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Style Magazine

Oran Miller

Dec 06, 2012 09:07AM ● By Style

Photos by Dante Fontana, © Style Media Group.

Strolling through downtown Placerville, residents and tourists alike have unknowingly admired Oran Miller’s work in the intricate mural of local hero Snowshoe Thompson.

The placement at the bottom of the hill – on the corner of Sacramento and Main Streets – is meant to represent the last stop on the epic journey Thompson trekked for more than 20 winters between California and Utah carrying mail, supplies and news. Even without a signature or artist bio, so much is revealed in the details: the historically accurate bootlaces, belt buckle and buttons, down to the gold-leaf-outlined antique copperplate font. If you were to label Miller, he could be an innovative printmaker, loving father, silversmith designer or passionate historian. Yet, above all else, he’s an illustrator.  

“At heart, I’m a drawer,” Miller says. “Even though my studio is full of hand presses, woodblocks, engraving benches, tubes and cans of oil inks, I’m only able to commit to making new prints after I’ve labored over my ideas and designs in a sketchbook.”

Miller, who began drawing the instant he learned how to hold a pencil, currently works solely in woodcut printmaking, which he refers to as the “original social network” before the Gutenberg press was introduced in the 15th century.

Raised in nearby Winters, Miller’s own path took him from drawing and painting through graphic design, architecture and photography, until finally settling on printmaking – a medium Miller has explored in its many depths, from traditional limestone lithography to screen printing. The artist reached even further with his play of materials at The Upstairs Art Gallery’s fiber-based exhibit Stranded last year, where he revealed his collection of paper made entirely of horse manure.

Working on a ranch at the time and missing the Oregon paper studios where he worked while earning his MFA in printmaking, Miller realized the horses around him munching on alfalfa acted much like the expensive machines used to break down fiber for papermaking. “Yes, it was messy and there’s a video of the process on YouTube worth watching,” Miller admits. “Yet the paper I made was beautiful: rustic, green as grass and highly not only addressed the issues of a struggling papermaker on a shoestring budget, but also eco-friendly art-making in a society embracing recycling and green technologies.”

Much like Gutenberg himself, Miller also works as a designer for Gist Silversmiths, which helps to support his two sons, ages five and seven. Until he has mastered the craft of woodcutting, Miller won’t be changing materials. Nevertheless, he is excited to eventually tackle copper engraving, which he gets a taste of at Gist. Pen and paper, however, will always serve as Miller’s medium of choice.

“Drawings are the blueprints artists use to make everything,” Miller shares. “I try to get my ideas solidified without closing the doors to improvisation­­ – even mistakes can be the little bits in an artwork that somebody else will love.”

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