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.


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.


Polling the audience – vote for your favorite paintings

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 ashley@ashleycecil.com. 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:

• The National Aviary’s Wings & Wildlife Art Show, Nov. 7 – 8
• Handmade Arcade, Dec. 5

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.

Blue-faced Honey Eater on Taupe
Blue-faced Honey Eater on Taupe
Raven on Teal
Raven on Teal
Socorro Parakeet on Coral
Socorro Parakeet on Coral
Bateleur Eagle on Olive
Bateleur Eagle on Olive
Morpho Butterfly on Blue
Morpho Butterfly on Blue
Harlequin Beetle on Olive
Harlequin Beetle on Olive
Dahlias on Navy
Dahlias on Navy
Orchids on Taupe
Orchids on Taupe
Red-legged Honeycreeper on Purple
Red-legged Honeycreeper on Purple
Rose-breasted Grosbeak on Coral
Rose-breasted Grosbeak on Coral
Yellow-headed Blackbird on Blue
Yellow-headed Blackbird on Blue
Canaries on Purple
Canaries on Purple


My BYOB tour of Pittsburgh – that’s “B” for botany, birds, and bugs!

One Mission. Two Months. 12+ Paintings. Hundreds of new friends (with 2, 4, and 8+ legs). Thousands to thank.

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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.

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A tray of Red-legged Honey Creeper specimens at Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
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Carnegie Museum of Natural History entomologist John Rawlins poses with a Brahmin Moth. He jokingly calls this his “mad scientist” face.

 

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.

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I made all of my lunch dates pose for an obligatory photo, including these two – illustrators Molly Thompson and Gregg Valley.

 

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.

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Stephanie Kirby’s floral handiwork and my painting of her bouquet. The painting is a work in progress.
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Painting from fresh floral arrangements after installing my work in Stephanie’s bridal consult room.

 

4. Makin’ the news – Fortunately, this project garnered some media attention. I was interviewed on CBS’s Pittsburgh Today Live, and Alexandra Oliver wrote an article about my work for Pittsburgh Articulate.

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On the set of Pittsburgh Today Live with host Brenda Waters.

 

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!

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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.

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A real Brahmin Moth specimen and my own painted version of it. The painting is a work in progress.

 

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:

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All 12 of the paintings from my residency together. Several are still works in progress.

If you’re hungry for more visual eye-candy from this project, I regularly posted photos from the project to my Instagram and Twitter accounts.


Art of Botany: An Open House of Art and Flowers

Join Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil and Cuttings Flower & Garden Market for an open house to celebrate Ashley’s two month artist residency to create new flora and fauna paintings on-site at venues such as Cuttings, the National Aviary, Phipps Conservatory and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The artist will be painting from Cuttings’ fresh floral arrangements while guests enjoy drinks, light bites and peruse two floors filled with fragrant flowers, home decor items and nature-inspired art.