by Rahul KumarSep 06, 2022
Aashti Miller, who was born and raised in Mumbai, studied architecture at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Her graphic design and illustration studio, MillerInk, is inspired by spaces, places, and people. Miller is a Henry Adams AIA Medallist who works full-time as an architect and associate for Pickard Chilton, a design firm based in New Haven, Connecticut. The architect and illustrator in her are bound in the many layers of her prints as a result of this endeavour. Her drawings deconstruct familiar spaces, bringing fluidity to sharp lines. The graphic designer’s aesthetic and style have evolved into detailed drawings that tread the fine line between constructed and painted, digital and analogue, two and three dimensional, in order to make sense of the unexpected collision of her two seemingly disparate worlds.
1. Would you consider your work as ‘illustrations’ or ‘art’? Is there a difference according to you?
I always blush when people call my work ‘art’ or title me as an ‘artist’ because I have never considered myself to have the personality of one. I have been task-oriented all my life, and work particularly well with constraints. I also think my background in architecture has pushed me to approach every creative endeavour as a ‘project’ with a distinct brief: I personally believe these are very important qualities for any illustrator to have. Conversely, my mother is a fine artist, and I have watched her process with keen interest and childlike fascination for as long as I can remember. She has a way of expressing her emotions through her work that I often envy, but over time I have begun to realise that it is tough for 'capital-A Artists' to work with structure, something that has always come naturally to me. All this being said, I am still coming around to people calling me an illustrator as I will always consider myself to be an architect first!
2. What is at the core of your expression? How do you aspire for your work to be experienced and interpreted?
Oddly enough, I believe that anxiety and conflict is at the core of my creative expression. I work full-time as an architect for a US-based design studio, and illustrate in the little free time that I do have. Like many multi-disciplinary creatives, I find it very time-consuming and anxiety-inducing to balance my profession and vocation – but I don’t think I could do it any other way. Feeling off-centre fuels my ability to organise my thoughts and approach every project with an analytical, 'no-nonsense' approach. Moreover, to ease my anxiety and workload, I find myself looking for unexpected synergies between architecture and illustration, which keeps me continually inspired in both fields. I aspire for my work to reflect this conflict as I believe that my current style is evolving for the better because of it. I consider myself a ‘detail disoriented’ architect – so I spend a lot of time working in as many details as possible into my illustrations so that a viewer can look at a single piece for hours. I prefer that viewers identify themselves in what they see and craft their own stories.
3. Please tell us about your creative journey – how has your style evolved over the years? What/who are your biggest influences?
I have always found drawing cathartic. In architecture school, representation was my passion – my education taught me how to weave a story through beautiful drawings at varying levels of complexity. Even when I began working, I spent most of my weekends drawing for design competitions, creating wild and speculative illustrations that trod the fine line between architecture and illustration. When I returned to India from the United States, I decided to start MillerInk, an independent illustration and graphic design practice to keep my love for drawing alive. I think my work has evolved significantly from when I started MillerInk in 2019, and I often look back to pick out common themes or motifs. I think I am just starting to get comfortable with my style (or my lack of one). My biggest influences are the spaces, places, and faces around me – in other words, architecture, the context it occupies, and the characters that occupy it. So, there is usually a bit of each of these elements in everything I create.
4. A body of work you created that you are particularly proud of? Please share details of how you conceived of it.
I have always wanted to make an impact on the public realm in a meaningful and lasting way, which is something many young architects like me dream of. I received the opportunity to do so when I applied for the Goethe Institute and St+art India’s open call for artists in 2021. I was selected to collaborate with a German artist, Greta von Richthofen, on two murals – one in Delhi (Lodhi Arts District), and another in Chennai (Kannagi Arts District). We were encouraged to work on thought-provoking ideas about the meaning of ‘travel’ from a broad lens. We imagined, designed, sketched, and painted both murals, which explore the idea of ‘traveling in the mind’. We saw this as a journey that anyone can make, regardless of culture, background, or spatial limitations. Both murals connect to one another by showcasing the positive power and immense possibilities of creativity and imagination, which ‘enter the mind’ in Chennai and ‘flow out of the hands’ in New Delhi. From an expansive lens to a site-specific one, we included hyper-localised elements that are symbolic of this journey. Never having met each other in person before, Greta and I designed the murals remotely and met for the first time on the day we began painting. As first-time muralists, we immediately connected over our shared nervousness, excitement, and immense pride towards this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
5. An upcoming project that excites you? Or an unrealised project that is close to you? Please share details.
I designed unique medals for the four 2020 marathons in India in collaboration with Procam International. They were envisioned as symbols of hope and resilience during the pandemic – to this end, I crafted a multi-layered design approach that alluded to the 24 tenets of the Ashoka Chakra, the spirit of the four Indian cities hosting the marathons, and the unity, continuity, and connectedness of one nation. Although two of the four marathons took place, the complete set of medals were never released because of the second and third waves of the pandemic. This project is especially close to my heart because it was the first of many to combine my interests in illustration, graphic design and architecture in a unique and unexpected way. I especially enjoyed the design process because the concept was based on humanity rising beyond the odds in challenging times that we were all collectively facing – the designs became a personal symbol of hope for me when I was going through a particularly challenging creative block.
Click here to read more about Illustrative Chronicles, a collection of STIR articles that examine illustration as a discipline for narrating stories of the contemporary urban.
(Research Support by Vatsala Sethi, Asst. Editorial Coordinator (Arts))