Thursday, July 13, 2017

DPW Spotlight Interview: Debbie Miller

Each week we will spotlight a different DPW artist who will give away one of their best paintings.

To enter to win Debbie's painting, "Slice of Life" go to Daily Paintworks and click on the link at the top of the page announcing their interview.

Tell us a bit about how you first started painting.

From my early passion for coloring books and pot-holder weaving, I was always interested in creativity.  I was a big “dabbler” – knitting, cross-stitch, art quilting, mosaics, visual journaling, hand-built pottery, block printing, mixed media – you name it, I’ve probably tried it or dreamed about trying it.  But I was gun-shy about painting.

Except for the elementary years, I never took a formal art class in school. I didn’t know how to draw, and I felt intimidated about proportion, perspective, shading and color mixing.  My husband, Brian, who is now my daily painting partner, was an art school graduate, so I Ieft the “serious art” to him. But I was in my mid-50s, feeling creatively stagnant, and wanting to invest in that part of my life more fully.  So, we started taking online painting and mixed media classes, and eventually discovered Donna Downey Studios in Huntersville, NC.  Donna -- a talented painter in her own right -- has a vibrant following of online art students, and she offers intensive workshops featuring artists from around the world.  These workshops were so life-giving and inspiring, that we committed to going several times a year to learn, get re-energized, and have fun with other creatives.

In March 2016, Donna hosted a workshop with Lisa Daria Kennedy (one of DPW’s daily painters).  Lisa taught us her style of painting abstract florals.  But more significantly, she talked about the value of daily painting, the beauty of making your creative mark in the world every day, and the benefits of generating a large body of work for helping develop your personal style.  Brian and I were hooked.  Even though my first paintings were woeful, I caught the vision.  We went home and started a ritual of waking up at 5am, painting before breakfast, and putting our art out there on DPW, Instagram, and FaceBook.  It is probably one of the best decisions we ever made.

We are now rapidly approaching our 500th consecutive day of completing a small painting, each day, no matter what, rain or shine.  Now, I consider myself a painter.  Who knew? It’s never too late! And, if you do something every day, you get better at it.  I’m a living testament to that fact.

Slice of Life
(click to view)

Enter to win by clicking on the link at the top of the DPW home page announcing Debbie's interview.

What mediums and genres have you experimented with?

In terms of mediums, I mainly paint in acrylic, but I hope to transition to oils after I get a little more practice.  I am also still a huge fan of mixed media.  I haven’t been doing it as much in the past year, but I love the look and feel of mixed media artwork, especially incorporating vintage papers and line work with graphite and crayons.

As far as genres go, my first love was impressionistic abstracted florals – and you know what they say, “you gotta dance with the one that brought you.”  So, I continue to paint florals as a staple, but I have also discovered a passion for painting vintage dresses, especially styles from the 1950s.  My dress paintings were motivated, in part, by a feeling of nostalgia for an era of civility and manners (in contrast to what I was encountering in the daily news cycle).  And they seem to stir feelings of longing and memory in the viewer, too.  I am having so much fun combing through archives of photographs from pattern makers, designers and fashion magazines.  And I love hearing stories from people about their their prom dresses, memories of watching their mother get dressed up, or what draws them to love mid-century images.  I feel like it’s given me a connection point with others, which is so meaningful to me.

(click to view)

Who or what inspires you most?

I guess that I am most inspired by passion and story.  When I’m not at my easel, I work as a professional mental health counselor, journeying with adults who are dealing with relational challenges or recovering from emotional, physical or spiritual abuse.  As a soul-care provider, I am deeply moved by both the fragility and the resilience of the human heart; and I think that makes me particularly drawn to artists who reveal some of their own authentic stories in their work or their public persona.

I’m just blown away by the passion of artists out there who are parents, squeezing in a few strokes on a painting in between nap times and laundry. Artists who work at all kinds of other jobs to pay the bills and get health insurance, but still manage to make space in their worlds for their creative endeavors.  Late-bloomers, like myself, who grew weary of art-making and finally took the leap of faith into creative self-expression.  Artists who have honed their craft through dedication and practice and keep showing up to the lifelong dance of being and doing art, overcoming resistance again and again.  Activists who use their art and influence to take on issues and make a stand for their beliefs.  Brave souls who come to art as a pathway of healing.  Their stories, their energy…it makes me want to be brave and faithful and use my art for good in the world.

Who's There?
(click to view)

What does procrastination look like for you?

I used to be the Queen of Procrastination -- especially when my perfectionism was in full gear.  The interior dialogue would go something like this: “I have to do this right (i.e., perfectly).  I’m not prepared enough to do it perfectly today, so maybe tomorrow I will have the energy to be perfect.”  But tomorrow would come, and “I still can’t tackle perfect, so it would probably be best to wait. I’ll be more inspired tomorrow.”  And that game could go on for quite some time, until a crisis or a deadline loomed.  Then I would just have to get it done, and I could tell myself “Of course it’s not perfect, not your best work, because you didn’t have time to do it perfectly.  Next time… next time you’ll just have to try harder.”

It was a horrible hamster wheel of fear, shame, and self-loathing.
But my daily painting routine has taken the pressure of perfectionism off my shoulders.  I paint every day, no matter what.  So, if I don’t love my painting today, it’s okay.  Because tomorrow will be another day, and I get a fresh start.  This daily-ness has really helped me wean off procrastination as a lifestyle.  In fact, I don’t even like to delay painting until the afternoon or evening, because the energy feels different.  So, I find myself waking up, wanting to paint, and willing to make the sacrifices needed to make that happen.  Let me tell you – this kind of resolve is new for me!  And it’s leaking into other areas of my life, too.  Go figure. And hallelujah!

Earl Gray Morning
(click to view)

What techniques work to ensure that you make time for your art?

It helps to be married to my art-making bestie, who is equally committed to daily painting.  But we’ve also done some practical things:
We converted our family room into our art studio.  So now the thing that it most important to us takes up the most real estate in our home.
We create art goals for ourselves every 6 months, so we know our targets and milestones we need to work toward.
We have an artistic alliance with a friend.  We usually paint together at least one day each weekend, we text each other nearly every day to share our work and participate in an informal critique, and we hold each other accountable for staying on track with our goals.
This might seem like a minor thing, but it’s really been helpful to me: I use a stay-wet palette with a limited number of paint colors.  So, my paints are laid out and ready to go when I am.

All of these things help create mental and physical “space” for our art-making.

Love Grows
(click to view)

How do you keep art "fresh?" What techniques have helped you avoid burnout and keep your work vibrant and engaging?

I think my art stays fresh because I am a life-long learner who also loves to teach.  For two years, we led a monthly art group for twelve people who wanted to be more creative and practice art in community.  We continue to do that on a smaller scale, and it’s always energizing to teach a technique or share a project idea with others and see what happens.  The act of teaching solidifies and opens us up simultaneously.

And every good teacher is a learner.  So, we continue to invest in our own artistic education by taking classes, trying new things, and spending time looking at art.  Instagram is a great, accessible, daily opportunity to feast on artwork.  But we also enjoy larger-scale art adventures.  For example, in August of this year, we will be taking a 4-day coastal landscape painting class in Cornwall, UK.  I have never done plein air painting, and I’ve never been happy with the landscapes I’ve attempted.  So this course will be an adventure.  The trip will also include sketching in the Portrait Gallery in London, a visit to the Tate in St. Ives, a day spent exploring the Royal Academy of Art’s annual summer exhibition, and a day at the British National Gallery’s modern wing.  I will also be studying about icons in Oxford University’s Summer Theology Programme.  It should be a rich and inspiring time.

I Will be Ready at Eight
(click to view)

What do you feel you are learning about right now as an artist?

Right now, I think I am learning the most about form and figure.  Through painting vintage dresses, I have had to develop a sense of how the fabric is affected by the body underneath.  In the past, I’ve avoided doing full-on figurative work because I’m very aware of all that I don’t know about anatomy.  But the figures have kind of sneaked up on me, because I want to capture a certain attitude, turn of the shoulder, posture that communicates something about the girl wearing the dress, even though I don’t typically paint their faces.

What makes you happiest about your art?

That I’m doing it! Seriously. It still makes me so happy that this is my life.  I get to wake up each day and paint.  I get to luxuriate in color and beauty.  There are people who have responded so favorably to my work and buy pieces from time to time.  How amazing is all of that?  And I get to do this with my amazing husband and a community of friends who inspire and delight me.  I wouldn’t trade this season of my life for anything.  I am very sensible of the reality that I am a blessed woman.  And I hope that I pass blessing along to others, as well.  There’s happy for you, right there.

Thanks, Debbie!

© 2017 Sophie Marine

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