When the door of the historic row home in Richmond, Virginia swung open, I was greeted with a smile as bright as sunlight and immediately embraced by Theodora Miller’s evanescent personality. Before we could even sit down, we were engaged in conversation. It was immediately evident that Theodora’s heart is full. Her face lights up, and there is an irreplaceable twinkle in her eye when she talks about her family, her heritage, and, of course, her art.
Ever since Theodora was a little girl, she loved to draw, doodle, paint, and make things with her hands. She still has the handmade book of drawings and poems from elementary school, complete with the hand-stitched, recycled wallpaper cover. This little ode to the past highlights her origin and shepherds Theodora’s artistic journey – reminding her to seek the creative freedom of that little girl.
photo by Tasha Tolliver Photography
Childhood summers with her family in Greece ignited Theodora’s love for adventure and travel, imprinting her mind with colors and context that shows up in her paintings. Theodora is inspired by all that is around her. She takes mental notes while walking down the street, listening to music or being in nature. In-tune with the sights and sounds of everyday life, Theodora channels those stories into the work she creates. Resulting in a unique ebb and flow of vibrant colors across each canvas that Theodora touches.
While Theodora hones her creative process in her basement studio, her work is displayed throughout her house. The warm light on the main floor creates a natural path down the hallway where many of Theodora’s paintings are gathered along the wall. The dining room is a makeshift gallery (at least for our visit) where her pieces, big and small, are spread across on the table. New fabric and pillows relax on the chairs, bearing witness to the evolution of Theodora’s work. All the pieces are individually beautiful. When combined, Theodora’s artwork tells a unique story of growth, nurturing, exploration, and love.
Theodora has been painting for years, but she literally fell into abstract expressionism. A split-second fall down the stairs resulted in a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that forced Theodora into complete isolation and cognitive rest. Concerned about recovery and uncertain about her future, artful living took on new meaning and emerged as an essential part of her healing process. Long, dark days of forced downtime is not easy for a doer, but Theodora acknowledges this tragic event as a gift. This time of reflection and healing resulted in a new creative voice. Painting became a lifeline, leading to recovery and giving her hope.
Time stands still for Theodora when she paints. When her hands are covered in paint and with the calm of her breathing, Theodora can be completely free to explore what she is feeling at that exact moment. Theodora says it best, “No plans, no fears, no judgment, just absolute freedom. Painting is my sanctuary”.
I am so grateful to have a glimpse into Theodora’s creative world.
What is your process for creating? Do you have a time of day or place that you are most creative?
My creative process is exploratory in nature, influenced by mood, surroundings and life events. I prefer to paint on wood panels and build up the first layers of texture with gesso. I rarely start with an image in mind; I just pick some colors that reflect my mood and pour my emotions into it. It’s quite meditative really, acting on impulsive ideas and making intuitive marks. I use all sizes of brushes, palette knives and even putty knives and scrapers. Layers of underpainting reveal what the next step will be.
My favorite place to paint is outdoors in my courtyard. I put out a big tarp on the ground with a tall stack of wood panels and tubes of paint. Even my dog, Buddy, gets in the action. He loves to nap at my feet while I paint.
What part of your artistic career are you most proud of?
I’m super proud to be doing what I love and that my mother got to see me fulfilling my dream before she passed away.
What inspires you?
Painting is a metaphor for my perception of life, inspired by tender, emotional relationships, and rooted in notions of touch, love, and wonder that I experience as a woman, mother, and humble observer of the world.
I use mark-making to express the constantly moving, changing, and morphing of life and nature, leaving observers certain that they are witnessing merely a fleeting moment in time. I am fascinated by the imagery that emerges from the physical and emotive act of painting itself—dashes of paint, gestural strokes, and rhythmic painterly marks are representative of human touch, personal exchange, energy, and the shifting of time.
What is your biggest challenge?
I think all artists battle with moments of self-doubt. To be creative requires a certain amount of vulnerability. Will they like it? Who will like it? I try to minimize self-doubt by working on multiple pieces, making numerous “starts” and walking away when if I feel blocked. My favorite pieces usually end up being the ones with which I struggled the most. There’s this TED Talk by psychologist and author Adam Grant that I listened to recently. In it he shares that being impatient to accept the first idea can breed even better ideas, driving greater creativity and originality. Self-doubt, as awful as it may feel at the time, actually catapults me forward to take more risks and to be innovative.
Do you collect art? What is one of your favorite pieces?
Instagram has been a fantastic way to build community among artists, and it’s led to some great new friendships. One artist that I met (virtually) from Portland does the most mesmerizing portraits. I commissioned her to do a small portrait of my youngest daughter and our dog. It’s hanging on a gallery wall above my kitchen table so I get to enjoy it daily. Check her out - Ruth Shively .