Artist Cameron Miller’s work ethic is frighteningly diligent. When it comes to his craft, he has the discipline of a Samurai. Like most serious tattoo artists, Miller also excels in fine art, and his attitude towards talent speaks volumes. He believes humans operate by reflex rather than instinct. “I wholeheartedly think that talent comes from nothing more [than] hard work, experience and the way that we are raised … hard work can bypass the other two and get you anywhere you want to go,” he says. “Any talent I have comes from putting in the hours and making those sacrifices to finer craft my creations.”
Cam was born in Southern California and grew up in Marshall, Michigan, where he found small-town life to be uninspiring and secluded. However, he had supportive parents who introduced him to the art world through painting, music and custom cars. In school, excellent art teachers at Marshall High cultivated his creativity — “Mrs. Bonte, Ms. Bratherton-Isham and Mr. Williams were amazing!” — and living near big cities like Detroit and Chicago kept him exposed to culture and broad concepts.
Miller returned to California after depleting his inspirational fuel in Michigan. It was time for a new perspective, new challenges and new opportunities. “I had always been interested in art. Whether it was painting, photography, cooking, I always craved it,” he says.
Believe it or not, Cam started his creative career in the culinary arts. “My life revolved around cooking and baking … for nearly a decade and then I got totally burned out on it. At this point I had been getting tattooed for a while and loved everything about the trade.” Soon enough, he went back to Michigan for two years to undertake an apprenticeship with Tom Bennett at Forever Perfect Tattoo in Lansing.
Cam’s modern influences include Jeremy Lipking, Ignat Ignatov, Hsin-Yao Tseng, Shawn Barber and Michael Klein. “Historically, I love the works of Bouguereau, Gérôme, and Peter Paul Rubens,” he says.
After his apprenticeship in Michigan and working at tattoo shops in Santa Barbara, CA for a few years, Cam received formal fine arts training at the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art and also took on private studies. Most of his fine artwork consists of portraits because he finds the process fascinating. “I love the idea that when crafting portraiture, it’s one person’s interpretation of another,” he says. “It is extremely personal.” Since childhood, Cam often drew his surroundings, especially people. “Whether it was a caricature or complete realism, I loved [doing] it,” he says.
For the past 3 years, Cam’s mentors Shawn Barber and Ignat Ignatov had been huge inspirations. “Shawn and Kim Saigh have created an amazing environment at Memoir Tattoo in Los Angeles, and I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from them over the last 3 years or so.”
Today, Cam is based in the Bay Area and can be found pushing needles at War Horse Tattoos on Telegraph in Berkeley, CA.
Alisa Damaso: How long does it take to create one piece?
Cameron Miller: It varies on size and how involved it is. Painting wise it can be a quick as a few hours during an alla prima session, or months for bigger projects. Tattoos become time consuming when you start dealing with photo altering and preparation for a piece that not only will look good, but stand the test of time. I would say a hand-size portrait could involve a couple hours of prep time, while taking three to five hours within the tattooing process. Then generally a second session, which is usually around an hour, is needed to tighten everything up after the initIal healing procedure.
AD: What kind of conflicts do you meet in your creative process?
CM: While painting, I generally run into the standards: inspiration and technical flaws. Tattooing is a whole monster of its own. It’s both of those problems put into a medium that demands perfection. On top of dealing with the general public and their list of hurdles. Tattooing is incredibly demanding, and is definitely a lifestyle and not a job. When you add in clients’ attitudes, perceptions, ignorance, mannerisms, etc., it makes it that much more taxing.
AD: What are your thoughts on art school?
CM: I think education is only as good as the effort you put towards it. I find a lot of the time people enter the world of higher learning for the sake of doing it, because society forces that on us. I think art school can be an incredibly valuable tool if you use it correctly. I also think that it can be a ridiculously expensive waste of time considering the situation. Hard work is the main factor, as long as it plays a role you will progress. I know plenty of people that are beyond amazing at what they do with no formal training, so it all comes back to the effort and stock you place in your craft. I also find that there comes a point where you have to start drawing from yourself and not educators to further your progress. They can take you a long ways, but only you can push yourself past their efforts and start producing subject matter that resonates more with yourself.