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Steve Mills, Retired, oil on board, 30 x 24 inches.

8.3.21

Piece of Work: Steve Mills

“The story my mom used to tell is that in kindergarten, you get the Crayons – and I wanted the pencil because I liked detail. I always enjoyed doing very detailed things.”

The story my mom used to tell is that in kindergarten, you get the Crayons – and I wanted the pencil because I liked detail. I always enjoyed doing very detailed things.

Take a walk through the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury while Steve Mills’s work is on display and you will almost certainly do a double take. At first glance, you assume you are viewing a photograph. Upon closer inspection, you realize it is an intricately detailed painting.

Mills’s photorealistic works of art have been astonishing patrons of the gallery for years. But while he was a kid growing up on the Island, the idea of being a full-time artist never occurred to him. He thought he might do something with music until his father, Thomas Mills, who started the high school’s Minnesingers group, told him it wasn’t lucrative. “What was my next love?” he thought to himself. “Well, meteorology. That’s how little I put into thinking about art. I just enjoyed doing it,” he said. “I never thought of it being a means toward a future.”

After he signed up for an art class in college, though, he was hooked. “All of a sudden I realized that I was learning what I was doing,” said Mills. “It was kind of fun to technically speak of the techniques.” In 1982, he graduated from Bridgewater State College (now University) with a bachelor’s degree in art.

To create one of his intricate paintings, Mills focuses on the detail – which he captures first using a camera. “I have a really, really nice camera,” he said. “It captures fifteen megapixels.” For the painting at left, titled Retired, Mills waited at a friend’s house in West Tisbury until the sunlight hit on some hanging buoys just right in order to photograph the image from which he would work.

Once back in his studio in Jacksonville, Florida, where he divides his time, he began committing the image to canvas. “I use projection to line it all up onto the canvas,” he said. “And when I’m painting, I have [the photograph] on a laptop next to me so I can zoom in.” He also uses the laptop to make sure his colors and values are right. “When I say ‘values,’ [I mean] your darks and your lights,” Mills explained. “’Cause if you don’t get that right, it just falls apart.”

To view more of Mills’s work, visit the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury or visit stevemillsart.com.