5 – 8PM, Boxheart Gallery (4523 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15224)
Join me for this public reception featuring original artworks resulting from my residency. My work will be exhibited alongside paintings by fellow nature artists Augustina Droze and Deirdre Murphy. Not in Pittsburgh? Send an email to request images and details of the artworks.
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.
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:
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 had an epiphany – I spend too much time incentivizing people to subscribe to my blog and not enough time thanking the subscribers I have. After all, I had three drawings in 2014 to give away free prints and such to new people who signed up for my updates. But what about you, the peeps who have been following my work all along? Don’t worry, your time has come my friend.
I’m going to use my new year’s resolution to sketch more regularly to show my appreciation. The drawings won’t be in my sketchbook – they’ll go on blank fine art paper postcards and be mailed to you, the folks who read this stuff. Who doesn’t love handmade snail-mail and a “thank you?” Well, if you don’t because you prefer all things digital (I won’t judge), you can get your fix on my Instagram feed (@ashleycecil), or see the inspirational eye candy I’m pinning on Pinterest…
If you are interested, well, you had to be a subscriber. Sorry. The folks who were already on board got a different version of this post in their inboxes with instructions on how to participate (if you subscribe via RSS feed, please shoot me an email at email@example.com). So, if you want to be in on future fun, stick your email in that box on the right side of my blog homepage. Thanks!
While I was away, all of that hard work got a nod from Pop City here in Pittsburgh – they ran a feature article about my work! I tried to keep up with the resulting influx of messages and social media chatter, but apparently T-Mobile’s network doesn’t work too well so close the equator. Nonetheless, I was flattered by the article and thrilled with the congratulatory notes that followed. I came back to my studio rejuvenated and ready to paint.
So, I loaned my newest stuffed feathered friend (and a random single wing) from a local museum and got started on two new pieces.
Here is my subject, a male Royal Northern Flycatcher, drawn on craft paper and cut out with a x-acto knife.
Here he is again being traced onto the painting.
Tada! This is his final portrait, version 1.
And final portrait, version 2.
As usual, the titles are purely functional (helping me to not forget the bird species). Hence, “Royal Northern Flycatcher on Blue 1” and “Royal Northern Flycatcher on Blue 2″ (I’m a painter, not a writer, ok?). Also included are Orb-weaver spiders, an Elephant Hawk-moth and bunches of Sir Matt Busby fuchsia. Each painting is done in acrylic and oil paint on a 12″ x 12” board. Not a bad start for being three weeks into 2015, huh?
Ps – If you’re interested in one or both of the original paintings, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re interested in these paintings as prints or textiles products, be patient! Gosh.
In 15 days, I’ve participated in four holiday markets, growing my number of email subscribers by over 200 (welcome, new folks!), stocked my wares in three new retail stores, and managed online sales. I’ve just dropped off the last of my Christmas orders at the post office and delivered a client’s set of dinning room chairs newly reupholstered with my fabric. Starting tomorrow, I’m taking a hiatus to sleep full time. So, Santa is in charge now. You can direct your last minute gift requests to the North Pole.
My first year being on the vendor’s side of the holiday madness was quite the adventure.
I learned how to condense a 10′ x 10′ exhibit booth worth of stuff into this pile.
I learned how to maneuver that same pile of stuff into a single load in a Honda CRV (I’ve added “magician” to my resume).
Said pile somehow looks like this unpacked.
I got some help from a pretty adorable elf (little does he know he’s recruited to work my booth as soon as his head clears the display table).
There were multiple episodes of the warm fuzzies when new customers sent me photos of my wares on their person or couch.
I also honed my time-management skills – somehow, I squeezed in starting a few new paintings last week. This Royal Northern Flycatcher will be my next subject.
The cherry on top after the chaos was informing Rachel of Monroeville, PA that I randomly drew her name (out of all my new email subscribers from the holiday markets) to receive a free print of my work. She picked “Pin-tailed Manakin on Blue 1“. It suits her well, don’t you think?
And with that my friends, I’m out! I hope Santa is good to you this year.
George, the stuffed Passenger Pigeon has gone home to his drawer at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. It was great getting to know him as he stared at me day after day while I painted his portrait. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end (literally in his case as an extinct species of 100 years). The process of creating this homage was well documented and gives me an opportunity to share how it works. Step one is covering the canvas with a solid color in acrylic paint, followed by a flat pattern. There’s no room for error with anything that’s added from this point forward because the next layer of painting is done in oils – if I did make a mistake, I couldn’t paint over it with the background color because you can’t paint acrylic (water-based) over oil. So I’ve developed a way to eliminate or at least minimize mistakes – before I continue painting, I draw the bird(s) that will go in the foreground of the painting on craft paper exactly posed and sized as I want them on the canvas. Then I carefully cut them out and lightly tape them in place. Now I use a color of oil paint similar to the background to trace the silhouette of the bird so I know exactly where everything goes. And then I paint it in with oils. I usually freehand the foliage and insects because a stray brush stroke of a flower petal is far easier to “fix” than any part of a bird. Sometimes I add a design in gold leaf, but I don’t think this one needs it. So there you have it – a finished “Passenger Pigeon on Mint.” Painting is still only one part of what I do. I’m also a textile designer and seamstress/maker. Just this week, Ben Saks of Float Pictures finished a video documenting my process from start to finish. So I will stop typing and let you watch. Enjoy!