Patrick Miller is a Digital Producer by day, and an absurdly talented artist by night.
We talked to him about his recent exhibition and exciting upcoming projects.
You currently juggle your art around a full time job, is the plan to make the leap into illustrating full time eventually?
Yes. My day job is great and I work beside some of the best people I’ve ever worked with, but it’s not the work I’d choose freely. I’ve waited a long time to switch – years of not wanting to mix love and money – but now, well, I need to give myself the opportunity to make a go of a career in illustration. I’m not worried about failing.
I didn’t have any arts-based education, so I still feel like I need to continue building my skills, and new work comes with every visible improvement.
I’d like to avoid freelancing in the wrong direction. One of Chris Oatley’s podcasts is a great reminder that freelancing can take you away from doing your work, and therefore put you in the same boat but with less money, more demanding clients and the same distance from success with work only you’re qualified to do.
I have been taking on some graphic design commissions, but I won’t be a freelance graphic designer. I’m grateful for the work – it’s closer to my dream than the day job – but it’s never going to be my best work and I won’t enjoy it half as much. Now is the time for resolve!
You recently had your first exhibition. How did that come about, and was it what you expected?
It took me completely by surprise. It came about through Behance (love you Behance!). The show was organised by Theon Phokeerdoss who had convened a bunch of multimedia artists to exhibit last year under the Expressive Collective moniker. He was looking for additional artists this year and found my Choppi work and my commuter sketches on Behance. We all chipped in a few hundred quids and got two weeks in Camden Image Gallery. Ten artists displaying 50 works in different media with very different styles.
I expected it to be tough to decide what to exhibit, and it really was. Agreeing to exhibit for the first time was a real push, but I thought I’d push myself even further and make something that would be a new challenge.
I went all out and decided to eschew digital altogether (Photoshop is typically my only canvas) and looked at how I could hand-print my kind of line drawing. I love etchings. The way the ink absorbs, the impression of the plate on soft paper, the simultaneously fine yet velvety lines. Drypoint as a method had been on my mind for a while, and turns out it’s perfect for me! So I produced three drypoint etchings of some of the street sketches I do.
So, an unexpected but incredibly welcome outcome has been discovering that medium.
Tell us about Choppi.
Choppi! She’s the heroine in the children’s picture book I’ve been working on for too damn long! Choppi is a fictional Nenets girl who loses herself in the wilderness but finds her way home with some help from some deeply awesome allies and, well hey, it’s a children’s book so there’s a good, twisty, happy ending.
The Nenets are a northern Siberian nomadic, reindeer herding people that are having their culture, language and livelihoods endangered by an encroaching Russian nationality, natural gas extraction and transportation, and a warming climate.
The story doesn’t wear these issues on its sleeve, although they’re strong inner drivers for me. Research into the Nenets has also brought up some fascinating parallels with the story in my head, and existing and ancient Nenets epics and songs. So first and foremost it’s a straight-up adventure story.
It’s been hard writing the manuscript, but children’s publishers/agents/art directors really need to see stories, even if they’re half-formed. The market for children’s illustrators is saturated, so having stories to contextualise character design is important, and that’s how the book began. I really want to finish this, her first story, but she has more stories in her and I don’t yet know exactly where she could take me.
What other projects have you got on the go?I really enjoyed making the etchings and hand-printing the images for the exhibition so I’m going to do more of that. It now seems so important to look outside of digital that I can’t believe I took so long to find an output medium that I enjoy as much as I do pencils.
I’m drawing people almost every day now. On buses, tubes, in coffee shops. Wherever I can. I like those moments where people are alone but in company. Self-conscious, but on autopilot. I love drawing real people, and prefer doing it from life, rather than from a photo; it’s essential practice, and the results are quick and unpredictable.
It doesn’t matter to me if I think they’re good or bad really – they might be a bit cranky and rubbish for a week and then one good one appears. Still, I can’t wait to get them out of the sketchbook as large etchings and collate them properly.
Other children’s work I am doing is developing characters for a children’s nursery, George and his Dragon friend. The client wanted a kind of Calvin & Hobbes feel to it all so that’s been fun and I can’t wait to see how far they go together. And there’s also another children’s book being discussed, featuring another exciting and literally wonderful girl character, with an incredibly talented writer friend who I can’t wait to work with on it. Definitely steps in the right direction those ones.
What advice would you give someone thinking of changing careers to do something entirely different?
If you need to freelance, counteract start-up nerves by doing a basic marketing plan, business plan, or at the very least a cash flow analysis for your first year. Weirdly, these will get you in the mood – fired up, even. You’ll learn what your day-rate truly is and how many days in the year you actually need to work. You can adjust your ongoing strategy as each month passes. It might not be a perfect ride but you’ll be in control.
Decide exactly what your first project is going to be and aim right for it, even if it feels like a snap decision. Make deadlines that someone else has a stake in. It’ll keep you honest!
Make a space, at home or in a collaborative space, to work in. Research your market enough to know what direction to go in and make nice but critical contacts in the same industry. Find a forum to discuss the strengths and weaknesses in each other’s work.
I found that the short courses I did to help develop skills in life drawing and character design were the most invigorating, life-affirming experiences in my career, and it’s no coincidence that offers of work – on my terms – came after I completed them.
Really interrogate your own strengths and weaknesses. They’ll ultimately work in an identical way, forming the foundations of your best work. They’re there to be built upon.
I for one can’t wait to see more from Patrick, and read all about Choppi’s adventures!
If you want to keep track of Patrick’s work you can follow him all about the internet:
Twitter – PatchDasmiller
Behance – PatrickMiller
Tumblr – PatchMiller
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