Creative talk, serious business with Andy J. Miller

CCAD Faculty Andy J. Miller

As a teen, Andy J. Miller struggled with a part-time job working as a cashier.

“I really hated it, and I lost tons of money,” Miller, the son of an accountant father and artist mother, recalled.

But now business is big for Miller.

Since beginning his freelance career in 2008, Miller has established himself as a top illustrator (working with the likes of The Guardian, Real Simple, Nickelodeon, Nutella and Oreo) and creator of The Indie Rock Coloring Book and the collaborative Color Me _____ exhibition with Andrew Neyer. Notably, he’s also earned a reputation as an engaging thinker about the intersection of creativity and commerce. At CCAD, Miller teaches Self Promotion for Illustrators; he also hosts Creative Pep Talk, a thoughtful and entertaining podcast that uses his personal stories and research, as well as artist interviews, to dive into topics such as self-promotion, pricing, workflow and how creative entrepreneurs can strike a balance between art and business.

Miller started his podcast in October 2014. About 20 episodes into his weekly broadcasts, he struck a syndication deal with Illustration Age. “Andy’s passion for inspiring others and his fresh, honest voice was a refreshing addition to the podcasting world, and it was important to bring that kind of content to my audience,” said Illustration Age Editor and Creative Director Thomas James.

“I think what really makes any podcast great is a feeling of a natural connection between the host and his or her audience, and Andy is better at making that connection than most. He is human, humble and down to earth in a way that can be really difficult to achieve when you're putting your own personal thoughts and feelings out there for the world to hear. On top of that, Andy makes you feel like you're sharing your studio with a friend who is right there in the trenches with you. Plus, he's funny as hell. I challenge you to make it through any one of his episodes without a big smile on your face,” James said.

Hear more from Miller below, and sign up for the Creative Pep Talk mailing list here.

Making it work

Shortly after earning a graphic design degree at the University of Huddersfield in the United Kingdom, Miller married and became a parent. That period of time, he recalls, “was really hard. And because I didn't have a lot of options, I took it seriously from the beginning of like, ‘How do I make this thing work, this thing that I'm good at, that I want to do. I know I have value and I want to communicate it to others, so how do I sharpen it so it's worth something to others?’ ”

He focused on business and marketing, all the while honing his craft. Around 2010, he started listening to business and marketing podcasts. “I remember thinking, ‘I really want to do this in my sphere,’ ” he said.

Miller now name-checks business experts like Seth Godin, Donald Miller and Gary Vaynerchuk as casually as he mentions indie bands like Beach House or Modest Mouse. He’s learned to rethink what it means to be successful in business. “I always thought business meant finance, when, you know, (in reality) a lot of the key players in business are people who are visionary, entrepreneurs, idea people or HR, ‘people-people.' That was a big realization for me in the last four or five years, that I probably am really good at business, just not in the traditional sense.”

Value-packed broadcasts

Although an increasing number of Miller’s podcasts feature his conversations with successful artists, most still feature him working solo. “To the blind ear, the illusion is that I'm ranting. I'm not ranting. I'm massively prepared. When I do an interview, I'm not nervous to talk to these people. I am super nervous that I make it the best possible episode. I'm a ball of nerves when I interview, because a lot of these people are my friends, so I'm not even worried about that, I'm more worried about how do I make this a crazy value to the people listening. And I do that every episode, I'm trying to pack every second with as much real value as possible,” Miller said.

Career opportunities

As a podcaster (and before that, a blogger), Miller found himself fielding requests for personal art career advice. Although he’ll happily provide answers to one or two questions, he charges for a more thorough conversation. “Something I’m really, really serious about is helping people strike a balance on the tightrope walk of thriving financially and being creatively fulfilled. Those two things battle each other a lot,” he said.

The main motivation for the consultations, Miller said, “is that I love doing it, and I felt like people got lots of value when I did it, so it was just a win-win.” Miller said he couldn’t do such work if he wasn’t sure it had value to creative professionals. “I’m really passionate about them discovering their value and then being able to articulate that in an attractive way to the rest of society.” Ultimately, Miller said, consulting with art professionals, “is my favorite thing to do.”