Our Interview with Lynne Millar
What did you dream of becoming when you were younger versus what you do now?
When I was little I wanted to be a CIA agent. I really liked the idea of wearing sunglasses all the time and taking on different names. (The one I really hoped I’d get assigned was “Samantha”) Now that I’ve watched several seasons of Homeland I’m realizing that career would have been a terrible fit for me.
What sparked your interest in painting? How and when did you decide that you wanted to become a painter?
When I wasn’t forcing my little sisters to call me Samantha, I spent a lot of time drawing, painting and writing stories. My family lived right outside of Washington DC and my parents were so great about taking us to museums all the time, so art has always felt like an important part of the world to me. In college I was intimidated by the idea of being graded on my art – it felt too personal and scary to me – so I majored in Art History instead. It was a great choice. I loved every one of my classes, and having those years to marinate the stories of artists has given me so much to draw from and mainly, aspire to.
Is there a person who has been influential in your chosen career path? Did you ever feel pressured to pursue a certain profession?
When I graduated from college I really thought I was going to pursue a graduate degree in Art History and hoped to eventually work in a museum. I ended up getting married and while my husband was in medical school I had a variety of random jobs – I worked at the medical school in a couple of different labs, I worked as a Montessori preschool teacher, and I took a lot of night classes at San Francisco’s Academy of Art.
I wanted to paint, more than anything, but lacked the confidence to take my dreams seriously, and also lacked an understanding of how I could build a sustainable career in art. When my husband started his residency we started our family, which kept me very busy. Years later, our youngest started preschool and I finally had reliable blocks of uninterrupted time that I committed to spend painting. I studied and practiced and threw myself into whatever classes I could take, and through instagram I met and became close with a group of artists who are a constant source of inspiration and mentorship.
Social media has really made it an option to be an artist on one’s own terms – you can define if you want to sell directly over instagram, work with print shops, develop gallery relationships, focus on shows… there is so much blessed flexibility in how you can shape and focus a painting career. And it’s been so invaluable to have good friends who are doing all of those things in different ways.
Now that you live in Central California, does its lifestyle and culture influence your work?
Having grown up on the east coast, settling in the Central Valley of California was a big aesthetic change for me. It took me some time to open my eyes to the beauty in the flatter, arid landscape. But now I’m happy to report that I love the big skies, the clusters of trees, and the beautiful gentle roll of the golden hills. Our town happens to have lots of fields where ranchers graze their sheep and cows, which I love seeing as we drive around doing our errands.
What is your favorite part of painting (i.e. conceptualizing, actually putting the brush to canvas, finalizing, etc.)?
Did you ever read Emily of New Moon, by LM Montgomery? The heroine Emily is a writer and when she’s hit by inspiration, she experiences something she calls “the flash,” where she is overcome by a wild desire to capture the essence of whatever powerful thing she’s just experienced. I think this is my favorite part of painting and I’ve learned that it’s something that you can cultivate in yourself: developing a sensitivity to the things in the world that you want to consume and express – or even just notice. My “flash” moments are never as dramatic as Emily’s but they make my life richer and happier, and it’s something that I’m actively working on all the time – cultivating a keen sense of notice and delight. This is the first and favorite part of being an artist for me.
What is a typical day like for you?
Since March, like many of you, 3 of my 4 kids have been home with me every day. Every Single Day. ALL THE TIME. I feel really lucky that they are a bit older (10, 13, 17 – my oldest is 19 and he’s flown the coop) so they have been able to be fairly independent in managing their distance learning and I’m theoretically able to work in my studio. (Bless you who are doing distance learning with younger kids!!) That being said, it’s a challenge to get into creative flow with the stopping and starting that’s part of living in a pandemic household – I find that I need to do many a surprise-check on my 10 year old to make sure she’s doing her school and not just playing minecraft. Before the pandemic, I had a pretty consistent routine of sending the kids off to school in the morning then painting from at least 10-2, but now it’s definitely a lot more loosey-goosey. I feel that I should be honest and acknowledge that some days, my studio has been a bit of a refuge. I’m so grateful that I have a space where I can go hide!
What is your workspace like? Has it changed since the pandemic?
We have a loft upstairs that I use for my studio. It has good light and room for me to store my unwieldy collection of art supplies and books and my easels and still life set-ups but to my point in the previous question, there is also a half-wall that divides the studio from the rest of the upstairs hallway. On the other side of the wall (the one inside my studio), we have tucked a sofa and I’ve discovered that if I lie down completely flat on the sofa, NO ONE CAN SEE ME!
What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you?
I think the best art advice I’ve ever gotten was from my friend Vince: he’s a lot older than me and when I first started painting seriously, he told me that you learn way more from your crappy paintings than from the ones that work out. That’s been a lodestone for me for sure, because I make a lot of crappy paintings! And I think the advice has broader application as well – recognizing and fixing mistakes of all kinds is the work of a life.
What advice would you give to someone who dreams of pursuing a career in a creative field?
My advice is to be flexible and proactive. And to not be shy about reaching out to other creatives to ask questions and create networks. Also, be prepared to work really really hard! When you are your own boss, nothing happens unless you just put your head down and do it/figure it out. Think of setbacks as opportunities to learn new skills and evaluate what skill you might need to learn to avoid that same setback in the future.
I have found that having a career in a creative field requires a very random collection of skills outside the actual skill of creating the art/product: navigating social media, building websites, understanding taxes, learning photo editing software, packaging & shipping, marketing, etc. Try and approach it all with glee, appreciating the many surprising things you find yourself capable of doing!
What artists and creatives do you look up to? Both historical and present.
Oh so many! Helene Schjerfbeck, Kathleen Speranza, Louise Balaam, Brian Kershisnik, Leslie Duke, Julia Hawkins, Maria Oakey Dewing, Cecilia Beaux, John Singer Sargent, Manet. Casically I admire all artists who strive to find their voice.
What has been inspiring you lately?
This summer and early fall was so hot and a bit miserable with the persistent smoke from the terribly tragic wildfires. With the cooler weather, the roses in our valley have begun to take off again. I must say that I find it to be incredibly poignant to see what nature offers up to us even as we are all in the midst of so much turmoil. It’s such a lesson in patience and hope.
How has COVID 19 affected your work and aspirations? Are there additional personal or professional interests you’d like to explore?
I know I’m not alone in feeling a bit like some tape has been ripped off of my soul in 2020. This year has been a time of profound re-orientation for me. I’ve realized how much suffering there is in the world that I’d had the dubious privilege of generally not paying attention to. I’ve been training to teach art classes at the correctional center in our county. During that training, I’ve plunging into the topic of restorative justice and the positive role that the arts can play in the healing of individuals. Doing that has opened a whole new realm of thinking for me. I have so much to learn and I’m really looking forward to this new experience.
Is there anything more you would like to “become?
I hope to come out of this year having become softer, more empathetic, more perceptive.
Where to find Lynne Millar
Shop her art collection in our Print Shop here.
Follow her on instagram!
This post is a part of our Becoming Series, where we interview creative women we admire. Click here to explore more interviews from this series!