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Brooklyn Artist Nic Annette Miller On Craft, Feedback, and Finding Community

By Libby Nicholaou

Just when you think you can’t bear to have yet another creative crush, in walks Nic Annette Miller, a Brooklyn-based artist and designer anyone with an eye for aesthetics is likely to find themselves bumbling over. She spent the past few years working on creative development for temporary-tattoo brand Tattly, advancing her own art practice (including creating some pretty incredible woodcut sculpture prints that give real fish a run for their money), and filling the role of Adobe Creative Residency Mentor for 2016 resident Becky (Murphy) Simpson.

Miller’s experience in art directing a successful consumer brand made her the perfect mentor to Simpson given that Simpson’s project included rolling out her own product line, developing a distribution plan, and marketing her work. Simpson says, “Nic isn’t afraid to offer her opinion and she isn’t satisfied with quick, surface-level resolutions. I’d go into conversations wanting her affirmation or answers, but that’s not how Miller works. She listens, asks, listens, and asks. She’s encouraged me to dig deep with my art and business over and over again. I’m so thankful I’ve had this time to learn from her.”

Here, I interview Miller to shed some light on why she’s so worthy of being a mentor to some of today’s top talent.

Create: This year, you’ve been juggling a ton of creative tasks. How has the combination of your recent roles impacted your career and creative growth?

Nic Annette Miller: The momentum of having a lot of projects at once really motivates me. Since everything I work on is so different, they all serve as a nice break from one another, both mentally and physically.

Whether I'm working at my desk, the photo studio, in a print shop, or in a wood shop, what these projects have in common is coming up with a concept, managing the steps to get it done, and executing the vision that’s in my head. It's been great to share and vocalize this process with Becky and how she can apply it to her own practice. I follow my gut a lot on what I want to be working on. If I'm not passionate, I'm not motivated, and I slow down.

Nic Annette Miller

Nic Annette Miller

Create: How do you stay in tune with your gut? I think for some people their gut tells them one thing but other messages drown that out.

Miller: Maybe why I trust my gut is because my projects aren't really for me. The goal isn't to satisfy what I think is right. The real kick is how users/followers/human beings react to the final piece. For example, the Fishtallation Project, a.k.a. the fake fish market, wasn't supposed to change minds or opinions on vegetarianism, the fish industry, or anything of that nature. All I want to do is spark conversations by creating something so visual it evokes a feeling, a reaction, and then a response.

Since all the feedback I have been receiving has been nothing but positive, I think my gut is onto something. The best reactions are the ones I don't expect. I had no idea that fish symbolized childhood or a cherished memory. That type of nostalgia and joy over a shared experience touches me. I also like it when people are confused. They can't stop staring at it and want to understand. Seriously, creating something that can induce curiosity is really invigorating.

Nic Annette Miller's Fishatallation Project

The Fishatallation Project

Create: Do you find in-person feedback or online feedback more impactful?

Miller: That’s a great question because I've never given the difference between online and in-person feedback much thought. Now that you bring it up, yes, in-person feedback is way better. I always enjoy a good email or comment on social media platforms, but those are responses where people can take their time to think about what they want to say before hitting Enter. I definitely get a more organic response at an event or show and the initial reaction seems more genuine. You can see and feel the emotion, too. However, without the Internet we couldn't reach nearly as many people as we can now and that's an insanely beautiful thing.

Create: What are the most important things you’ve learned about your craft through feedback?

Miller: Feedback before I even begin a project is really important. Talking helps me think so I like to run ideas by people – whether it's a friend I see often or someone I am meeting up with sporadically – just to get a sense of initial reaction.

With my woodcut sculpture prints, feedback from peers has improved the way the pieces hang (currently with routed keyhole slots). It's easy for me to get into "shop-talk mode” and I love it when people are open with their experiences and knowledge!

Another valuable piece of feedback I received was from years ago when I wanted to pursue designing stationery. Merging design and letterpress printing made sense to me because of my studies. I invested in a lot of expensive, heavy equipment to make a $4.00 product. In preparation for a festival, I was going over my inventory and a colleague told me my woodcut sculpture prints are really unique and sell well despite the high price point. It was hard to not feel discouraged about my stationery goals though it was encouraging to hear that I should keep up with something I'm succeeding with. I still have stationery ideas I'd like to revisit but I feel less of a need to make it one of my primary endeavors.

Nic Anette Miller, European starlings woodcut sculpture print

Miller's European Starlings woodcut sculpture print is one in a series.

Create: You are a part of a great community of like-minded creative designers and artists in New York. How did you meet them when you moved there, and what advice can you give to people who are looking to surround themselves with an incredible community like you’ve found?

Miller: I had the dream situation for moving to such a big city. I moved from Salt Lake City to work for Tattly, which was based out of a co-working space full of talented creative, including writers, designers, developers, and directors. I also started applying for studio spaces that had printmaking and woodshop access. Soon after, I was part of a collective with all kinds of artisans. Even though I was working all day and all night, I was surrounded by a great community with similar interests. I’d advise people to join clubs and groups that they are passionate about. When you meet someone interesting, ask them a lot of questions about what they do and even how they do it. Ask them out for coffee to continue the conversation.

Currently, Miller is working on a new series of woodcut sculpture prints featuring European starlings. She’ll use some of the 700 wooden birds she’s creating in a stop-motion film depicting a murmuration.

For more on the Creative Residency, visit our hub here on Create.