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EC Miller in their studio

The artist EC Miller works out of a home studio in Chicago.

Justine Tobiasz

Winter used to cool my creativity. Now it’s my most productive season.

Last winter, my parents packed up my childhood home in Tennessee, and I brought back to my Chicago studio the lost memorabilia from my youth. Pulling memories from boxes, I thought about how I felt that first winter after I moved to the city a decade ago.

Historically, I am someone whose emotions are affected by the changes in the weather. As a working artist, my sensitivity is a powerful gift. My moods and feelings are the basis of my artwork. Because of this, where I live and the weather there has a strong influence.

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The artist found inspiration last winter in a box of childhood mementos.

Illustration by EC Miller

My mom warned me when I moved to Chicago that the consistent gray skies and long months of cold would inevitably wear on me. And for the first few years, she was right. The intense drop in temperatures seemed to paralyze me. I struggled to ignite creativity within the harsh frigidity of winter. It was as though when the temperatures cooled, so did my passion for making art.

How we winter

This story is part of a series of essays by Midwestern writers, illustrators, photographers and creatives about how they make the most out of winter, from quiet reflections to extreme activities. Tell us how you winter on social media #HowIWinter

Day 1: ‘Hygge’ and my seasonal depression

Day 2: Why I swim in the frozen lake

Day 3: A chef helped reinvigorate my winter soup routine

Day 4: I bike in Chicago year-round but want to go further

Day 5: A better skin care routine

After some fruitless and frustrating years, I reevaluated, and I slowly taught myself that each season offers me something unique as a creative.

I am a working multidisciplinary artist, graphic designer and photographer, and I produce a wide array of work for commercial clients as well as on my own. When I was new to Chicago’s winters, I wasted a lot of energy trying to get the same results from each of the seasons. Spring, summer and fall, I felt more extroverted and had a greater sense of adventure. As an artist who uses both digital and analog techniques, these were the best months for photography, and I could more easily gather physical materials and go outdoors.

This was also, unfortunately, a simultaneously chaotic and distracting series of seasons where mentally I was pulled in all directions with work, social and personal obligations. Because I treated winter in the exact same way, I found myself burned out and unable to finish my work to the extent I was hoping by the next year.

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A robotic toy dog became a recurring subject in a series of digital drawings and watercolors.

Illustration by EC Miller

But slowly I discovered that in winter, the world slows down, and I can too. I didn’t feel the same guilt as I would in summer spending an entire day indoors making images or objects in my studio. In winter, I could sit down, focus and hone in on exactly what I wanted to make.

Winter became the season when the creative intentions of the past year best came into fruition. I began to see previously unexplored experiments evolve into complete ideas or projects.

During an extensive amount of alone time, I went back to the boxes from my childhood home. The materials inside became the core of several projects.

A robotic toy dog recovered from the depths of my childhood closet became my muse last winter and inspired a series of digital drawings and watercolor paintings. Both innocent and melancholy, the dog reminded me of myself. By rendering it over and over again, I attempted to give it a place to live outside my imagination.

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The artist went from hibernating in winter to finding it to be the most productive season for creativity.

Illustration by EC Miller

Functional, wearable projects interest me as much as creating two-dimensional visual art. When I was very young, I was taught to sew, and each winter I try to find a new project to further that skill. These canvas pants were one of my winter projects.

Growing up, I was in Girl Scouts and had collected a variety of unique patches. I wanted to house the collection onto a single garment. The thick embroidery on each of the patches creates a texture that armors the canvas pants I stitched them to, giving them a substantial weight that comforts me when I wear them.

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The artist affixed Girl Scouts patches to a pair of canvas pants, creating a wearable work of art.

Illustration by EC Miller

Sometimes, the materials I bring home with me live in the studio for years, leaning against the windowsill or tucked away in drawers. Even if inspiration doesn’t spark immediately, these mementos help my creativity flow. That’s why I am happy to keep housing them — maybe even until the next winter when a new idea strikes.

EC Miller is an artist, graphic designer and photographer based in Chicago.

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