16-year-old artist Dimitra Milan grew up surrounded by art and has since worked to cultivate her own unique style. Four years ago, she began painting when her parents opened Arizona's Milan Art Institute, allowing her to take any class that caught her attention. From classical oil techniques to contemporary mixed media, Milan's skill set grew along with her desire to paint. The artist then started homeschooling so she could dedicate her free time to improving and exploring her creative passion. It turns out that this was time well-spent because, after finishing high school early, Milan started painting full-time and is now a celebrated professional artist.
To learn more about her background and the inspiration behind her dreamy paintings, Milan generously agreed to answer our questions. Scroll down to read the exclusive interview.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started as a painter?
I’m 16 years old and have watched my parents in their art career my whole life. I was raised to have an appreciation for art. I love animals and always have since I was very young. I have my own Paso Fino horse named Carmella, a little dairy goat named Georgia, and a cockatiel named Sapphire. I really feel like I'm living the dream and feel so blessed each day! Also, I’m absolutely in LOVE with the country Greece. I travel there often, but one day, I want to live there.
With both your parents being established artists, what would you say is the most significant advice they've given you?
The most important advice I received is the demonstration of a work ethic. They taught me that you don’t always have to be in the mood to paint. You just paint. Every day, for eight or nine hours straight just like any other career choice. Like everything else in life, it's hard work, passion, and commitment that will make you successful. They not only told me these things, but they also demonstrate it in their own life and art careers.
It used to be like this: when I became stuck on a painting and didn’t know how to resolve it, I would quit and move on to something new. Now, I realize that, in order to become more skilled, I need to confront my comfort zones and push through the wall that's blocking me because a breakthrough is on the other side.
A majority of your paintings depict women interacting with nature. Can you tell us more about this relationship and what it signifies?
I paint women and animals/nature together to create a dreamy atmosphere and to give you a feeling that anything is possible. I think of each animal more as a symbol, rather than just the animal itself. I think about the function and attributes of the animal and use it as a symbol. I often like to paint animals that are traditionally viewed as dangerous or predators, or animals that simply have a dangerous edge.
I feel like the women who represent me or the viewer have an opportunity to overcome, or to be a part of, a grand supernatural adventure. Sometimes these relationships between the woman and the animal represent our relationship with the one who created all of us. In my paintings, these predators are not dangerous, they don’t bite and they don’t sting.
Can you describe your creative process? How do you incorporate your passion for traveling?
My creative process simply begins with an inner need to paint a specific subject. I paint simply what I like, what I see as beauty. I see something in my imagination and then sketch what I see and combine it with photo sources. As I begin to paint the scene, I drift into a right brain realm where I forget time and space and just sort of live inside this painting and the flow of color and brush strokes. I’m not really thinking, sort of co-creating with a Divine Hand that I find in this creative realm. Then, as I look, critique, and evaluate what I have painted, I start to get a sense of what it is all about. I really want the paintings to be open-ended and mean different things to different people. I want them to be sort of a window or door into this beautiful, creative realm so people can encounter that atmosphere where anything is possible.
Traveling for me is about adventure and a way to see God’s beautiful garden of people. I love experiencing other cultures and seeing how connected we all are. I love to taste different foods and see the beauty in the world, and to experience the breathtaking moments that become everlasting memories. Traveling helps me to not be self-focused.
Are your paintings based on specific places? If so, what places?
I think the places I see in my head and then paint are a combination of places I have been to and also what I dream at night. I have had many dreams where I am swimming underwater and able to breath underwater. The sea in Greece is a great inspiration, with its crystal clear, perfectly calm water. I admire the beautiful, powerful ocean waves in Hawaii, and its abundance of sweet-smelling flowers. When I’ve gone hiking there, I'm absolutely transported by its breathtaking views and its amazing tropical mountains.
I love to paint places that we all want to experience.
What does your unique technique for classic oil and mixed media oil paintings involve?
In terms of technique, I try to balance experimentation, staying fresh, and confronting my comfort zone with developing consistency and excellence in how I paint. If I paint only classically and traditionally, it can get dry. I love to incorporate new techniques I discover or learn and try to make them work with a traditional, old master technique. All of this I think I do on a sub-conscience, right brain level. It's not calculated or pre-determined. It sort of happens organically and naturally. I don’t want to be limited by technique or a missing skill. I aim to try all things and push my skills past where they are and to not be afraid of making “bad paintings.”
For me, my technique and process is evolving, I’m not locked into anything. I’m 16, and have many years of growth and skill-building ahead of me. I imagine that what I like to paint as subjects will evolve, too.
Are there any specific themes you aim to convey in your work?
I don’t think there are any themes I purposefully try to convey in my work. I don’t feel a need to push an agenda or get specific ideas out there. I have definite opinions about specific issues, for sure, but don’t feel like I am trying to paint these opinions.
I think that I have passions and beliefs that are imprinted in my heart and they naturally flow out as I paint. I feel like my paintings are an outflow or manifestation of what is deep inside of me. For me, I hope to keep my mind and soul out of the way and paint from my heart or spirit. For me, painting and creating art is spiritual, not intellectual.
Music seems to play a significant role in your painting process. What do you like to listen to and how does it help you bring your ideas to life?
I love listening to music. The music is just part of the whole experience. Music helps transport me into my painting zone. I think it stimulates my right brain and creative side, or maybe it keeps my left brain busy! I love to put my headphones on and get lost in the painting. Or, have the music blasting from the speakers and sing like no one is listening.
My favorite kind of music has poetic lyrics with a meaning I can’t really comprehend, but can make associations with and visualize. I love strong, beautiful voices and clean, acoustical instruments—sort of modern folk. I love certain musicians like: The Head and the Heart, Of Monsters and Men, Vance Joy, Jeff Buckley, Simon and Garfunkel.
For me, painting without music playing just doesn't feel right.
What do you hope viewers take away from your paintings?
I hope that when people see my artwork, they see beauty. I hope that they see themselves. I hope they have some kind of deep, internal response in their heart—not just a cognitive response. I want the paintings to be like a door to a new world, a heavenly realm where there are no prey and there are no predators, just beauty, hope, adventure, confidence, and of course love.
My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Dimitra Milan.