Skip to main content

Style Magazine

Varya McMillan

Apr 06, 2011 06:33AM ● By Style

Photo by Dante Fontana

Painter Varya McMillan’s favorite aspect of her craft is that every day is unique.

“I go to my studio, and there are good days, and there are bad days,” she says. “Even if I have no inspiration, and it’s foggy outside, I start doing some drawings as warm-up exercises, and the more I do this, the more I get involved and inspired, and I end up totally exhausted but in high spirits at the end of the day.”

Art has never been a mere idle passion for McMillan. After graduating with an MFA from Sofia Art Academy in Bulgaria, she spent a quarter century crafting theater sets – everything from costumes to lighting, artwork and stage props. Her work took her around Bulgaria and abroad, where she picked up an affinity for traveling and expanded her art, eventually living in Paris, an opportunity that left an impact on her. “Living and working in Paris broadened my view about art in general and helped me look from another angle (at) my art,” she says.

It was in the City of Lights that she was able to spend a lot of time looking at works by Italian, French and Dutch masters. With early 20th century painters such as Egon Schiele, Hundertwasser and Joan Miro as inspiration, she refined her visual voice as a painter over several years.

Another source of inspiration in her art? Skydiving. While in high school, she took up parachuting and the bird’s-eye views of the earth from those years later went into some of her paintings. “Art is really my life,” she says. “You can’t make a life without art. They go together.”

Having moved to the U.S. 12 years ago, McMillan now calls El Dorado Hills home, where she continues her artwork. She works in different mediums in her paintings. Oils were her favorite for years, then she added “encaustic” – an ancient Greek method of painting with molten-pigmented beeswax – and then later incorporated mixed media. “My art is not about reproducing what I see in the world around me,” she says, “but rather focuses on emotions, nostalgia and memories of places from my childhood.” McMillan says her paintings are typically abstract landscapes and abstract figurative works inspired by the history of her homeland.

To start one of her paintings, she uses a collage of old manuscripts, letters and verses of poems to build color and texture. Then she works with a palette knife, gradually building texture and juxtaposing marks and images as a central part of the process. “Two things are very important for me as I create my artwork: the energy of color movement, and the layers and textures,” she says. “Layers fascinate me – both literally and symbolically – in life and art.

Her art has won several awards and has been shown in solo and collective shows across Europe and the U.S., including Paris, Vienna, Budapest, Sofia, San Francisco and Sacramento. It is also part of numerous public art collections, including ones in Vienna and Sofia. Locally, her work is available at the Fire & Rain Gallery in El Dorado Hills as well as at Artistic Edge and Barton’s in Sacramento.

For more details, visit