Artist Profile: Cindy Miller Interviewed by Julia Rai

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I’ve been an admirer of Cindy Miller’s work for a long time so I was really happy to have the opportunity to find out more about her for this profile.

(Photo: “Branch with Labradorite and Drops” Necklace by Cindy Miller)

Raised in Alabama, Cindy is now a full-time studio artist. “I’m single and live in Athens, Alabama with my Maine Coon Cat Taz – she’s a big girl and ‘helps’ me a lot,” she smiled. “I have also been adopted by several feral cats that live in the neighborhood so I always have an escort to my car. I live on the Tennessee River next door to my sister and her husband.  They have created a beautiful retreat at the river and being there is very relaxing.”

cindy-miller-taz-helping(Photo: “Taz helping”)

Growing up in Huntsville, Cindy credits her parents for nurturing her creative spirit. “I’m not really sure how old I was but it must have been around five years old because I was sleeping on the top bunk bed (my sister got the bunk below),” she began. “I woke up one morning and decided to draw eyes all over the wall.  I can remember being fascinated with the shape of eyes and I guess this was how I was working through it in my mind. There must have been 50 eyes on the wall.  You can imagine the surprised look on my mother’s face when she came in to get us up for the day.  Luckily I had parents that were very patient when it came to creative expression.  I never got in trouble for drawing on the wall or cutting off my mom’s drapes to use as material for my doll’s clothing, or any number of things I did as a sprouting artist…they just made sure I had more art materials around.”

cindy-miller-french-court-necklace(Photo: “French Court Necklace” by Cindy Miller)

Cindy’s studio looks fabulous! “I have always had a studio in my home but last year I was accepted as an artist at the Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment community so I moved my art studio to the mill which is in Huntsville, where I grew up.  This is the largest privately owned artist community in North America. My studio is on the third floor of an old cotton mill.  Large windows let in great natural light and the textures of the old wooden floors and antique brick just ooze with patina.”

cindy-miller-studio-workspace-1cindy-miller-studio-workspace-2Photos: “Cindy Miller’s studio workspace”

Cindy has had quite an eventful year with major changes in her life. “Last year I was working as a Program Manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC.  I just walked away from it to devote myself to my art. People thought I was crazy until they see how happy I am now. Sometimes you just gotta go with your heart.”

I asked her when she knew she had moved from just being interested in the metal clay medium to becoming a metal clay artist. “I think every artist has a piece that transitions them from student to artist,” she began. “I have a pendant that I created around 2006 that was such a piece.  I had several projects on my desk and none of them seemed to be getting finished and then suddenly all the projects came together into one piece and I knew instantly that is was ‘right’.  I had several people offer to purchase this piece but it was a transition piece that allowed me to see the potential of metal clay as an artist.”

cindy-miller-special-meaning-piece(Photo: “Special meaning piece” by Cindy Miller)

Moving from having a full time paid job to having to support yourself as an artist is pretty scary but Cindy has embraced this change enthusiastically. “Since I’m now a full-time artist I am in the studio five or six days a week, eight to 10 hours a day,” she said. “I live an hour away so I drive in every day from my home in Athens and get in the studio around nine in the morning.  By 6:30, I’m usually on the way home. “

I asked her what she does to relax. “Relax – what’s that?” she laughed.” Well I guess I would say that I sew or paint when I want to relax. I love hiking in the mountains too– just finding a good tree to sit under and being quiet. Being in nature relaxes me.”

Cindy also teaches in her studio. “I teach several classes including an introduction to metal clay, stone setting, carving in metal clay, and my latest class that may turn out to be my favourite, which is color pencil on bronze.  I have been incorporating more and more color into my jewelry using colored pencil and it has been getting a lot of interest.  I think this is going to be a fun class – I mean, who doesn’t like to color right?”

cindy-miller-bronze-pins-with-colored-pencil

(Photo: “Bronze pins with colored pencil” by Cindy Miller)

Her studio looks pretty organised in the photos so I asked Cindy about this. “My students always claim that I’m organized but I always feel like I have a creative mess around me,” she explained. “I do go through a process of cleaning and organizing before I get serious about producing some new work.  The cleaning helps me prepare mentally – once I get started though – organization goes out the door. I tend to have my work table piled up with items when I’m in the middle of creating.”

Cindy began making jewellery using traditional silver working but now considers her main medium to be metal clay. I asked her how she got started with metal clay. “I actually learned about metal clay when I was living in Colorado – probably around 2002. The jewelry supply store where I bought my silversmithing tools had a display set up showing metal clay.  I was really intrigued by the process but was not able to take a class until a couple of years later.  I took my first class in 2004. Thirty minutes into the class I knew that this was my medium and I haven’t looked back since.  I still have the first piece I ever made.  It was a domed pendant with a textured bail.  I was so proud of that piece that I wore it every day for a month. I like to pull it out when I’m teaching intro classes to show my students how I got started.”

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(Photo: “Feather and Branch Necklace” by Cindy Miller)

Her background in working with silver still comes in handy though. “I do incorporate some silver work techniques such as shaping and forming the metal, hammering to achieve textures and I do use cold connections when it is appropriate.  I make all my own findings. I like thinking about the entire piece of jewelry as my canvas so I want every component to add to the finished piece in a cohesive voice.”

cidny-miller-miro-necklace(Photo: “Miro Necklace” by Cindy Miller)

I asked Cindy about her creative process. “I do a lot of sketches- especially if I’m trying to work out some technical issues,” she explained.  “But often I just sit down at my desk and start playing with the materials.  I think when I do the sketches I’m laying down a good foundation in my mind but when I start to do the actual work I put the sketches away and just let the artwork go where it wants to go. I have a general idea of what I’m going to make but the details come together during the creative process.  I keep my sketches on the wall to give me inspiration and I always have a sketch book with me to capture ideas when they come to me. Sometimes I hike up into the mountains and just sit and observe nature. I try to build visual image maps of textures, shapes, colors etc., and then I reach back in my mind to retrieve these when I’m working.”

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Looking at Cindy’s work, it’s pretty obvious where her ideas come from. “Nature is definitely my main influence.  I lived in Colorado for 10 years in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains.  I draw on this experience every time I sit down to work.  I am also an Anthropologist so there are many cultural references that show up in my work.  These influences do cross over since many ancient cultures were also influenced by the natural world.  I will also add that I saw some early work of Gordon Uyehara and Hadar Jacobson that completely captured my imagination and really provided the inspiration to learn more about metal clay.”

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(Photo: “Flower and bud bracelets” by Cindy Miller)

“My style continues to evolve but I would definitely describe it as organic which, given that many of my pieces are inspired by nature, makes sense. I tend to work large. To me, the pieces are wearable sculptures as much as they are jewelry. I would like people to enjoy just looking at them as much as wearing them.”

As a full-time studio artist, Cindy sells her work as part of her income. “I sell my work out of my studio, at arts festivals throughout the Southeast, and through galleries and shops.  Currently, I have an exhibit at the Annesdale Park Gallery in Memphis, Tennessee and I just finished an exhibit at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center in Decatur, Alabama.”

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One of the challenges for artists making a living from selling their work is evolving new pieces, new themes and keeping their work interesting. “I’m hoping to develop a more cohesive body of work,” Cindy explained. “I think the last year working as a full time artist has helped me tremendously. I want to explore some new techniques that I’ve been dreaming up and basically have time to create for the sake of creating. I think this is the best way to grow my artistic vocabulary.”

I asked her what she is currently working on. “I’m working on a series of pieces that are all made of sculpted bronze twigs. They look a lot like beaver dams but I find constructing with them intriguing because of all the interesting shapes that happen in the negative spaces.”

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(Photos: “Twig Bracelet” “Stick Pendant with Labradorite” by Cindy Miller)

2016-cindy-mileler-stick-pendant-with-lab-2So what does the future hold? “I’m hoping to expand my work into small sculptures in addition to my jewelry. My jewelry is becoming more sculptural as I explore the medium. Working larger would allow me to exhibit in galleries that are not setup to display jewelry and help me to broaden my opportunities for income. I plan to work as a studio artist as long as I can.”

Find out more about Cindy’s work here….

www.cindymiller.com

www.facebook.com/cindy.miller3

www.lowemill.net/portfolio-item/cindy-miller-jewelry-

Instagram: cindymillerdesigns

 

 

 

 

MCAM 5.1_Page_34_Image_0001Julia Rai is a teacher, writer and artist working in a variety of media. She is the director of the Metal Clay Academy and runs the Cornwall School of Art, Craft and Jewellery. She finds inspiration in science fiction and fantasy and loves a good story where disbelief can be suspended in favour of wonder. Her practical and ultra-organised side is always vying for attention alongside her creative and messy side. Each is trying hard to learn from the other and live in harmony.

One Response to “Artist Profile: Cindy Miller Interviewed by Julia Rai”

  1. Nice work. I enjoyed this introduction as I don’t think I have seen Cindy’s work before. Cindy says she wants a more cohesive body of work. I looked at her website and to me I think she already has that! Thanks for this Julia.

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