Having entered the world in 1977, artist Jeff McMillan identifies television (particularly cartoons) and movies from the 1980s as his primary sources of inspiration. He says they spurred much creativity in him, and, nowadays, he often has an already-watched movie playing in the background as he paints.
Originally from San Jose, he and his wife, Liv, moved to Long Beach in 2008. “We rented this beautiful 1916 Craftsman house near downtown, then decided to buy a house our real-estate agent showed us in Wrigley,” he said. “We liked it a lot and bought it in 2010.”
McMillan cares for their 16-month-old daughter, Elsa, during the day and works in his studio, which is behind their home, in the evening. “Baby technician by day, artist at night,” he said. “We also have two weird Siamese cats. They’re brothers: Thor and Tyr.”
McMillan has a bachelor’s of fine arts in illustration from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He has exhibited in New York, San Francisco, London, Canada, Mexico, and Los Angeles. His clients have included Nike, Disney Consumer Products, Mountain Dew, Hal Riney, Hustler, Mike Tyson, RVCA, Billabong, Mircosoft Zune, Music Skins, Elle Magazine, Esquire Magazine, Size Magazine, Paper Magazine, Complex Magazine, Runner’s World Magazine, Look-look Magazine, Games TM Magazine, Chronicle Books, LA Weekly, OC Weekly and the musical acts Infected Mushroom and Fall Out Boy.
My influences, I’d say early on, were TV, movies and music. Some of the artists I liked early on and still love to this day are Sebastian Kruger, Robert Williams, Frank Kozik and Coop. A lot of concert poster stuff related to music. I remember seeing the insert fold-out painting in the Guns ‘n’ Roses album Appetite for Destruction by Robert Williams. If you haven’t seen it, go check it out. It’s scary, filthy and full of action and just plain incredible. I wanted to paint just like that. Now my influences are still in music and visual media, but since art school I was introduced to a lot more art in all areas of painting, drawing, photography and just art in general. So, the list of influences is pretty vast these days. I’m continuing to collect influences and inspiration as we speak.
Do you ever get artist’s block? If so, how do you combat it?
Oh, yeah. I call it procrastination. I don’t know why I do that, but I’ve talked to a lot of artist friends, and there’s quite a few of us that do that to ourselves. I’m always busy, and there’s always stuff to do. I guess if I’m stumped on a certain piece, I move on to something else and get back to it later when I have some clarity or insight on what the painting needs.
Are there particular times of the day or certain days when you seem to be the most inspired or productive?
I’d say I’m most productive late at night. It’s generally pretty quiet. Everything is closed, the phone isn’t ringing, most people are asleep, so there’s very little distraction. The only bad thing is the baby wakes up early. I take little cat naps during the day when I can to recharge. I’m usually 100-percent by 9ish and ready to work every night. Ever since art school, I’ve been a night person. I remember we’d stay up super late the night before something was due and paint until the sun came up. It was an amazing feeling to get the project done under pressure; sometimes you makes the best decisions when there’s no time to second-guess yourself. I can’t do all-nighters much anymore, but once in a while they happen.
Do you usually listen to music while you work? What kind?
It’s weird. I either listen to news, talk radio/podcasts or ambient music which is usually lyric-less. Favorite podcasts are “This American Life,” “Radiolab,” and “Wait Wait Don’t Tell me.” Music: Brian Eno, Pete Namlook (Fax Label stuff), Stars of the Lid, lots of stuff related to those ambient genres. But lately I’ve been watching/listening to movies. I can only have movies on that I’ve seen before. I’ll look up and watch a couple parts here and there, but it’s just background noise mostly.
Do you ever get attached to a piece then become bummed when it sells?
When a piece sells that I really like, it’s always a good and sad thing. Getting paid for your work is always great, and most important to me, I like the idea that the piece lives on somewhere else, so that’s a good thing. The sad thing is I rarely get to see the piece again. Usually, once it’s gone, I don’t miss it that much because I’m on to a new thing. I get the pieces shot professionally, so I have really good files of everything I’ve done. So, if I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll just look it up on the hard drive and visit it digitally.
How do you determine the prices of your art?
Pricing is sometimes challenging. You’ll never get paid enough for what you put into a painting, but I always just try to price the piece accordingly to the size, what goes into it, details, who and what it’s for, etc. If the piece is in a gallery, sometimes they have suggestions that are helpful on pricing based on their clientele. Galleries usually take half, so I try and figure out a price that’s fair and a price where I’d be happy walking away with half. Freelancing commercially and commissions, I generally have my prices set unless they have specific budgets.
What are your goals for your future as an artist?
Just to keep painting and taking on different projects that are interesting. I think staying busy is the most important thing. Always have something you are working on.