“So Much Better Than a Photograph” Live Painting in the Capital City

By Abby Cloud

Chances are, if you’ve attended a local event here in town, you’ve caught a glimpse of a man painting right before your eyes. The space before him is decked out with a full-sized easel, a partially painted canvas, and a collection of paint to his side. By the end of the night, he has created a piece focusing on the event taking place right in front of him. This unique art form called live painting is brought to the Tallahassee area by artist Matthew Miller, and The Tally Wire had the opportunity to speak with Miller and his unconventional artistic endeavors. 

Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri and alumni of Loyola University in Chicago, Miller moved on to graduate school at Florida State University. Currently, at FSU, Miller is completing his PhD in Philosophy, while also working as a TA in the college and as a fitness instructor at Orangetheory Fitness in Midtown. Miller took many breaks from his academia over the years to explore other opportunities, including working at a mental hospital and a “9 to 5 office prison,” he jokingly says. Now, Miller is determined to complete his studies in order to devote more time to his art.

While Miller has always had a passion for art, it wasn’t until a few years ago as he was residing in Denver, Colorado, did he learn about live painting. “One night I was at a local music venue and there were a bunch of artists painting off to the side,” he recalls. “I asked what was going on, and learned that live painting is a very common thing in Denver.” Desperate for more work space than what his current apartment could give, Miller joined in on live painting opportunities. “It was the perfect blend of fun and a challenge!” Miller says. “There’s a lot of pressure, the conditions are unpredictable, and there are no do-overs.” 

Although the idea of live painting seemingly implies that very little goes into prepping or starting a piece before arriving at the event, that concept couldn’t be farther from the truth. “I make it look like I just show up and totally improvise these things from nothing, but I actually put in a good amount of work ahead of time,” Miller admits. Prior to attending the event, Miller will usually search for pictures of the venue and whatever subject he is going to paint. “I’ll do some sketches and plan some compositions, and sometimes I’ll pull up YouTube videos of a live band and try to do quick sketches for practice.”

Miller reminds us that even with all of his prepping, he will never truly know what goes down on “game day,” as he calls it; sometimes the conditions of the environment don’t work according to his plan or inspiration hits at the last second and he scraps his previous idea. However, once he is in the zone, Miller is dedicated to completing his piece. “I enjoy interacting with people, and this is what makes it better than working alone in a studio,” he says. “But when I’m deep into a live painting, I forget that the crowd even exists. It definitely puts me into a flow state, and this is what makes it such a special activity for me.”

In the last four years, Miller has set up his makeshift art studio in many places, from Wisconsin to Maryland to Tennessee. He previously attended Ironman Triathlons all over the nation,, and he looks forward to continuing this tradition by attending more triathlons this year.

He has painted at the Due South Festival in Thomasville, Georgia, and has been spotted at recent events hosted by the Friends of Wakulla Springs. In the Capital City, Miller frequently attends Tallahassee’s Sundown Concert Series at Cascades Park. Later on in the year, you can see him at the grand opening of the Railroad Square Crafthouse on August 23 and at Doak Campbell Stadium capturing the game day buzz of the town. 

The next time you’re at a Tallahassee event, keep your eyes open for an artist at work! To learn more about Matthew Miller’s live art, you can visit his website here. To stay updated and connected with him, you can follow his Instagram account or his Facebook page.

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