Artist and Army spouse Victoria Page Miller finds adventure and inspiration in the unknown. Like the comic book characters she currently paints, Victoria bravely says, Unpredictable Future, show me what you got, and I’ll meet you with a new creation.
MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.
Victoria: My husband Tommy and I met soon after I arrived at Fort Rucker, Alabama for initial entry rotary wing school… I’d been warned that you either leave flight school with a new Corvette or a spouse, so in my case, we know how accurate that is! I’d been living in New York and working at IBM full-time, and had just completed Officer Candidate School the previous year. Nothing prepared me for when I first arrived in Enterprise, Alabama! I remember feeling very out of place.
I’ve since recognized that that feeling is the beginning of a growth period, a transition, and have learned to love the discomfort!
MilspoFAN: How did you become a painter?
Victoria: I distinctly remember the moment. I was in elementary school. I had meticulously drawn a tiger, a childhood favorite, and applied acrylic on top of it. The paint mixed with the graphite and ran through the thin paper, creating holes. It was a dripping, muddy mess! I thought, I ruined this. I just had to learn how to paint after that, to solve that puzzle and to get it right.
MilspoFAN: How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work as a painter- creatively, logistically, or otherwise?
Victoria: For someone who feeds off of change and excitement, it seemed to derail my ability to paint. I needed to learn how to get back into the studio after moving; it wasn’t an innate skill! After his US Army retirement, my husband secured a contract in Dubai, so we picked up and moved overseas.
With so many expats from many different countries living there, it was fascinating. I’d always loved painting traditional portraits, but turned to pop culture after realizing that it was something we all had in common! I started taking my work to local markets and found that people loved talking about their favorite movies or tv shows. Despite language barriers and cultural differences, we could all light- heartedly argue about which Joker was our favorite.
Then, I did my first con and really felt like I was home! I mean, here we all are in this huge convention center with people running around in costumes and laughing and the energy is insane! Artists spend so much time in the studio; it can be solitary. Going to cons and other events are a way to interact with people and see them interact with your art.
I learned that many people were more familiar with digital art and didn’t understand that my work was created traditionally with paint and brushes. I started painting live at these events, so they would see and understand it. It was nerve-wracking at first, even scary, but I grew to love being put on the spot and revealing my process.
Being overseas really changed my work. I’d been living with these pre-conceived ideas about fine art versus commercial art, stuff I picked up at an early age from others. They were confining and self-limiting. Those beliefs effectively caused me to always question the validity of my work. So much thought had gone into how I’d be perceived as an artist, that it kept me from painting! So much wasted time! Ultimately it stripped the joy from creating because I was overthinking everything. Once I stopped identifying with the work and just approached it organically, it freed me up to be very creative. I could enjoy the process again. I just had to break through my own glass ceiling.
MilspoFAN: How do you cultivate your creativity?
Victoria: I allow myself to be interested in many things – some are stepping stones to other finds and some are deep wells of focus. I don’t prescribe a value to it; I just observe it. It may seem random or trivial, but I trust in it, like a bloodhound following a scent. It may take a while, but those things help shape ideas which may form into projects. They help birth surprising connections and jumps. Or they may set me upon an adventure, which is terribly exciting in and of itself. At the very least, it’s unpredictable in a good way.
As an example, I’ve been very interested in why honey bees are missing from my garden since we’ve been back in Florida and that has caused me to research bees and beekeeping. This interest has me on back roads to small, local plant nurseries and talking to growers at farmers markets and experimenting with growing heirloom plants from seeds. I’m learning about foraging, native plants, insect species, pesticides, parasites, and the parallel monarch crisis. I’m growing vegetables and cooking from the garden. It’s extremely fulfilling, and I can watch it develop. I can track the bee’s slow return. Time slows down. This may show up in my work as insects, or in the sacred geometry of the honeycomb or something different. It’s still percolating.
“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.”― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
MilspoFAN: Tell us about your background and goals for your work in tech.
Victoria: I started out majoring in Fine Art, but dropped out financially. It was abysmal. I had a body mask project that I’d created there, and I wanted to finish it. It was a concept piece but more simply, it was wearable sculpture. The university coach had given me football pads when I asked to borrow some because how many smalls do you think I need on the team? I’d already installed a working fan on it and an operational exit sign. This is all pre-Maker days. I was broke, back home waitressing and more-than-slightly despondent at not being in art school, so it was a good project to focus on. I went to a vocational technical school for electronics to learn what I needed. I soon realized, though, that I loved it and could actually work in this field maybe while supporting myself as an artist. That’s how I got my start in technology. It began from art.
I worked in many roles, from systems testing, assembling, and programming, working my way up and getting more abstract and farther from the machine as I went. When we started a family, I put everything on hold. Fast forward to 2020 and the pandemic. The whole world is forced to pivot. People are online in unheard-of numbers. We have to rethink everything! –how we do business, exercise, go to school, and socialize. We are all having an identity crisis and questioning things. In a way, the world freak-out and shift made me realize that I can rethink my role, too. I’m not finished yet; in fact, I’m just getting started.
I have recently enrolled in a cyber defense professional program, and it is so fascinating and relevant! Everything about it is stimulating. It’s such a wide field that I can’t yet say what I will be doing. I’m enjoying not having a set path once again – it’s still open. It definitely feeds my creativity.
Picture a Venn diagram with intersections in networking, programming, and cyber defense, and that’s the fuzzy somewhere I want to head. But I don’t think I ever want to just arrive; I’d rather keep progressing without a destination in mind.
To stop learning or growing is a kind of death.
MilspoFAN: Tell us about the way your art and your tech work interact and influence each other.
Victoria: I’ve always loved science fiction, nature, reading, music, movies, and technology and started seeing these influences creep back into my art. My color palette has shifted from organic, subdued colors to neon and synthetic hues. I love experimenting with non-traditional materials like glow-in-the-dark powders, spray paint, and fluid mediums. I’ve used a die-cut machine to create stencils of Hangul, Arabic, and Cyrillic characters, which I then used modeling paste to build up for dimensional texture in paintings.
Symbology and hidden messages have always held special meaning for me (ha), so I’m captivated by cryptography, ciphers, and steganography (messages hidden in images). I have Procreate on a tablet and I’m playing in digital art and animation. I want to spend some time working with augmented reality and virtual reality.
The door has been blown wide open. This is a huge discovery phase, and I’m not limiting how it will inform my work. I journal ideas as I go, like incremental brainstorming sessions.
MilspoFAN: Tell us about anything else that’s an important part of your story.
Victoria: Yoga has been a big part of my life since I found it. It keeps me healthy, grounded and present.
MilspoFAN: What is the most practical piece of advice that you would give to other artists?
Victoria: First, this: You are not your work. Put another way, whatever you make or do (art, dance, music, writing, theater, cooking, fixing cars, anything) is not you. It is only a snapshot of time. Learn what you can from it and enjoy the process, but don’t get attached. Feeling uncertain is good! Knowing everything or sticking to the same old in your creative play ground is stifling. Challenge yourself. Allow yourself to make mistakes. If you aren’t failing, then you aren’t growing. So, isn’t it logical, to look forward to failing? How liberating is that? Now, go create!
Also, this: give yourself mental rewards for completing small steps. If you have a hard time starting, say I’ll just do this one thing even if it’s sorting through your brushes or cleaning your workspace. If you’re in the awkward phase of a painting (or if you doubt that you can complete something), tell yourself it’s okay, it will work out, relax. Once you stop worrying about it not working out, that’s when the real creativity and problem-solving floods in. It stands to reason that completing 50 small paintings (or writing prompts, or songs, whatever) is better for technical progression than completing 1 large painting. The added benefit is that you will have 50 experiences of starting, blocking in, developing, wanting to give up but plodding through and finishing those 50 blank canvases! Think of the endorphins!
Finally: Listen to people! Share your vulnerability. Thank anyone who helps you.
“Creativity is not just for artists. It’s for businesspeople looking for a new way to close a sale; it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem; it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.”― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life