Tizzie Mills is a self-taught New Haven, Connecticut based Artist
NY Outsider Art Fair, 2016
Interview TIZZIE MILLS
What has been one of the most challenging things you’ve experienced or are currently experiencing?
“To actually come across as a legitimate artist, because people see me as kind of like an aloof artist, not really serious about what I’m doing, always partying. I’m really serious about what I do. I want to actually make strides to take the next step in the art world.”
What are some of the challenges or obstacles you’re facing in doing that?
“A lot of times I feel like I can’t make things look the way I want them to, or just trying to get my name out. That’s a little bit of a challenge. I don’t have a storefront that says ‘Tizzie’s Designs.’ It’s a business. I work really hard to try to get people to see things the way that I do. If I saw it as a joke, I wouldn’t put as much effort into it as I do.”
Why do you put so much time and effort into it?
“I feel that it’s something I’m good at and that it’s something that will take me to the place in life where I want to be, like that comfortable lifestyle where I’m not depending on anyone.”
When did you realize that you were an artist, and that this was something that you wanted to do?
“I’ve loved it for a while. In grammar school and in high school, I took classes. After that, I was like, ‘I have to do this.’ It’s something that I find fun. It was something I just found as fun at first, but then I was like, 'Wow! People like what I do. Maybe I can make a buck on this.’ So, I just constantly try to challenge myself to give people a product that they will appreciate.”
What do you like to create?
“Eventually, I would like to have my own character. I love to draw the classics, but I always put my own spin on it.”
“Yeah–like the classic superheroes. I always watch superhero movies on Netflix. Sometimes I read comics, depending on which ones. Eventually, I’d like to have my own. A lot of stuff I do is pretty much on par with big-time artists. So, eventually I’m going to have my own character. That’s my goal.”
What’s your connection to superheroes? What is it about them that you identify with?
“They have the will and the balls to step up and do stuff that average people won’t do. I find that to be admirable. A lot of times I try to steer clear from any sort of drama and stuff like that. Honestly, I’m not sure if I would ever put myself in that spot. If I saw somebody getting robbed or whatever, I don’t think I’d put myself in harm’s way to save another person’s life. The reason I draw these characters and these heroes is because they actually do that. They are constantly putting their lives on the line, particularly, Batman, because he doesn’t have any superpowers. He’s just a rich guy with a lot of money and training. I kind of admire that. They do stuff that I wish I could do.”
What would your superhero power(s) be?
“I like flight. I like flying. Unfortunately, I’m terrified of heights, so to have flight and know that you can be up in the air and not die–that would be kind of cool.”
How would you help people? Would you?
“Yeah, I would definitely help people. I would sort of be the same person as I am now. You know? A lot of people like what I do and stuff like that. Within the past couple of years, I’ve sort of been in the public spotlight, because of my art. So, I go to all these coffee shops and just work on my stuff, and people are always curious about what I’m drawing. So, I would probably actually just be who I am now. I just love the fact that I can stay true to myself, no matter what happens. That’s my own personal rule: stay true to myself and keep going with my own passions, meaning like art and stuff like that.”
Has it ever been hard for you to stay true to yourself and continue to do your art? Have you faced any roadblocks with that, or has there been anything in your life that’s derailed you at all from doing that?
“Not really. I just have those spurts where I’ll get some negative feedback, and I get discouraged, and I’m just like, 'Hell with this. I’m not doing this anymore.’ Then within the next couple of days or so I’m like, 'I need this.’ I need to draw to keep me sane. It’s sort of like an escape.”
So is drawing therapeutic for you? Does it help you?
“Very much. Yeah, very therapeutic.”
What are some of the things that you’ve experienced in your life that art helped you to work through?
“It’s pretty much like a bad family life. My mom’s real critical, and I’ve never actually fit into the family, because I wasn’t raised in New Haven. I was raised out in Rhode Island. I was out there for eight years. So, I was sixteen by the time I came back. Since I wasn’t raised here, my family treated me a little differently. I still get all these stereotypical comments from my friends from high school. They don’t get that you have to appreciate everybody for who they are, and not where they’re from. A couple days ago, a friend of mine made a comment, 'You know a whole bunch of white people. You think we could sell this iPhone?’ I do know a whole lot of people, not just white people. You got to give everybody a chance. Like the whole judicial system thing–it’s innocent until proven guilty. That’s pretty much what it is. You can’t just label people by their color, because you have no idea what type of personality they have. It’s all about asking questions and being inquisitive, trying to figure out who the person is, before making assumptions.”
You mentioned not growing up with your family. Why did you grow up in Rhode Island, while your family was here in New Haven?
“My mom was really into drugs. She was doing crack and heroin, and it kind of broke the family apart. She wasn’t actually there when I was a kid. She was too busy doing drugs and prostituting herself. You know? DCF took me away when I was a kid, and brought me to a boarding school. I was in a boarding school in Rhode Island until I was sixteen. From sixteen to nineteen, I was in more boarding schools here in New Haven, like group homes and stuff. I came back when I was sixteen, but this was a very unstable family life, so I had to get shipped off to Rhode Island.”
What was that like for you?
“It was different. I learned a lot of stuff out there, like being around my friends out there. I learned a lot about loyalty, because there was a lot of points when I sort of turned my back on people who actually cared about me, just to be part of the cooler crowd. It took me a while to actually realize that–long after I came back to New Haven.”
Do you have a relationship with your mother now?
“It’s broken. It’s rocky. They’re really critical about my life, and it always seems like, even when I did live with her for a short amount of time, it’s all about what she could get from me, money-wise or whatever. It’s what she can get from me. It’s not like the supportive mother she should be. So, that was kind of like rough, but I’ve always had other people who were a really strong support system.”
What about your father?
“He left when I was a kid, so I never really knew him. It was just me, my mom, and my sisters growing up. I have a brother, but he was born later, so he wasn’t really there when I was growing up.”
What have you’ve learned about yourself through these experiences?
“One thing I’ve learned about myself is that, no matter how much I sometimes want to be a tough guy, no matter how tough people see me–because I persuade them that I am–I need people. I need some kind of support system around me. It actually goes hand in hand. People need each other.”
Do you find that support comes to you when you need it, or do you have to ask for it? Is it challenging to find support?
"Yeah. I mean, sort of fifty/fifty. Sometimes I really need it, so I’ll ask. Most of the time, people are really good to me–like they see that I’m passionate about my art. For instance, the owner of the Fred Giampietro Art Gallery–I don’t think he really liked the drawing that he bought from me, because it definitely wasn’t one of my best pieces. He said, 'I think that if you work with this type of material, you’ll have better results.’ He actually bought that picture, so I could get the stronger board to work on, and I did get better results, so it’s kind of cool. There are people around me who give me pencils, and paints, and brushes, that they’re not using anymore–just a whole bunch of different supplies. They know that I need them, but I never really try to ask.”
How does that make you feel when you’re not even asking for these things, and people offer them to you, because they believe in you, and support what you’re doing?
“It’s probably the best feeling in the world, that people are just willing to stand behind me and support what I do. They see my passion for it. It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.”
Does it make you want to keep doing what you’re doing and give you the courage to keep going, no matter how challenging it becomes?
“Yeah, it does. It definitely gives me that push to keep going, but my artwork is pretty much just for me. I have a lot of situations going on my life, and it kind of freaks me out and stresses me out sometimes. When I have that outlet, and I can go in there and put in a lot of detail, and a lot of time, and not think about what’s going on in my life. It’s more like therapy. It definitely curbs my drinking. About ten years ago, I hated my life. I was working at a bar. When I wasn’t working at the bar, I was at the bar getting drunk, pretty much just running the streets. I never utilized that outlet. I wanted to show some sort of growth, you know–that maturity. That’s why I like to draw so much. It’s such a positive outlet. There’s no boozing, no fighting. You just draw. It’s kind of like a win-win situation, because I know that people appreciate what I do. I get to get out my emotions and bad feelings on paper, and at the same time, give people who do like my art something to look at.”
It sounds like you’re turned something dark and negative into something that helps you heal and deal with it, while giving other people something to appreciate. It sounds like you’re recycling, which is very creative. Has creating art ever saved your life? Were there ever times when you felt like just throwing in the towel or giving up?
“Not really. When I get stressed out, I don’t ever see myself killing myself, because that’s just too scary. Death is very scary, but it has saved me from beating people up. I get so stressed, and people badger me a lot. They provoke me, and see how far they can push me. Instead of fighting, I just pick up a pencil, and I’m just like, 'I have to do this, or I’m going to get into it with somebody.’”
So it’s potentially saved someone else’s life then?
“I would never kill anyone. I could totally see myself hurting someone very badly, if I didn’t have that outlet. There’s a big difference between killing someone and putting them in the hospital, but I don’t want to do either.
It sounds like art helps you with a lot of things. It helps with stress. It helps with anger. It helps keep you from self-destructing.
"Yeah. It keeps me level. Art keeps me sane.”
What advice would you offer to somebody else who may have come from a turbulent home life, and is struggling to find outlets to express their anger, or to deal with stress and other emotions?
“Whatever it may be–I cannot stress enough–if it’s playing the violin or drawing–if that’s your passion, do it 150%. Be really good at whatever you’re passionate about, because it will save you from a lot of trouble. Don’t care about the negative things people say. Just do what you love to do. Those people are going to go about their life, and you’re going to be stuck with yourself. What you’re going to do with your life is up to you.”
Are you making enough as an artist to support yourself? Do you have a place to live? Do you have what you need?
“Not really. I’m still striving towards that. A lot of times I’m at shelters or whatever, but I have friends’ houses that I can go to sometimes. They’ve been very helpful. A lot of times, I don’t make the money I need to survive, but I have a pretty good support system.”
How do you cope with not necessarily knowing where you’re going to sleep at night, or where your next meal is coming from?
“I just draw some more. Sometimes things are just so unstable. That instability kind of drives me nuts–just wondering when my next meal is gonna be, or where I’m going to sleep–but again, art is one of my outlets.
It sounds like art is the one constant in your life. That’s the one thing that’s stable.
"Pretty much. Everything else is unstable.”
Yet you wake up every day, and you know that you’re going to draw or paint something. Is that what gets you out of bed in the morning?
“Yeah. I have a lot of people I can talk to on a daily basis, but art really keeps me grounded. Without it, I would definitely lose my mind.”
Do you have a favorite quote that you’d like to share?
“I forgot exactly what movie it was from, but one of my ex-girlfriend’s had this tattoo that says, 'The greatest lesson you’ll ever learn, is to love, and be loved in return.’ That’s one of my favorite quotes.”
What does that mean to you?
“Just love. Appreciate people for who they are. Get to know people for who they are, before you make assumptions. In the past, I’ve made assumptions about who people are, and I was wrong. It’s fascinating when you get to know someone, and you realize what you have in common. A lot of people are really inspiring. I met a girl within the past couple of months, and I thought she was uptight. I started talking with her and got to know her, and then I found out that she’s a phenomenal artist. I could never draw or paint the way she does. She’s also very funny. I pretty much look forward to seeing her every day. We have a lot more in common than I ever thought.”
How does it feel to talk about these feelings with me today?
“It’s cool. You know, we dug a little deep. I’m glad we talked about the things we talked about, because it gives people a little insight.”
Yes. It gives people an opportunity to see who you really are.