One-on-one with Sarah Mills

What’s your background?

I’ve been driving towards “being an artist” since I was old enough to recognize “artist” as a career possibility. I opted out of art school and haven’t taken much formal training. So far my drive to improve comes from equal parts passion and internal pressure (and, to be honest, a heaping spoonful of an unrelenting competitive nature)—not to mention a very supportive family. I’m generally very curious and think of myself as a perpetual student of…near about everything.

What got you interested in the arts to begin with?

As a child, my interest was always, always in visual arts and drawing. I remember flipping through coloring books and only bothering with the pages I thought were drawn well enough to spend my crayons on. Visual art is just a language that’s always spoken to me, in every form.


When did you decide to dedicate yourself to art?

Officially, I was eight years old the first time I realized “professional artist” was a thing; I was watching a special features tutorial by James Baxter, admiring all the drawings and maquettes around his office workspace. I remember thinking how odd the juxtaposition of  “office” and “artist” was to me, like going to “work-work” and being able to draw all day was a new and novel concept. I imagined packing a briefcase full of colored pencils and crayons and heading off to work. Since that age I haven’t really wavered in my dedication to being an artist full time. I feel really lucky to be able to hang onto a childhood dream.

Do you remember your first piece of art you were really proud of? The one that made you say yes I am an artist!

I think my own opinion of my work is influenced by how desirable it is to others (unhealthy as that may be). I can’t pinpoint a specific piece, but I remember being especially proud when teachers or peers would be impressed enough by any of my drawings to enthusiastically request I do one for them. Sometime in my early teen years I started defining myself as an artist, instead of art just being this quiet, personal aspiration.

Do you collect anything?

I seem to collect hobbies! Knitting & crochet, ukulele, cooking, plant tending. I love self-teaching and learning new things. My only real interest is in creativity; when that’s your only criteria, hobbies and new outlets for creative energy just seem to accumulate. There are so many ways to make cool things.

Do you ever feel like giving up and doing something else? If so, why and how have you overcome that feeling?

Working from home often means no off hours (or rather, no guilt-free off hours). Sometimes I kick around the idea of having a regular job as a receptionist or…court stenographer. Something separate from the parts of my creative brain that can feel completely wrung dry at the end of the week. Creating on command is tough sometimes, but the most unrelenting struggle is the need to compete. In this “regular job” daydream, what appeals to me is the idea of creating without any sort of quality metric. I could stop worrying about being competitive with other professionals and just judge my pieces based on my own metric of success, not that of others’ (most of whom are much farther along in their careers than I). When I get to the realistic part of this daydream though, I imagine people asking “what do you do?” and no longer being able to say “I’m an artist.” I imagine the pressure to compete being replaced with the pressure to find another dream job or career path, to work just as hard, but this time for something that isn’t my first love. I don’t think I have it in me to dedicate 40 hours a week to something I don’t love doing. That thought is far more draining than any amount of boring client work or internal pressure to improve.

Beast 2 rework web size
Beast of Burden

How do you measure your level of success/achievement?

I feel like “success” is a moving target. I’m constantly reassessing what counts as “achievement” and adjusting my efforts accordingly. To that end, it’s tough to ever feel accomplished in the moment. I do really enjoy remembering what used to seem like unattainable goals to me, and comparing them to my current progress. I might not be where I want to be now, but I think I’d impress the hell out of myself from a few years ago.

What themes/ideas do you pursue?

This is also somewhat of a moving target. As I grow and change, so do my interests. Overall my work has always leaned more towards high fantasy than anything else. Recently that’s manifested in the theme of witchcraft and/or magic. Animals are also a constant source of interest for me, particularly birds and big cats. (And can’t forget the classic fantasy subject: dragons!) In the more metaphorical sense, my loftier pieces tend to explore family, (or a lack thereof) interpersonal relationships, and themes of the self vs. expectations (be it from internal or external pressures).


What is your dream project? If there were no time/money restrictions what would you create?

If there were no pressure for the project to be particularly lucrative, I’d probably pursue every new thing that caught my eye, art-wise: currently I’m eyeing plein air watercolor and oil painting. I’d love to just travel and paint. I love big collections of art, so probably something like “a plein air in every state” or, better yet, in every country.

r2pp 1 color web size

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

“All advice is autobiographical” and “No advice is one-size-fits-all.” I’m constantly seeking out instruction from as many varied sources as I can get it, and occasionally those sources turn out to be less reputable than advertised. I think it’s important for everyone to consider the source of any advice or instruction they receive. All advice is tempered with the experiences and biases of the advisor; it’s important to take this into account when trying to apply their advice to your own life. Not all advice is created equal. Get what you can from everyone’s point of view, but at the end of the day it’s just that; that person’s specific point of view. Mileage may vary when you apply it to your own.

What was your first step towards being a professional?

I showed at my first convention when I was 17. My table was a wreck and I generally had no idea how to market myself or my art, but all in all it was a great experience. I learned so much from my first failures, and perfecting them has been a driving force behind my professional ambitions.


What is the most vital/indispensable tool in your studio?

I feel like I should answer with something pithy or smart, like “my creativity!” but honestly, when my Cintiq isn’t working, every neuron in my brain drops what it was doing and suddenly the Cintiq function is all there ever was, is, or ever will be, in the whole of creation through the span of time. I take no solace in traditional media, as fun as it is. I’m plugged into the matrix and can never go back. I’m dangerously invested in my Cintiq (financially and emotionally.)

What are you working on right now? (Other than this project) What are you currently obsessed with?

I love doing collections of drawings. Currently I’m working on completing one drawing of every Pokemon; after that I think I’ll move on to dog breeds, or domesticated birds. When I get momentum on a project like that I find it hard to stop until I’ve achieved some sort of major milestone and/or completed the set!

Elva Example med

Would you eat the moon if it were made of spare ribs?

My home state of North Carolina is known for its barbeque. I have probably already consumed an amount equivalent to the moon’s volume in smoked meats.

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