Ashley Cecil | Crain's Pittsburgh

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Ashley Cecil


Ashley Cecil is a fine artist who makes commissioned original artwork for interior designers, much of it focusing on flora and fauna and the natural sciences. She is an Artist in Resident at Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Sciences.

The Mistake:

My mistake was spreading myself too thin.

When I started out in 2013, I tried to diversity in what I was doing. I was doing it all – original paintings, wallpaper for arts and craft shows, fashion accessories and teaching art classes. It was spreading me too thin and diminishing the quality of my work because I was focused on trying to keep it all afloat.

I should have mitigated it all by doing some due diligence. I should have checked in with other artists and people who run art festivals where I sell. These are my ideal customers, and [I] could have shaved off a year of iterating and looking for all these different ways to make income.

This all changed when I began to focus more on the subject of my work on flora and fauna. Pittsburgh has Phipps Conservatory and the National Aviary, so I honed in on ecology-related work, which brought about the residency. Through this, I’ve been able to forge relationships and that’s given me focus.

Treat your art as a business from the very beginning.

The Lesson:

Now I am focused on making products that are rewarding and productive.

I created bird-safe window films that keep birds from flying into windows. I wouldn’t have found that had I not focused on this niche of conservation and natural sciences.

Treat your art as a business from the very beginning. Had I called on other artists and businesses, I would have saved myself a lot of heartaches. My advice to other artists is to make a list of all the artists you admire who are sustaining themselves through their work and the businesses that support them – the galleries or businesses. Reach out, talk to them.

Do your due diligence. You will be pleasantly surprised how eager people are to share advice. I’ve received the most insightful advice from people talking over coffee. Do your due diligence.

Follow Ashley Cecil on Twitter at @ashleycecil.

Image courtesy of Ashley Cecil

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email
And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Pittsburgh.