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Mobile Art – APPart Interview with Deborah McMillion (@Hotel Midnight)

Deborah and I “met” through social media a few years ago after I ran across one of her vibrant, retro-feeling, and mysterious creations. Her work is surreal storytelling at its best and is presented to us often – she is one of the more prolific artists in our group. Deborah’s unmistakable style is intentionally positive and a welcome break from the anger that surrounds us these days. Just step inside her world and get lost in the stunning surroundings she provides, you’ll be glad you did. I’ve had more than one occasion to meet this special artist in person because like me, she lives in Phoenix. I know you’ll enjoy Deborah as much as I do!

Contact Details


All Photos ©Deborah McMillion


Would you tell us more about your art background and transition (if appropriate) to working with mobile hardware, i.e. iPhone, iPad, tablets.

My background is in formal painting, oils, watercolour, pastels, lithography, serigraphy and etchings. I bought an iPhone when they first came out and promptly joined one of the first groups on Flickr for Brushes. No going back after Autodesk opened a huge door to show and teach others in shows in both Vegas and San Francisco.



Please describe your style of art and your portrayals.

Representational surrealism. It all goes in … and then comes out in dreams.



How are you inspired, motivated and nourished in your work?

I’m inspired through reading, movies, television, advertising, and conversation. I put it in the “dream blender” and things begin to make “sense”.



How often do you create images? Do you feel under pressure to produce more and more or do you not subscribe to this? If yes, does this sense of urgency help you in your creation process?

I work on about 8-10 paintings at a time. A close series that reflects the same story and mood so moving back and forth doesn’t feel disruptive. There are times a painting lacks a key element, perhaps has not been dreamed yet, so it sits. If the missing element can’t be found, the pieces might be taken apart and used elsewhere, stored in my Davy Jones’ Locker backup. Sometimes a few months later those same elements might walk over to a new dream – so I don’t toss ideas. I find that when I write the ideas out a new visual will emerge, whereas a sketch keeps it locked forever. I do feel the pressure to create but it’s internal, a self-induced thing. Once I realised how freeing the iPad is to work on, I can’t get enough out fast enough. Some people choke on which app to use, which texture, which font, etc. that’ not something I have a problem with.



Do you adapt a similar ‘routine’ to creating your images or do you change and vary your process depending on the piece?

Some work is just my “serious” art. Others are obvious jokes and don’t make it to Hotel Midnight and are relegated to Motel Sun Ray but it’s hard to keep up with. All spare time goes into Hotel Midnight, not Motel Sun Ray.



Do you have a particular methodology in your work?

I have certain elements and an overall feel I like to convey. I intentionally avoid dark melancholy or depression in my work. I used to do a lot of dark angels flying at night but after a threat to my health … I paint bird girls with French names!



Do you allow a specific time frame to complete an image?

No, not unless it is a deadline for a show or book.



Do you need to work in a certain creative environment?

To create yes, but to actually work, no. I can paint anywhere but the ideation most often occurs when I swim – it’s the one place I get close to meditating. Inspiration can hit anywhere but it takes that inner space to bring it into “being”. After that it’s moving my store of images or adding new ones. Then it’s painting, app mashing and being open to surprise, that’s the more technical side of the process.



Do photographic images feature in your work, what form do these take?

Yes. I use all sorts of photos as reference and have a vast collection of old snaps from antique stores, friends’ family photos, friends who became models, and so forth – they get reused and repurposed like paper dolls.

I feel that things like clouds cant be invented and the drawings look it if I try so I merge my own photos with the drawings for backgrounds. I take tons of photos so I can always find something that works.



Do you use any additional hardware to help you create your art, such as a stylus? Can you also tell us about any other hardware you use including, software, accessories including batteries, chargers, lenses, storage. Do you have a favorite tool?

My go-to device is the 9.7” iPad Pro. I loved the bigger one but it was too large for me to hold and it didn’t fit in my Octi-stand, which allows me to work with no weight on my hands or lap. I used to love the Truglide stylus but the Apple Pencil tops all. I have a lot of support apps but my “go to” is Autodesk Sketchbook, iOS only. My printer is a P600 Epson.



Where do you share your images within social media channels? How do you manage social media, sharing, learning, competitions etc. vs creating art?

Right now I’m only active on Flickr, Facebook and Pinterest. All the social media became overwhelming so I put Instagram on hold.



Are you motivated by competitions/competitiveness or does your satisfaction come from within? How do you involve yourself in competitions, shows, challenges and what are your reasons for doing so?

I try out competitions that fit. I usually enter in the art category to most digital photography competitions, but that isn’t always an option. Trying to compete with analog painters is worse but I’ll try if there is a good reason and no jury fee. I’ve been in every local show or space as well as some repeats appearances. I don’t need 10 more it has to be new. You can’t stop or your work disappears. I love challenges and or groups that offer them, it’s a great way to “find” yourself in a new media. I inherited a group on Flickr and started my own a couple of years ago -complete with its own app. In the end, having challenges that were too themed resulted in people finding their path and moving on. All good, I too moved on and I tend not to do challenges anymore.



What causes you to pause and take stock of your existing work?

When I see work that makes me feel like they “got” what I am struggling to say but their method is so far from mine there is no fear of unintentional plagiarism. You know they found symbols they put together in their own mind, which led to the same place – that is exciting. There is so much excellent work appearing in the AppWhisperer feeds that it’s hard to take it all in and that’s exactly why I love the inspired showcases each Sunday.



How has mobile technology and connectedness changed the way you see? This can be both literally how you see, and how you see yourself and your work. Creative people were more isolated, in the past, and had to deal with less intuitive tools, digitally and in natural media.

One major thing: I don’t stop, there’s no clean up, your studio is in a slipcase, you can create on the go. Our long ago group on Flickr referred to our methods as “wainting” which meant painting while waiting. I love the term because it brings us back to the first apps, made for kids to play with. Now, we adults can pull out our phones and entertain ourselves, scribble some fun and share whenever and wherever; while standing in line, sitting in doctors offices, whatever.



How has helped you with your art?

The AppWhisperer provides the most important thing of all, a group of peers to connect, learn, and share with. It weeds out the work that doesn’t apply; it keeps the conversation professional, provides resources, and keeps me on top. I feel lucky to have “found” this group just as the older Flickr groups and the were breaking up. I grabbed one lifeline that led me to an international group of artists serious about networking. I admit sometimes too much good comes my way but it’s wonderful. Artists need the time and the “tiny” space to create but more, we need other artists to talk it through. (That means talk…not “Like”.) SorryLiking for socialising not art talk … it doesn’t have to be long but I gain far more insight into my work even with just one sentence – that I moved someone.



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Bobbi McMurry received her BFA from Arizona State University where she focused on painting, drawing, and printmaking. After graduating, she spent many years as an Art Director for custom and newsstand magazines. She has recently rekindled her passion for creating personal images and has gravitated to the world of mobile art. Her work has been accepted into numerous juried exhibitions, and has been recognized in mobile art competitions including The Third Wave and the Mobile Photo Awards. Additionaly, her work is part of the current iPhonic Art Exhibit at Markham Vinyards in California. She has been featured on mobile photography blogs, and recently became a columnist for The App Whisperer. Bobbi lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona.