Meet Matthew Miller, the creative on a mission to revive the Earth one design at a time
Reflecting on his journey towards creative independence, Matthew tells us about the influence of Studio Ghibli films and how he’s unwilling to compromise on what he stands for.
There’s a kind of genuine sincerity that seems to emanate from everything Ohio-based graphic designer Mathew Miller gets his hands on. For example, opening the files that Matthew sent us, I’m greeted with filenames like LovePeaceJoy.png, KeepRising.png and, my personal favourite, LessAssholes.png. When he says that he “really wants people to feel a sense of connection and beauty from my work", it’s immediately obvious that he’s not paying lip service to some ideal of what a contemporary designer should be. He really means it.
Matthew grew up as a self-described “military brat” – a child of serving military personnel. This meant that, only two years after being born in the “good ole panhandle of Florida, USA”, he was shipped off to Germany, where his father was stationed. After he and his sister were enrolled in a Christian American school, Matthew started to foster his graphic sensibilities from any visual stuff he could find. Although, he admits that “graphic design wasn’t something that happened all at once for me, it was a slow burn". From movies watched at his babysitter’s house to cartoons, he especially remembers Sailor Moon and Studio Ghibli films. “I think my creative genesis was that film,” he says of Studio Ghibli’s celebrated 1988 film My Neighbour Totoro. “There is a stillness in Hayao Miyazaki films that is at once comforting and sad and simultaneously full of love.”
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Matthew Miller: X (Copyright © Matthew Miller, 2022)
Just like the Oscar-winning director, Matthews’s work is also charged with an undeniable romanticism and reverence for the natural world. The parallels don’t stop there, as they both contribute to the big picture of sustainability in their own ways. Matthew, for instance, solely works with climate activism non-profits – a decision that he says he “sort of just fell into, funnily enough”. But he’s taken the position up with vigour. Pick any of his designs at random and you’re likely to see soft tones and invitingly warm textures adorn blooming flowers and pastoral backgrounds. He also credits his “design awakening” to a handful of other things: his childhood best friend convincing him to transfer to a collegiate arts high school in Oklahoma, plus the work of audio-visual artist Mitchell Davis and early noughts street style blogs.
But before Matthew answered his calling as a designer, he did a brief and unenjoyable stint as a virtual assistant in 2020. “That pivot was one of the most fortuitous choices that I’ve made in my life,” he says of the decision to take control of his own creative direction. As an LGBTQ+ creative, control is paramount, and so he felt lucky to be in "a space where people care about people". He adds: “It gave me this agency and confidence that I was severely lacking when I wasn’t really directing myself to something I truly care about.” What followed was a call with Max Moinian and Sydney Hass of the online platform Future Earth regarding a callout for a freelance designer. “That was a stepping stone to actualisation for me in the design space,” Matthew notes. And he just so happened to "genuinely connect" with Make Meadows' mission. He adds that “Because of that moment I now only and discriminately work with clients that share my values and have a unique vision that stretches beyond themselves”.
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Matthew Miller: Less Assholes (Copyright © Matthew Miller & Future Earth, 2022)
"Create for you because you want to and because it allows you to connect to yourself and feel something."Matthew Miller
Though it's been a rocky road, one welcome development in Matthews’s practice is that he’s much more forgiving of himself than when he started. “I used to be so hard on myself to get something perfect and sought approval outside of myself,” he says. Any artist green behind the ears is probably a little predisposed to harsh self-criticism. More so if you’re self-taught, which Matthew is. “I have always been self-taught in the sense that MySpace, Tumblr, YouTube, exploration, Polaroids, the thrift store, movies, and life was/is my teacher,” he says. But as his creative career unfolded, he started to see his work as “something that will be solved and I'm just along for the ride and don’t really need to know how I’ll end up from Point A to Point B". He continues: “Now when I create it’s truly a joyous puzzle”.
When asked what work he's most proud of, he resolutely states that it's his collaboration with the online platform Future Earth and re-wilding advocates Make Meadows. He lists his screen print designs for Future Earth x IE Earth Sessions event as a recent favourite, and he tells us that it was just "me behind my computer listening to my favourite music and making things that fit the vibe" – the vibe being the brief of “The Future is Intersectional”. It’s the dual appeal of learning as well as educating that keeps Matthew interested. “It’s really an honour to simultaneously learn about how to do my part and impart that knowledge to others,” he says. While he’s serious about protecting the earth, Matthew gives us an important reminder. “Art is cathartic, creation doesn’t have to be some life-changing experience. Create because you want to. Create for you because you want to and because it allows you to connect to yourself and feel something.”
Matthew Miller: Connection (Copyright © Matthew Miller, 2022)
Matthew Miller: Fred Again, Actual Life 3 (Copyright © Matthew Miller, 2022)
About the Author
Roz (he/him) joined It’s Nice That as editorial assistant in October 2022 after graduating from Magazine Journalism and Publishing at London College of Communication. He’s particularly interested in publications, archives and multi-media design. Feel free to get in contact with Roz about ideas you may have for stories from the Global South.