It’s not every day that I get to meet someone who I really admire and actually get to interview them. Roland Millington is such a man, not only is he an artist and fervent supporter of Multiple Sclerosis awareness, but he is an amazing husband and father. I want to make sure that Roland’s story is presented so the plight of his wife, and his will be understood and answered by the wonderful people who read this article.
Would you begin by telling the audience a bit about yourself?
From a very early age, I've always wanted to be an artist. My mother is a wildlife artist, and so naturally, my older and younger brother and I were very much involved in art as kids. The first art I ever remember creating was a drawing of a group of Canada geese flying over a field.
Growing up in a small town in Illinois made being a successful artist somewhat more challenging, however, as my style of art varied pretty diversely, and was difficult to package.
Has your artistic ability evolved?
Frankly, my art it still is evolving. I'll work rather abstractly on one image, and then very realistic on another. I blame my senior year high school art instructor, Lois Lewis for that. She always made me try unusual media and different techniques. Make stuff up, combine stuff, and experience it in order to learn it. She more or less taught me that art should be an exploration, and not a formulaic process.
Throughout my life, I liked subject matter that wasn't always popular. Low-brow culture and art, pulp novel and pin-up work, are not exactly normal fare for Small Town, Illinois. Lots of times people would have a tough time processing what I liked and what I did, as there are fewer opportunities to be exposed to it. Still, it was very nice to come across someone who at least tolerated it, or even got it.
I've worked in traditional media, and still do quite often, gravitating towards water-based media, but as digital painting has developed, I tend toward that. I use software like ArtRage Studio Pro, which is where I spend most of my creative time these days.
What style are your prints?
Most of the prints I create these days are what I refer to as Giclée One Edition. Usually, an artist will have a set number of prints made of a piece, and with digital, that's more or less the point. But what that allows in quantity, it lacks in exclusivity. Unlike a painting like "Cafe Terrace at Night," where you have the original and then a bunch of prints, digital work lacks that initial tangible element, because the original piece is made of bits and bytes, and not paint and canvas. So I decided to limit prints on most of my paintings to an edition of one archival quality piece.
Where would one find your art displayed?
You can find my art both on display and for sale at RolandMillington.com. Click on the prints link in the menu. I sell my work from my site so I can control quality, keep costs reasonable, and keep my wife busy. In the past, I've exhibited in the Midwest, but the largest exhibition I've ever done was a group exhibit at Artronica/Otronicon at the Orlando Science Center, Orlando, FL. I'm currently not exhibited by a gallery.
What is the cause closest to your heart?
Multiple Sclerosis awareness is the closest cause to my heart. It's a horrible disease that we've all heard about, but not everyone really knows about. I didn't know much about it until over the course of a couple of days my wife went blind in one eye. It turns out that she had MS, which, being an auto-immune disease caused the white blood cells in her body to attack the myelin sheath around her optic nerve. The irritation and swelling caused her to lose her vision in that eye. It came back enough for her to be legal to drive a vehicle, but her job as a parts and warranty manager in front of a computer was pretty much shot from there on out.
MS is all over the map in terms of how it affects people, and frankly, we really don't know how treat it consistently without making the patient feel awful. The best way I can equate this disease to something people will understand is that with cancer, a patient has to go through chemo, or radiation treatment, or both, and the cure is almost as bad as the disease. And while most MS treatments and drugs don't leave you with renal issues or heart issues like cancer treatments can, the drugs take a tremendous toll on the patient at the same time the disease does. Doctors can't figure out what triggers the white blood cells to attack and destroy the myelin sheath around the nerves, so all they can do is weaken the immune system to the point it can't effectively do that, which means the person with MS ends up really susceptible to colds, and has an even tougher time fighting them off. While that's an inconvenience to you and me, to someone with MS like my wife, it's a very real threat.
The most difficult part is the major life changes that go along with MS. My wife had gone back to college when we first met, and worked very hard to finish her degree. She worked herself into a good job, bought herself a new car on her own, took on a lot of challenges, and began making plans and headway. Between back issues, she has been struggling with and MS, all plans disintegrated. She wasn't able to ride her horse as often, or be as active in the summer or the winter, because the excessive heat or cold physically hurts her. She couldn't go out as frequently because she fatigued easily. She had, and still has, good days and bad days, but it's taken a toll on her in a very real way. When you're used to being a solid contributor in your family, and then you are greatly marginalized by something like MS, it is very difficult to come to grips with. And even with great insurance like I have, MS is still a very expensive disease. Her biggest complaint is that the MS really hits our budget hard sometimes. In her eyes, she went from being a breadwinner and contributor, to someone who cost us money. It's a difficult struggle for her to face that, because she's still the type of woman who wants to be doing, and going, and earning, and living life.
Seeing the effect on her made me decide that I needed to do something to help her feel valued again. I hired her as my print shop fulfillment clerk. I always joke that, "The boss might be a real pain in the neck, but the hours are pretty good." Honestly, it gives her something to do. There are months where the sales aren't great, and she's less busy, but there are also months where she's shipping out prints and invoices pretty regularly. It gives her a sense that she's still contributing, but at the same time, she still has the option not to go into work on days where she feels pretty rotten. The work she does keeps me from having to do it, so I can concentrate on my full-time job, but the print sales also help us keep the medical bills paid. I have great insurance through work, but MS is a very expensive disease.
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How can people help your cause?
Obviously, people can help my cause by buying prints so my wife can ship them out. Beyond that, contributing to MS Awareness is crucial to bringing this disease the attention it needs to get cured. The National MS Society has a great website where you can click on the link "Get involved" and see all the opportunities available to help out. One of the things I'm doing is wearing kilts for a year to bring awareness to people about MS. When I wear kilts, people always look and stare. It's a great conversation starter, really, and I've seen it used for cancer awareness effectively, so there's no reason I can't use that to bring awareness to MS, right? Besides, I'm an artist, and we're expected to have a certain level of eccentricity about us. It'd be a shame to disappoint people by being completely normal, now, wouldn't it?
What does the future hold for you regarding art and your cause?
I honestly don't know what the future holds. I'm hoping for enough sales to keep Cari consistently busy and happy. Happy wife, happy life, right? I've got a couple of group and solo shows I'm gearing for in 2014. I know I have a lot of artistic ideas I would like to act upon, and I'll be growing my Facebook fan page and my base of art collectors. I have a couple of book covers and commissions coming up, and I'm always happy to talk to authors about their projects. It's fun because I'm able to be on the other side of the "See, this is the idea I have for this," conversation. Seeing someone get excited about their creative endeavor is what it's all about for me. As for my Year-In-A-Kilt for MS, I can only hope that at some level, I am able to spread how MS needs more attention, funding for research and eventually, a cure. I'd love it if, one day, we can to say that no one's life got turned upside down by MS.
Thank you, Roland for sharing your passion for art and MS awareness, I think we learned how easy it is to take good health for granted and the simple act of purchasing a print can bring awareness and a smile to the world.