Ian Miller is an artist, illustrator and writer based in the U.K. He graduated from the Painting Faculty of St Martin’s School of Art in 1970. Between 1975 and 1976 he worked for Ralph Bakshi on his Feature animation Wizards and in the 80’s worked on a second Bakshi film called Cool World. Since then Miller has done pre-production work on numerous films including Shrek.
The first collection of his work was published in 1979 by Dragon’s Dream under the heading The Green Dog Trumpet. This was followed shortly afterwards by a second volume entitled Secret Art. Miller is currently working on numerous private commissions, films and projects, including ‘The Broken Novel’.
His new book, The Art of Ian Miller, was just released this week from Titan publishing.
Hre’s my chat with Ian about his work…
Kristin Centorcelli: Congratulations on the new book! You have an extensive portfolio of work to your name, but what, for you, stands out about this collection?
Ian Miller: That is an extremely difficult question to answer. Perhaps that I have survived for so long, and this book is a testament to that fact (for better or worse as the case may be) Second, that Titan offered me this wonderful opportunity to display and promote my imagery. I have been producing imagery for the last fifty years, give or take a year, and that amounts to a lot of choice. The selection of images featured in this volume was arrived at, with the input and assistance of the Editor, Beth Lewis, and the designer, Natalie Clay. It was a sweet untroubled process, professional in the ‘n’ degree. Titan made it easy. Now it is printed I am intrigued to know how it will be received. I hope of course, that people like it.
KC: What was one of the first things you can remember drawing, and what event made you think to yourself that you might be able to do make a living as an artist?
IM: I think it was an ancient Egyptian, side on, hieroglyphic style. I went on to draw Apache Indians, but all the horses they rode looked like Large Alsatian ( German shepherd ) dogs. I switched to Huron Indians after that, because canoes were easier to draw.
I was never sure I could make a living as an artist, and in truth still aren’t. Perhaps, I always considered being an artist, as a state of being, rather than a mechanism for making living, although when the two converge I suppose one should cheer loudly.
When I was small I thought we were all provided with three levers, life controls if you will, and till this day I have still not worked out what the third lever on the right is for?
KC: In the new book, you tell a story about when you nearly drowned as a child, and how it influenced some of your art. How much of your art would you say is based on personal experience and taking the mundane and making it fantastic?
IM: Art is an eclectic process. We are part of that process, and in my view the products of our experiences. I came across a definition for the word ‘Surreal’ some years back which has always worked for me, and that describes it as the: ‘The unlikely juxtaposition of familiar objects’ which would tend to suggest that the mundane represented in an unlikely context can easily becomes the Fantastic. Self indulgence aside, everything I do is about interpretation, whether it be a sell promoted project or from a client. The same filters apply. You could call that my style . My art is me, and I am my art
Please note that I use a small ‘a’ here. Creativity is universal.
I always think of the writer W.G Sebald at moments like this and include the following statement out of interest
In describing the function of language, W.G. Sebald wrote:
‘In the obsessive attempt to find reason for the animation of life, a world of images is divided into its anatomical components. this is the operation of speech operating successfully.
Thus the sound of speech strives to ‘express’ subjective and objective happening the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ world: but what of this it can contain is not life or the fullness of existence but only a dead abbreviation of it.
I think this explanation works in a picture making context also.
KC: You’ve worked on many different projects, from graphic novels and book cover illustration, to role-playing gamebooks and even film. Out of those, do you have a favorite, and also, do you have a preferred medium that you enjoy working with?
IM: There are two. The first: Working in LA on Wizards the 70’ animated feature directed by Ralph Bakshi, creating backgrounds. The second: Creating images for the Graphic Novel The Luck in the Head in the 80’s based on a story by the astonishingly talented author: M. John Harrison. I think they both stand out because of the people I met and interacted with, and the creative freedom that both projects allowed me. Salient moments in a long career.
I think my default medium is pen /ink, but I love watercolour, and on a larger scale , compressed charcoal and oil sticks. I have a great many larger free form images in my studio, not often seen . You find the tool which best suits your creative need. The computer is an obvious and wonderful tool and very much part of my image making activities.
KC: Will you tell us a little about your process when working on a new illustration?
IM: It should be an easy process after forty-four years of practice, but sadly, it is always a tortuous and frightening affair (you might call it ‘stage fright’) Once I’ve actually begun it gets progressively better.
A work rhythm is established and a framework laid down. If I’m doing a pen and ink image I will begin by penciling in the detail, and correcting this until I am perfectly happy with the general disposition of the image. After this I might apply washes prior to the inking.
The inked lines will then be laid down in layers one upon the other. At first one dictates to the image, then the image talks back and dictates in turn. A fine balance is struck. This is a magic and daunting part of the process for me. Sometimes you struggle, other times you fly, but it is never boring.
No matter how hard I try , I always feel upon completing an image, that I could have done it better. I chose to think this is a positive place to be.
IM: Everything is an influence: The streets, the people you encounter, the books you read, the films you see, life in general. I was at Art school for seven years, although I think I got lost in the corridors for a couple of those years, but that still left an awful lot of Art history and interaction with other art students. My mother worked in the theatre and film world so make-believe was part and parcel of my every day life.
As to artistic influences I love the Expressionist movement, Durer, Martin Kippenberger, Mira Schedule, Ensor, Arthur Rackham, Alfred Kubin, Joseph Beuys, to name but a few. The list is endless and there is someone new to engage with most every day–the work of new artists and rediscovering the work of those I encountered as a student.. The list is never ending the impact ongoing.
KC: What are a few of your favorite pieces from your portfolio?
IM: Pages 116–117, sections of image entitled “Rift X” and the sections of Actium on pages 158–159.
KC: What’s one piece of advice that would you give to an aspiring artist, and what’s one of the most important thing you’ve learned in the course of your career?
IM: Work and study hard. Above all things observe what is going on around you, all day and every day. The Pursuit of excellence is the prime directive. Humility is a boon.
Decide early on whether to wish to follow or lead? Be your own person–and when it seems like everything has gone to dust, fall over, bite the floor, scream cry, whine if it helps, then get up and go again.
Tenacity is essential, Some might say : being to stupid to quit.
There are no short cuts believe me.
KC: What’s next for you?
IM: To get better, and work on several exciting new projects and commissions. Hopefully do a short animated film with a Dutch friend and brilliant animator called Stijn Windig, based on a theatre project of mine called The Shingle Dance. I’ve just had a dysfunctional tome released called The Broken Diary, and might write something even stranger to follow this up.