Quinn Milton ’14, a Studio Art major who focuses mainly on drawing and painting, has, as she put it, been “blessed with opportunities.” Only a junior in college, she has had work exhibited in Ireland, London, and California.
“For me,” she said, “the actual practice of making art is something that I feel the need to be doing. I definitely feel it when I’m not doing it—it’s a space that I need for myself.”
Milton has never asked herself what she wanted to do with her life—in fact, she’s been finger-painting since the age of one or two.
“It was always a thing for me,” she said, explaining that when she was young she would even get offended when people asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. “I am an artist right now,” she would say.
Nevertheless, growing up has provided Milton with a variety of otherwise inaccessible opportunities, such as the chance to study in Ballyvaughan, Ireland last semester. She attended the Burren College of Art, being the first Vassar student to do so, and participated in an art intensive program which required her to be in the studio from nine to five each day. She found it to be a special chance to further develop her skills with minimal outside interference.
“It was a really good experience,” she reflected. “It was great to have an opportunity to just focus on doing studio art with no distractions in the middle of a really gorgeous place.”
During her time abroad, Milton created a triptych of drawings in black charcoal which was displayed in the end-of-semester show, pieces she is particularly proud of.
“I felt I had simplified an image that started out being too complex, and it got down to the core idea of what I wanted,” she said. “With these three drawings, I was able to put out images that I’d been carrying with me for a long time and that I’ve wanted to show.”
The pieces were reviewed in her class and received positive feedback, with viewers picking up on many of the themes Milton wished to communicate.
Milton has often worked more specifically in collaboration with other students during her time at Vassar, which she chose to attend in part for the strength of its Art Department. She is currently working on a sequence of drawings to accompany the poems of a friend’s dissertation.
“There are a lot more possibilities and it can be easier to be motivated… and to come up with the best idea,” she said of collaborative projects. “But the work is very different. It’s probably not going to be exactly what I want to do, because my work is personal.”
Milton believes a good artist should have a personal stake in her work and value herself by what she does.
“I prefer to tailor projects to what I’m interested in,” she said, “so that I do have more of an investment in it. You’re trying to build a body of work that’s coherent and that’s going to move you forward.”
Milton is currently working on paintings and large-scale drawings, including images that illustrate dreams, insomnia, and the phases of sleep. She describes these images as a conversation with herself and plans to include them in her senior portfolio, a body of work that will display her true interests.
“I think people have the impression that art is not academic, like it’s some weird, mystical thing,” Milton remarked. “But there’s a lot of interesting thought and research that goes into art.”
Another thing people might underestimate, said Milton, is the dedication artists need to have. “There is a lot of hard work and hard labor,” she said, “and a lot of time that goes into making art. And besides that…you need to be really invested [and] prolific. It’s just very challenging to figure out what you want to be doing and how to express that.”
The struggles of creating art don’t end with the mind. Although Milton has earned success as a visual artist, her journey has not lacked physical effort.
To illustrate this point, she described a project that required repeatedly shoveling gravel into a wheelbarrow to create a mound of rocks as well as a drawing that became more than a little physical as she worked on it.
“It was this piece of paper that was larger than I was,” she elaborated. “I was working with graphite and [an] eraser and getting it to be really thick on the page. I developed a really serious thumb cramp – my shoulder and whole arm were aching, and I was literally panting as I tried to work with the paper.”
Despite the intense labor it takes to prove oneself as a dedicated artist, Milton maintains that the struggle is worth it and eventually plans to pursue her Master’s in Fine Arts and become a professional artist. To those aspiring visual artists out there, she advises regular practice as well as genuine dedication. “At the end of the day,” she said, “you have to put the hours in. And when you do, a lot of other things will emerge.”
For examples of the end results of this dedication and practice, check out her artwork at www.q-u-i-n-n-m.tumblr.com and www.librarynthine.com.