Hello dear friends!
I’m super excited to introduce you an amazing couple – artists Debbie and Brian Miller!
If you are not familiar with their beautiful, full of life and happiness art – you would definitely be very pleased to discover them! I feel so lucky and grateful to bring you this interview and hope you will read it just as much as I’m! And the best part – you can even win their original art too!
Brian and Debbie Miller, December 2019
“We are the Millers, Brian and Debbie. After years of buying other people’s art, dabbling with expressive art and mixed media, and (for Debbie) being an avid crafter, we took a serious turn in our artistic practice when we learned about the Daily Painting movement in March 2016. We’ve been painting together every day since. We are truly best friends and love to spend time together, so when you see one of us, the other is likely to be nearby. We’ve been married for over 30 years. Though we don’t have children, we have invested in various forms of creative expression and spiritual community as our way of leaving our mark on the world.
1. What’s your scariest experience?
We had to weather a very scary experience early in our marriage. Two years into our life together as newlyweds, Debbie was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. About the time we thought we would be starting a family, we were spending our days in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and cancer treatment centers. It wasn’t the future we had imagined for ourselves, and it made us face a lot of fears. It also made us less likely to take our life together for granted. Thankfully, Debbie has been cancer free since that time, but it did change our lives dramatically.
In particular, not being able to have children really caused an existential crisis for us – what does it mean to be generative and have a legacy if you don’t have children? In a very family-oriented world, how do we figure out what it means to be a family of two? And how do we go on risking loving each other so fully when we are very clear that there are no promises about how long we will have together? Discovering the answers to these questions for us – doing that work together – has been hard and really, really good. It has brought us even closer together, and forged our sense of mission, especially in the area of encouraging creativity in others.Debbie & Brian on their wedding day, November 1989
2. What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
Debbie: Well, between the two of us, I think I win in the “crazy jobs I have had” contest. My first job in high school was selling women’s hosiery in a department store. Since then, I’ve worked in a library, as an editorial assistant for an education journal, as a retail bridal store owner, and a lexicographer (dictionary maker). All that before I started an 18-year career in the Solid Waste Management industry (helping cities and counties figure our more cost-effective ways to pick trash and yard waste and recyclables). Then I transitioned from that world to go to seminary and get my Masters in mental health counseling – just a switch from managing physical garbage to emotional garbage, I guess. I am now in private practice as a counselor, and I also work as a spiritual director and creative depth coach (expressive art).
Brian: Since graduating from art school with BFAs in animation and film-making, I have worked in many capacities in the field of commercial art. As graphic arts and the need to communicate in a digital world changed over time, I found myself getting increasingly interested in the technical aspects of my work. Now I am an IT administrator for a large corporation. Ironically, the more technical my day job has become, the more energy I have for my personal artwork. I love being at my easel, working on art that is self-directed rather than client-directed, and making art that doesn’t involve a computer screen between me and the materials.
3. How is your personality reflected in your art?
First of all, you have to see our studio tables to really grasp our differences. For Debbie, if things aren’t in sight, they cease to exist. So she likes piles. And she likes ALL the art supplies. If there are 42 colors of pastels available, why live with only 10? Her philosophy is: “more is more.” Brian, on the other hand, is more of a “less is more” kind of guy. He likes a limited palette. He likes to see what he can do with the fewest number of materials. He likes things put away and out of sight.
Debbie’s studio space, 2020 Brian’s studio space, 2020
So, it turns out that those traits come through in our paintings. When we first started our daily painting practice, we painted flowers every day for a year or so. We worked on 6” x 6” hardboard panels, and we stored them in his and her shoeboxes. One of our clients was looking through the boxes of our artwork, and she observed (very astutely) that Debbie likes to paint close-up compositions with lots of flowers close together and Brian likes to take a more distant point of view and put lots of space between the flowers.
It turns out that that is a pretty good description of our personalities. Brian is more introverted and less interested in a big congregation of flowers (or people). And Debbie is a gatherer, she likes to bring flowers (and people) together. She likes her worlds to collide.
So, our art tells our story.
Brian’s Painting #1000 Debbie’s Painting #1000
4. What does your daily/weekly artist practice/ritual look like, and how much time do you commit to it?
We get up each morning (during the week) at 5am, turn on the coffee pot, get the studio lights turned on, and – as soon as the coffee is ready – start painting. 90% of the time, we are each working on a small painting that we call our “daily squares” – created with oil or acrylic on 6” x 6” wood panels with 1-5/8” deep sides. Typically, we listen to music (classical of acoustic folk) or a podcast (from true crime to faith and creativity related topics) while we work. And we usually spend about 45 minutes to an hour on each painting (direct painting time). Then we take digital photos and make a post on social media. All of that before showers, breakfast, and getting on with our day jobs.
On weekends, we usually don’t start painting until later in the day, and we may choose to work on larger works then, when we have more time to explore and play. It’s not uncommon for us to spend 4 to 8 hours at our easels on a weekend day, punctuated by the occasional break for food and naps. 😉
But the art-making is only part of the time commitment. Debbie is in charge of procurement. She manages the inventory of our supplies and does all the ordering of paints, substrates, and collateral materials. Brian manages the inventory of our physical paintings, scans our artwork, color balances the digital images, posts them to our websites, and does most of the varnishing. Both of us paint edges of the wood panels (we like working with them because they are self-framing). And Debbie does most of the work to identify and coordinate shows and exhibit opportunities. Brian is the architect of how we hang shows (he’s a savant about organizing a visual space).
And that doesn’t include our teaching endeavors. We teach a 6-week class evening class for adult learners at a local community art center (five sessions per year). This commitment takes at least 8 hours per week. Plus we are developing online teaching lessons. So there are PowerPoint presentations, videos, and promotional materials to be made. We share in those responsibilities.
And we have to stay fresh. So we are serious about spending time looking at art (browsing through art on Instagram, going to shows and art fairs, going to museums and galleries, doing studio tours, etc.) Plus, we indulge our passion for learning at least 3 times per year by taking art workshops that build our skills, help us to stay inspired, and let us make connections with other artists.
The bottom line is that there’s a lot that goes into the administrative and business part of things, so making art is a relatively small part of our overall time commitment.
A flow chart of our practice, from easel to “market.”
5. Where do you create? How do you organize your work space?
We have a home studio where we create. It was actually a really significant part of our creative journey to dedicate that space to our art-making.
When we first started painting, we had to set up our easels in the dining room or kitchen and take them down when company was coming. It made us feel fragmented and somehow seemed to downgrade the significance that art-making had in our lives.
So one day, we looked at our house and realized that the family room, the largest room in the house was organized around the TV. Everything pointed to it. So, clearly, the most real estate in our home (and maybe our lives) was dedicated to watching someone else’s art.
We got bold and decided to make a big shift. We moved the couch and TV into the much-smaller “formal” living room, and turned the family room into our joint studio. Now, our space reflects what we feel are our real priorities.
6. Do you decide ahead of time what you are going to paint or is your work primarily intuitive?
Um…yes, no, sometimes, maybe??
Debbie typically arranges a bunch of flowers on the weekend that might end up as the subject of one of our daily paintings. And we are always collecting still life objects and over-buying produce on the off chance that those lemons or carrots will be needed for a painting.
Plus we both spend a lot of time noodling about what we want to do next. What technique do we want to try? What artist is inspiring us? What series do we want to work on? We try to spend time on at least one weekend morning talking about our art goals and dreams and wish lists. The answer to those questions may determine what we choose to work on each day.
But we don’t like feeling hemmed in, either. So, we both want the flexibility to let our mood re-direct us. Brian might be right in the middle of a series of bird paintings and get inspired to paint the sunflowers that are sitting on the kitchen table instead. We want to be able to be responsive to those impulses.
And we both do better when we are working from some kind of reference – life (Brian’s preference) or photographic (Debbie’s preference). When we paint from our imagination only, we tend to drift into old “shortcuts” and styles and miss out on the power of the creative conversation that goes on between the artist, the reference, and the materials. We admire intuitive painters, but we both feel like our purely intuitive paintings feel less successful at this stage of our artistic practice.
7. What art do you most identify with?
Brian: Over time, my artistic influences have changed. I used to be more attracted to bold, graphic art in an “illustration style,” with highly saturated colors. But over the past few years, I have become increasingly drawn to observational painters and more traditional genres of painting: still life, portraits, and landscapes. I don’t paint much figurative work, but I love to look at painters who work in that realm. And I find myself more compelled by art that whispers rather than shouts (to paraphrase something Elana Hagler said on a The Savvy Painter podcast).
Debbie: I feel really grateful to a few artists that I’ve taken workshops from, especially Annie O’Brien Gonzales and John Whipple, because they encouraged me to keep files of artwork and artists that inspired me. Annie Gonzales calls it your artistic family tree. And John Whipple suggests that it’s good to let yourself “channel” these masters of a style that is moving you, in order to learn how you want to incorporate some of that energy into your own work. So I have been creating Pinterest boards whenever I find an artist whose work I find compelling or inspirational. When I need an infusion of inspiration, I can look through these artists’ works and get motivated to try new things, press into some established practices, etc. I have a wide range of influences – from artists who rely on whimsical, primitive, mark-making and mixed media techniques to traditional oil painters who do highly realized still lifes. In my day to day artmaking, I think I most often end up doing still lifes in a more fauvist or impressionistic style or working with vintage images.
8. Is the artist life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
We realize that we are really fortunate. We share a studio space and we create together every day. Even with all that togetherness, though, there is always the moment where it’s just you and the canvas. No one else can do it for you. You have to find the will and the inspiration. You have to make the micro-decisions. You have to bear the insecurity of whether you can do what you want to do. You have to face down the inner critic.
Don’t get us wrong, we know how great it is to be able to confess crippling self-doubt to each other or ask for technical suggestions at any point in the creative process. But even our proximity and accessibility to each other doesn’t completely alleviate the tension of the artist’s journey.
We also value artistic community. We regularly organize “paint ins” at our studio and invite friends to come and paint with us. And, for the past 2 years, Debbie has done a project as part of The 100 Day Project initiative, spearheaded by Lindsay Jean Thomson, that she calls #100daysofencouragement. In a spirit of promoting community over competition, she tries to find artists who inspire her, some of whom may not be well-known, and introduce them to the Instagram community and invite people to look at their work and offer encouragement. This is a practical way that she tries to counteract not only her own artistic loneliness, but also the potential loneliness of other artists.
9. What role does the artist have in society?
Debbie: I think the role of the artist in society is to experience and steward beauty, and this matters, because, as Dostoyevsky penned “beauty will save the world.” In one of his latest books, The Artist’s Journey, Stephen Pressfield theorizes that the artist, having survived her own “hero’s journey” of great risk, facing death, and winning the prize, must return and bring gifts to the community. I see this path as part of the artist’s role – to enter the mystery of the creative process, to bear that tension, to receive a creative impulse, and to bring it back, incarnate it, and offer it to self and the world. I know that might sound lofty, when mostly I just enjoy mixing colors and painting for the sheer fun of it. But I think beneath those simple acts is a deeper meaning.
Brian: I agree with Debbie’s comments, but I also think that one roles of the artist is to stimulate and encourage creativity in others. When we engage in any kind of creative activity – cooking a meal, raising a child, gardening, dancing, or creating visual art – we will be more connected to ourselves and the Creator. And I think that is one of the great values of being an artist.
10. What do you dislike about the art world?
Here’s the tension that we always talk about. We love the idea of being in the “art world.” Finding our place in a community of art-makers, developing friendships and relationships, learning the lingo, building a network – these are all things that have really been fulfilling and life-giving to us. In particular, we have gotten so much out of being part of the Instagram “art world” and participating in things like #the100dayproject.
BUT…on a fundamental philosophical level, we also think that there should NOT be an “art world” and a “non-art world.” We believe that EVERYONE is creative in some way. Everyone is an artist, responsible for the art of creating their lives. We don’t like the idea of gate-keepers who get to decide that some art is “worthy” and other art is not. Which is one of the reasons that we have been so energized by the artistic opportunities created by social media. It is the democratization of art. Anyone with access to a camera and any kind of art supplies can post their art and have it get a world-wide audience. We love this idea. And we want to encourage more and more people to take risks to create and show their work.
11. What is your dream project?
Brian: I would love to a series of bigger and more complex still lifes. Our friend, artist Sarah Sedwick, describes her home as having little collections of possible still life compositions sprinkled throughout her living and studio space. I would love to do that. Sit with complex arrangements, really notice the impacts of light and shadow, observe shapes and colors, tinker with what works and doesn’t work. And I want to work in series. My early life as an animator has marked me deeply, and I find that nothing makes me happier than creating multiple paintings, thematically grouped, that allow me to explore subtle variations and come at a creative “problem” from multiple directions.
Debbie: I would like bring together two streams of my life – my therapeutic/coaching work and my fine arts work. I’m hoping to be able to develop a class or workshop or retreat that allows people to explore “art as a sacred storyteller.” In particular, I’d like to create a body of my own work of images that express the archetypal energies that I find myself in relationship with most often in my life. And I’d like to help others identify their core archetypal influences and create artistic expressions that give “face” to those energies. I think it would be a powerful way to engage healing, personal development, and creative expression.
12. As an artist, from where do you feel your creativity stems ( not external inspiration, but the initial drive/motivation within). Do you believe it’s in your DNA, born of early life circumstance or a combination?
We believe that everyone has creativity as part of their DNA. We believe that we are made by a Creator and that we are image-bearers, stamped with the impulse and capacity to create. Whether those impulses are honed, encouraged, or squashed is part of each of our personal stories.
For Brian, he decided in 3rd grade that he wanted to be an artist, and he was encouraged to pursue that dream. His parents supported his desire to go to art school, and sent him for special art training whenever they could. So it wasn’t hard for him to own his creativity and think of it as a primary part of his identity.
In Debbie’s family, she wasn’t encouraged to do anything that she wasn’t naturally good at. She didn’t have any natural talent at drawing or sports or music, so she wasn’t encouraged to try. Instead she focused on where she shined, which was academics. But what those early messages kept her from discovering is the value of practice. Art and music and sports all have a rhythm of discipline and skill development that comes from practice and drills. For Debbie, she didn’t discover until she was 58 years old that she would get better at drawing and color theory and brushwork if she practiced regularly. So for her, the discovery of the Daily Painting movement allowed her to tap into a deeply rooted desire for creativity and give it fresh expression.
Bottom line, we believe that everyone is wired to be generative, that is to release creative energy into the world. But this creative impulse needs to be activated and nurtured.
13. Tell me about your first ever sale of an artwork… how did it happen?
Debbie: My first artwork sale was in high school. I embroidered a pair of my jeans with images from the album cover from the movie American Graffiti, and my friends thought they were cool. When the drama and music departments decided to do the musical Godspell as the spring production, one of the cast members hired me to embroider his jeans with symbols that meant a lot to him. He sketched out what he wanted, and I hand-stitched the designs like a floss-weilding crazy person, in order to get them done in time for rehearsals. It was literally a blood-sweat-and-tears project because I pricked my finger so often, and his jeans had little dots of my blood mingled with the colorful embroidery to prove it. (Yuck!)
Brian: I created a lot of art work (graphics and animation) for commercial clients, starting in college. But my fine art sales didn’t really begin until relatively recently. One of the most meaningful sales was an oil still life that I created for a juried art show in Orlando. It sold on the opening night of the show to another artist who I didn’t know personally at the time, but I admired her work immensely. So it was a real thrill to be the only sale that night at the show and to know that another artist admired my work enough to purchase it.
“One Week in July, Part I,” 11” x 14” oil on wood panel by Brian Miller
14. Do you ever get discouraged when a piece doesn’t sell? Do you create in order to sell?
Most of the time, we don’t create specifically in order to sell. Occasionally, we will get a commission or paint in response to a particular challenge (call to artists or a themed art show). But for the most part, we create because we feel called to create.
But, let’s be honest, we paint two paintings every day. We’ve been doing it for over 1,400 days. That’s more than 2,800 paintings. So, we have to do something with them. And there are only so many times that we can foist our paintings on people as birthday and Christmas gifts! So, it is definitely helpful to sell our work. To move paintings from our house out into the world is meaningful. And this is not a cheap pastime. So, it’s helpful to sell in order to fund our ongoing art-making and art workshop habits.
And we have to admit that there is some ego involved. In our culture, the exchange of money is a way of communicating value. It’s not the only way, but it is the most standard metric, whether we like it or not. So, it’s hard to not feel like sales translates to success. And a lack of sales can create some internal doubts and fears.
In our household, Debbie has had more sales pretty consistently than Brian. For some couples, that could create tension or pain. But Brian is very confident and doesn’t really need a lot of outward reinforcement to know who he is as an artist. Debbie is more vulnerable to feeling like she’s a fraud or wondering if she really has what it takes, so the outward validation of sales has been really helpful for building her confidence. And we are so lucky that we don’t feel competitive. We are genuinely delighted for one another when we are producing well and/or making sales. We are each other’s biggest cheer leaders.
And, we really do work to stay grounded in our bigger vision and mission for art-making. Debbie hired Jenny Doh to mentor her in the business of art a few years ago. And Debbie was asking Jenny how she handled social media following and “likes.” Jenny asked Debbie why she cared about social media metrics. The answer was multi-faceted: (1) ego (let’s be honest); (2) following could translate to potential sales; and (3) a sense of having impact. Jenny asked a profound question: “What do you want to do with your influence.” And Debbie realized right away that the answer was “Encourage other people in their creative expression.” This is a shared vision and goal. We both feel so passionate about helping people take the next step in their creative journey. So, our art sales are meaningful, at least in part, because they help to make that dream possible.
15. I’ve heard that major collectors say that the artist has to be considerate and enthusiastic or else they are not buying anything from them, no matter how good the work is, and that the artist’s personality and disposition count. Do you find this to be so?
We agree with this observation. We were art collectors before we were painters. And almost all the art in our collection is from artists that we met and had a sense of connection with. We have walked out of artist’s booths at art fairs when we were being ignored or when the artist was being openly critical of the show, venue, or other artists. No matter how much we might objectively like a body of artwork, a negative interaction with the artist will turn us off.
We know that we aren’t the most talented artists out there. There are people who have more technical skill, more training, more years at the easel, and more creative genius. But we have had a modicum of success as artists, and we credit our hearts for some of that recognition. We try to be generous and not live out of a sense of scarcity. If anyone wants to know how we do something or where we get our supplies, we want to give that information away. We want to be open-hearted, authentic, down-to-earth, and encouraging. And we feel like that attitude has made all the difference. Not only is the quality of our life better, but it has also translated to a growing following and increasing opportunities to share our vision and our art with the world. ”
Today, Debbie and Brian Miller have their online show with Heartful Soul AC over FB group.
To celebrate this event and spread the news both artists are generously offered two original oil paintings as giveaway! You don’t have to buy anything to be entered to the draw, all you should do is:
- Click on the link below and join the event by checking on “GOING” HERE
- Invite up to 10 of your friends to the event
- Let us know that you invited your friends – tag them in comments HERE:
You will get one entry in the drawing for each friend who attends to the event.
Drawing will be made by artists on march 7 – Good luck!
To see art offered for the auction – click HERE.
For many originals bidding starts as low as $60!
We hope to see you there!
Big hug and much love,