We talk to Christie Miga about Dog Powered Robot and her latest paintings

We talk to Christie Miga about Dog Powered Robot and her latest paintings
Art by Christie Miga

Once upon a time I built sets and painted props, but lately my hands are mostly used for typing. So I'm envious of artists like Christie Miga, whose latest collection of paintings, En(grain)ed, debuted at the Timucua Arts White House in August. Miga is also co-creator of the Fringe Festival favorite Dog Powered Robot (a cardboard "robot" ostensibly operated by a tiny Pomeranian) with her Imagineer husband, Evan, but her latest work required a whole new skill set, as she shared with me during her opening reception.

LAC: How long has your En(grain)ed show been in progress?

Miga: I would say probably about 10 months. It took me a while to figure it out. It's almost like every time I do a collection, I have to figure out all the stuff in my head first before I can get going, so I'll do lots of testing. I actually brought some of my test panels. I do lots of test panels and things like that, and then I come up with "Where is all this coming from? What is the crux of this?" So that I can pull from that and have a cohesiveness.

En(grain)ed features watercolor paint on pine and poplar circles. How did you come upon this combination?

The collection is all about moments in time. They are memories that when they are happening don't seem like anything at all. But then later in life I looked back on them as a major turning point that really influenced me in some way, or was really profound for me. And so when I think back to memories, or I think of positive goals or dreams, I don't ever think of it on a cold canvas. It seems so much more familiar and comforting, so I went with a wood grain. Wood is all around you all the time; canvas isn't. So I thought that would better express what I'm trying to say.

What is working with watercolor paint on wood like?

It's really different because it moves totally differently than it would on canvas. When I'm working on canvas I have to let it do what it wants to do, but on wood even more so. If it's going to drip over here and go totally around, I have to let it do that. And it also spreads sideways more.

How did you settle on particular moments of inspiration to memorialize in this collection?

It was really hard. The first few were really easy, and the later half was like, "What else?" You have to go back and think, "What made me do that, or what changed me in that way?" It can be hard to pinpoint that moment. What I kept drawing back to was, "When I did this, I was in this place." So I made them based on places, and what happened in those places. It was the only anchor that I could pull from.

In my Savannah series, I was trying to emulate the Spanish moss on trees [with green paint]. On the Orlando series, they all have dots on them, and they represent the amount of rain that we get. I didn't want anything to be too in-your-face with the obviousness; I try to keep things really subtle or symbolic or representative, rather than exactly how they are.

What motivated your pieces about Savannah College of Art and Design?

It's all about the moment that I realized I loved art. I never realized how much I loved this very first art history class. The first piece I did was the Venus of Willendorf: It was the first class, the first time I'd ever been to college, and the first image that popped up. And it was like, Bam! I'm in love. I looked around, everyone else is falling asleep in this darkened room, and I'm totally obsessed.

How does the Factur Maker Lab support your work?

Doug Brown gave me a scholarship for six months to Factur [factur.org] with all the classes I wanted to take, and also gave me $1,000 for materials. Literally, without them this [show] would never have happened. I had this idea in my head, I had done the testing on wood, I had figured out what I wanted to do. But I didn't have the knowledge of wood and woodworking. And so I sent in an essay to get the scholarship and they chose me.

The wood pieces don't come like this [in rounds], so I had to woodcraft masters, I had to learn all about pine and poplar, wood grain and all that stuff. They gave the wood to me in these massive square sheets, and I had to put them on a huge room-sized CNC wood-cutting machine I learned to use. A lot of them have engravings on them, so I also learned how to do all the engravings. I learned way more than I expected to learn. I was nervous about it too – I'm going to be in there with these big wood-working guys, which is intimidating! But they made it so easy; they teach you as you go.

What's next for you and Dog Powered Robot?

I've been focused on this collection for almost a year. The next thing we're going to focus on is Maker Faire [Sept. 12-13 at Loch Haven Park, makerfaireorlando.com], where we're going to bring the robots. Fisher [the show's Pomeranian star] is good, and Dog Powered Robot will be at Maker Faire. And we are still working on some things that are under wraps right now. [Editor's note: This interview was conducted prior to Maker Faire, just before Seth Kubersky took a short summer break. His column will return in the Sept. 30 edition.]


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