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Glasgow based artist Caroline Millar on the unlikely journey to her first solo show, Morning Pages & the joys of a limited palette…

I came across Caroline Millar’s work by fortuitous means, first by the harmonious play of colour, line and texture of her work on her gallery’s website then a self shot film of her studio practice that showed an honesty and insightfulness I’m delighted to say is on full display here. I hope you enjoy it as much as me.

Caroline Millar Artist

Mixed media artist Caroline Millar in her Glasgow studio.

Congratulations on your first solo show! How did it come about and what’s been the most rewarding part of putting it together?

How it came about sounds like something out of a film. A film about a woman who, in February 2020, decided to get serious about painting, took an intensive 12 week online course, posted her art on Instagram, got spotted by a London gallery, was invited to submit a few paintings to a group show, took a selection for the manager to see, who loved them and immediately offered her gallery representation, and a solo exhibition. If you saw this play out in a film you’d be rolling your eyes and thinking “Yeah sure! That’s not how it happens.” But that’s exactly what happened and I feel incredibly blessed.

Caroline Millar - Brownsword Hepworth

Caroline Millar’s debut solo show is at Brownsword Hepworth, Walton St, Chelsea until 30th July 2021.

The most rewarding aspect? Gosh! That’s a tough one. Can I say “All of it!”? Seeing my work hanging in the gallery with my name in big blue letters across the window was obviously pretty rewarding—or maybe surreal is a better description! Knowing that I had pushed every painting as far as I could—so that there’s not a single piece that I’m not proud of—would certainly be high on the list. As would getting to the end of months of extremely focussed work knowing that I had moved my art forward in ways I couldn’t even imagine a year ago. Oh and meeting the deadline with only one minor meltdown.


My husband: “It’s not the kind of handle that turns. Just push the door.”

Me (pushing the door like I have 10,000 times before): “Ah. Ok. Meltdown over.”




Caroline Millar – One Day

2021. Mixed Media on Panel. 30 x 30cm.

You wrote a brilliant article on your love for using a limited palette. Do you mind sharing a colour palette you’ve used and any lessons learned along the way?

Certainly! When I first decided to work with a limited palette I chose colours that would let me explore value, saturation, temperature and harmony — mars black, titanium white, coeruleum blue and cadmium orange light. Blues and oranges are colours I shall never tire of. They’re complementary so you can create wonderful chromatic greys with them. And with just a few highlights of saturated colour you can lead the eye through the painting and really make other colours pop! Over the months of working with this palette I learned so much about the nuances of colour that I’d never have learned if I’d had a rainbow at my disposal. And because I wasn’t overwhelmed by colour choices I was able to learn much more about the importance of value in the overall composition.

But I also learned that paint manufacturers can change their formulations at the drop of a hat—and when they do—if you’ve developed an intimate knowledge of what’s possible with the previous formulation—boy is it frustrating!

Caroline Millar - Hot Orange



Caroline Millar – Hot Orange

2021. Mixed Media on Panel. 60 x 75cm.

Can you give us a sense of the life-cycle of one of your artworks from that first layer of paint to the final cold wax finish?

Sure! It goes something like this.

Start with a prepped canvas or board. Slather random paint on with big brushes. Move colours about with a trowel. Scrape in lines. Stick on pieces of newsprint, painted papers, sheets of handwriting. Dollop. Drizzle. Drip—let inner creative kid play with no outcome in mind.

Then it’s time for the part of me who loves solving problems to respond to what’s there. She’s a designer—and she has lots of questions. What direction can this go in? What do I like? What do I want to get rid of? What feeling do I get from this? What’s working? What’s not?

There follows a dance between them—the ‘kid’ and the ‘designer’—backwards and forwards—layer upon layer. Often one (or both) of them will make changes so radical that they take the painting in a completely new direction. The kid is only interested in what you see up close. She loves depth and texture and detail and weird effects that come about often by accident. She’s not remotely bothered about what the painting looks like as a whole. That’s what the ‘designer’ cares about. She loves creating structure and harmony, and finding ways to guide the viewer’s eye through the painting—and will keep going until she finds a resolution.

Caroline Millar - Moon Dust



Caroline Millar – Moon Dust

2021. Mixed Media on Panel. 50 x 50cm.

Whilst those two are dancing away there’s another part of me who swings between loving their groove—or getting really frustrated by it. She’s the philosophical one who searches for connections and will ultimately be the one to work out what the hell the painting is about!

I know the painting’s finished when I don’t feel the need to make any more changes and there’s a feeling of excitement in my gut that let’s me know that it’s done,

Once complete, the painting (which is in acrylic) gets a coat of gloss medium, a coat of self-levelling gel and a lightly buffed coat of cold wax medium.

Do you have any studio tips and/or favourite tools/materials you can’t live without?

I have a top tip that always goes down well whenever I share it. To stop small brushes becoming splayed, I wash them, reshape them and put a Kirby grip around the bristles to keep them in shape as they dry. It works a treat!

Kirby grips - paint brushes

Kirby grips (bobby pins for our US friends!) keeping paint brushes in shape.

But my best studio tip is to forget waiting for inspiration—turn up and do the work instead.

Favourite tools? I’m never without a water sprayer and a small craft knife.

Caroline Millar - Pinky Blue



Caroline Millar – Pinky Blue

2021. Mixed Media on Panel. 60 x 60cm.

In what ways has Californian abstract painter Nicholas Wilton’s teachings and workshops influenced you?

I could write a book on this one—but I’ll keep it brief! Taking Nicholas Wilton’s Creative Visionary Programme (CVP) was life-changing (see question 1). I not only learned how to make art that reflects who I am—I learned how to critique it and use a set of guiding principles to make it stronger. I also learned to believe in myself as an artist—and to have a consistent and productive art practice.

Any tips for artists struggling to build an engaged audience on social media?

Be consistent. Be entertaining. But most importantly—be yourself.

I find Facebook frustrating and tend to ignore it so I can only speak about my experience on Instagram. The algorithm responds well to a regular posting schedule. Posting every day for ten days then nothing for a month won’t go down well. So find a pattern that fits with your life and do what you can to stick to it.

But let’s forget the algorithm—because unless you’re an algorithm geek—frankly it’s really rather dull.

If you want to engage an audience on social media you have to see that audience for what it is—it’s (made up of) individual people—and many of them are just like you. So why not ask yourself—what do you want from someone’s Instagram post? I know what I want. I want to be inspired—surprised—delighted. I want to learn something that’s useful to me. I want to laugh—and get a warm tingly feeling in my belly when I see an amazing piece of art. I want to see confirmation of the incredible capacity humans have to create and connect with others. I know that’s a bit of a tall order—but what I certainly don’t want whilst reading an Instagram post—is to be bored!

Caroline Millar Instagram

Even though I’m looking at a tiny image on a screen and reading words written by a stranger (possibly on the other side of the world) I want to feel some sort of connection with them—some sort of resonance. And that’s much more likely to happen if the person who’s talking to me is being genuine/real/authentic/true to themselves. (Or however you want to say it!)

Think about the people you know in real life that you feel a connection with. How open and honest are they? Being closed-off and fake are rarely qualities to look for in others so why would we look for them in our online ‘relationships’? Yes I know the Kardashians blow part of that theory right out the water but we’re adult art lovers—we’re not the Kardashians target market.

Caroline Millar - Hidden Lane



Caroline Millar – Hidden Lane

2021. Mixed Media on Panel. 50 x 50cm.

When I first posted on Instagram my captions were as dry and short as a stick of charcoal. ‘Acrylic on paper.’ Yawn. 35 likes. 3 comments. ‘Mono-prints and mark-making.’ 33 likes. 5 comments. Zzzz. At this point I had about 80 followers—which now seems quite an achievement—all things considered.

Then one day I decided to do something different. I decided just to be myself—to tell stories—and to generally ramble on about whatever was in my head. (Well maybe not EVERYTHING—I do have some boundaries!) A year on and I’ve built a pretty engaged following. I get lots of lovely comments about my art but I also get comments about how honest and refreshing people find my captions. Of course now that I’ve started ‘over-sharing’ online I find it hard to stop! But being able to turn up and just be who I am has been hugely liberating. And many opportunities have arisen as a result.

On the other hand, Instagram is a visual medium. So treat your feed like a creative endeavour and be thoughtful about how it looks as a whole.

Caroline Millar - Turqouise



Caroline Millar – Turquoise

2021. Mixed Media on Panel. 50 x 50cm.

You’ve written of the impact Morning Pages has had on your life and work, why do you think it’s such an effective tool for artists?

For anyone who’s not heard of Morning Pages, it’s a form of meditation. Meditation brings huge benefits in terms of stress reduction and enhanced mood, creativity, self awareness, and patience—all things which benefit both artists and non-artists alike.

But the usual ‘focus your mind’ style of meditation can be difficult to do—whereas Morning Pages (writing whatever thoughts come into your head on 3 sides of A4 paper every morning) is not—it’s only making it a consistent practice that can be tricky. But once you start to feel the benefits of daily free-writing you won’t want to stop!

As an artist I use Morning Pages in a number of different ways. I use it to focus on all the things in my life I am grateful for—because whatever you focus on you tend to get more of! I use it to work through plans and ideas, to have the occasional quiet moan or wobble and then to encourage myself to see things from a different perspective. I use it to visualise my art and career in a positive way and allow my imagination to come up with bright, bold, crazy ideas—to dream big!

But (and this is the best bit) there is a strange unquantifiable benefit that comes from Morning Pages that happens when you’re not writing. It’s a sense of being in the right place at the right time—feeling (strangely) lucky—in a state of flow that extends beyond the studio. It’s feeling more confident—more willing to take risks—more empathetic—calmer—kinder … And it’s so many moments of synchronicity that go far beyond the realms of everyday coincidences that they could become quite freaky if I didn’t see them as a positive sign that I’m on the right track. It’s not uncommon for artists to experience times of self-doubt—so anything that helps bring emotional strength and a sense of calm quiet confidence has to be worth investing time in.

Caroline Millar - Ghost House



Caroline Millar – Ghost House

2021. Mixed Media on Panel. 60 x 75cm.

As a one time Cognitive Behavioural Therapist can you share any mental health tips particularly applicable to artists?

Don’t attach your sense of self-worth to other people’s opinion of your art. Boom! Simple! Well no not really—but once people see the logic in it—it does get easier to do.

Here’s a wee illustration of how this works.

Let’s imagine that one of your paintings is in an exhibition. You happen to be there to keep an eye on things so you get to overhear the visitors’ comments. The first people who walk up to the painting think it’s fabulous. You’re delighted. Now for the purposes of this illustration let’s assume that you’ve attached your sense of self-worth to other people’s opinion of your art—so right now you are feeling pretty darn good about yourself.

However, the next group doesn’t think highly of your work at all. In fact they are pretty derisory. So how do you feel now? Well… now you feel crushed and your sense of self-worth begins to nose dive.

But here’s the thing!

The painting hasn’t changed. It’s still exactly the same as it was when you hung it on the wall. It hasn’t become better or worse as a result of those people’s opinions of it.

And neither have you!

You haven’t changed. You’re exactly the same person you were before those people commented on your painting. And your value as a human being did not rise as a result of the positive comments—or diminish as a result of the negative ones. You are still the same unique, perfectly imperfect, valuable person that you have always been—regardless of what anyone thinks about your art or about your ability as an artist.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t feel happy when someone responds well to your art or disappointed when they don’t. Hell no! You’re not a robot.

But once you realise that your innate value is not dependent on someone else’s opinion of you or your art—you’re free to take or leave the praise and criticism without the unnecessary emotional fall-out.

Caroline Millar - Ink Spot



Caroline Millar – Ink Spot

2021. Mixed Media on Panel. 30 x 30cm.

Who are three abstract painters whose work you admire?

Kevin Tolman and Mark Eanes immediately come to mind. And Susan Melrath who also does representational work but her abstracts are amazing!

Kevin Tolman - Solstice Circus

Kevin Tolman – Solstice Circus. acrylic + mixed media on canvas, 66 x 80 inches.

Mark Eanes - Agnus Dei - to Elenor, Keeper of the Ephemera

Mark Eanes – Agnus Dei – to Elenor, Keeper of the Ephemera, 2018, mixed media on panel, 68 x 68 inches.

Susan Melrath - The Road Not Taken

Susan Melrath – The Road Not Taken. Mixed media on panel, 12 x 12 inches.

What’s your favourite thing about being an artist?

I love the uncertainty. That might sound strange but I get a buzz not knowing where my art is going to go—every painting (and my art practice in general) feels like a big adventure!

Thanks again to Caroline for being so generous with her time and a pleasure to work with in putting this together – welcome back anytime!

See Caroline’s debut solo show at Brownsword Hepworth until 30th July 2021.

Visit Caroline’s website and blog for some excellent articles on all things art, sign up to her newsletter & follow her on Instagram, Facebook & Pinterest.

If you enjoyed this then check out our other Artist Interviews.