Scott Mills is an acrylic painter living in Asheville, North Carolina. His whimsical works are inspired by his deep appreciation for nature and his desire to depict feelings of awe, mystery, love, and gratitude in a visual form. Mills was gracious enough to have a little Q&A session with us, and boy – are we glad he did! Check out these enchanting paintings and get back in touch with nature, and your 6-year-old self!
Tell us a bit about yourself
I am 37 years old, live in Asheville, NC and have been pursuing creativity for most of my life. My main focus is on painting. I love surrealism and pop surrealism and I think my work fits into those genres somewhere. Though I have always been creative, the last several years of my life I have felt the strongest calling to focus with passionate intensity on my artwork. I also am a musician; I play guitar, sax and piano. I work from home where I live with my two children and wife.
How would you describe your paintings?
They are windows into another world where I can create atmospheres and characters that reflect my deep interest and feelings about life, death, love, and gratitude. My paintings are layered in the physical sense and in meaning. They often have some type of heavenly light coming from an unknown source.
Tell me about the message or idea behind your body of work? Is each piece different, or is there an overlying idea?
Each piece is different in the immediate sense of creating it; what I was feeling on a particular day or moment. However, there are overlying idea or themes that weave through it all. I like to create multiple layers of meaning within a piece. On the outside you might see a cute and cuddly bear but, when you go a bit deeper, you find the ideas of life and death, symbiosis, and transformation; as well as finding one’s way through difficulty to a place of clarity. I often paint the characters bathed in an otherworldly light, as if they were of a spirit nature or other-dimensional. I think there is an overall feeling of hope and transformation in many of my paintings.
Can you tell me specifically about “After a very long nap” & “Safe in the dark?”
“After a very Long Nap” started as a failed painting. I had painted this sad little tree and was going to abandon the entire piece. The failure somehow loosened me up creatively and I intuitively started adding to the tree. It literally grew into the bear, and I had no idea where it was heading. It’s almost like the painting came through me and I was just a vessel. After I realized what I had painted, it blew me away! I think the process of turning a failure into something positive is embedded in that image. I like to keep a bit of mystery about the paintings too, since they were born from a mystery of a sort. It’s awesome when the viewer comes up with their own story for what they see. It is one of my favorite pieces so far.
“Safe in the Dark” expresses something a little different. I can’t help but seeing my own fears and emotions about raising children in the world today reflected in the piece. There are all of these curious creatures that want to explore the world from the bear’s protective arms. These creatures are also being protected from what they can’t handle yet or what would be difficult for them to handle on their own. At some point, all of those creatures are going to be out of the protective arms that are holding them. Hopefully they will have experienced enough love and care that they can approach the problems of the world with an open heart.
Have you figured out what your spirit animal is & where do you draw your inspiration from?
I definitely love bears! They have showed up again and again in my life in many ways, and I consider them my spirit animal along with owls, hummingbirds and the mischievous raccoon. I think all creatures are beautiful in some way. I live on the edge of the national forest here in western North Carolina and the wildlife is spectacular. I walk fifty feet out my back door and am in the woods. The inspiration is endless. I’ve practiced meditation and yoga for many years and the exploration of the mind and what we are as humans influences my art as well. Sometimes I am influenced by something as simple as a design I see, or a toy, or some color combination in someone’s clothing that sparks a whole new idea. I think mystery is my biggest influence. The characters in my work seem to be enveloped in mystery. Life is completely wondrous; it is amazing we are even here at all! That feeling of awe underlies all of my work.
What is the coolest animal fact that you know & what is something equally cool that we should know about one of your paintings?
I just read James Nestor’s book “Deep” which is about free-diving and the amazing and little-explored world of the ocean. It blew me away. Sperm whales have one of the most complex form of sonar echolocation and communication on the planet. Then can stun and kill their prey with their clicking sonar alone. Amazingly, when they encounter a human swimming/diving in their territory, they are curious. We could easily be a meal to them, but instead it seems like they must sense something in us; intelligence or some kind of similarity to them. It’s fascinating and wonderful. My painting “Dawn” was painted to express that awe and humility with how little we actually know about the world we live in.
You have such an interesting colour pallet – how do you choose your colours?
It is very intuitive for me. I like weathered and worn objects, rusty old things, moss, rotted wood. I often try to replicate those worn colors in some way. In contrast to that, I also love over-the-top, psychedelic, in-your-face kind of colors. Sometimes I get obsessed with certain color combinations. I think some of them come from toys I had as a child. Toys often have these dual color combinations; blue and pink, green and purple, blue and orange. I love those combinations and it gives me a way to elevate something I loved as a child into something even more meaningful.
How do you know when your pieces are complete?
I struggle with this often. Usually, when I am spending more time looking at a piece than painting I know I’m nearing completion. Sometimes I think a painting could just keep going and going, but it’s good to stay in the flow and start something new when it feels right.
Why acrylics, and why wood panel?
I started painting with watercolor and transitioned to acrylic. I often paint in many layers and the fast drying time is nice for that, but it is also a curse in that blending becomes harder, though not impossible. I like the staining effects I can get with acrylics. Though acrylics will always have a place in my studio, I am going to start using oils as well in the near future. I use wood panels because I like to be rough when I am creating the backgrounds. I use my whole body to sand, wipe with cloths, and throw water onto the panels while working on a piece. Canvas doesn’t hold up as well to that kind of intensity! I have done a few paintings on canvas and they have turned out well, but I always go back to the wood panels.
What is the most rewarding part of creating your artwork for you?
When I disappear in the work, time becomes irrelevant, and I feel a deep sense of gratitude and excitement about what is happening in the moment. I love the experimental surprises and finding new ways of creating. I also love when people find joy in my work.
Any parting words?
I really feel like I am just scraping the surface of where I want to go with my art. The deeper I go into creating, the more interesting and meaningful it all becomes. I can’t wait to see how far I can go with it all!
Follow Scott Mills on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or go to his Website.
Interviewer: Rob Green