Posing questions to local artist Heather McMillen

“Baroque Butterflies,” oil on canvas</strong

“Baroque Butterflies,” oil on canvas

Cory Bilicko
Managing Editor

I made the acquaintance of Heather McMillen last month when she included my studio among those she attended during the Long Beach Open Studio Tour. To me, she embodies the quintessential person for whom this column is designed: a fledgling, aspiring, struggling artist fresh out of an education system in which arts courses are fast dwindling. She’s finding her way– rather shy and reserved, but open and eager too.
In her, I sensed a delicacy and vulnerability, but also a fortitude of spirit that reminded me of the birds she paints. Those creatures are on display through Thursday, Dec. 12 in her exhibit entitled Avian Muse at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 5450 E Atherton St. There will be an artist reception on Saturday, Nov. 16 from 2pm to 5pm. [Appointments may also be made by calling (562) 597-8445.]

In 50 words or less, what do you do as an artist?
I paint with oils on canvas. My preferred subject matter currently includes a variety of bird species. They function as character portraits and mood pieces. I create a unique environment for each bird, using a variety of techniques and experimenting with a continuously evolving color palette.

In one word, describe what your life would be like if, for some reason, you couldn’t create art.

Is there a particular kind of art or an artist whom you don’t particularly like?
Viewing art is a dynamic, participatory experience. If I spend enough time with an artist’s work, it usually grows on me. Even if I still do not like it, I can at least honor the artist’s vision by engaging with the work and trying to understand it. With that being said, there is a lot of artwork out there, so I have to start the viewing process by being selective– and whenever possible to see the art in person. I feel it is a waste of creative energy to actively dislike another person’s work. There is art out there for every palate, and I’m always looking to expand my own.

“Golden Skippers,” oil on canvas

“Golden Skippers,” oil on canvas

Does anything cause you to have artist’s block?
I have little attacks of artist’s block every day– in the form of procrastination. I avoid doing things out of fear of the unknown. My creative habits direct my emotional energies to the right place at the right time. I play with a strategic kind of spontaneity so I can work around those mental inhibitions that are constantly trying to hold me back.
How would you characterize the role of art in modern society?
Worrying about this is one of my pesky artist’s blocks that I have to work myself out of! I am not an art critic or art historian. I am not in charge of the Story of Art or the direction it is going. I only know who and where I am now. I still don’t know how I fit into the bigger picture, or what the role of my art should be. I’m just doing what feels important to me, and hoping other people will see its value also. Creativity is not the work of the gods; it is for everyone to participate in.

Describe what the scene is like when you are creating your art.
I live and work in a very small, cluttered space, with my sketches taped up all over my studio wall. I have a little side-yard space with a garden of potted plants that I can escape to if I need a mental break.

How does your artistic sensibility or skills help you in your daily life?
Painting is very therapeutic, but it is also hard work. In a sense, it is just another daily activity. Sometimes it is like grocery shopping; other times it is like practicing yoga. I’ve always been the kind to “stop and smell the roses.” This kind of activity is a catalyst for inspiration, but it is only a fraction of what it means to be a practicing artist. My entire lifestyle becomes my art, and painting is just another facet of the whole.

As an artist, have you had any experiences with censorship? (If so, how did you react? If not, how do you think you would react?)

It isn’t my main objective to offend or provoke controversy. I would be interested to know what would have caused that kind of response. I might feel bothered or indignant.

Have you ever found a piece of art offensive?


What are your ultimate goals as an artist?
My goal is to live well and connect with other people in meaningful ways…and to eventually get a bigger studio to work in.

What color excites you?

Imagine an avocado that has been freshly cut open, and picture that area of color that transitions from the bright yellow-green near the seed to the cooler, creamy green in the middle. That’s my favorite color; it is both lively and calming at the same time… and delicious.

To view more of McMillen’s work, visit cargocollective.com/canvasblues or facebook.com/canvasblues .

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