Artist Profiles - Don MacMillan

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the October 12, 2005 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Finally free to paint what he loves

by Catherine Joyce

Don MacMillan is finally free to paint what he loves. After a lifetime as a graphic artist, designer and illustrator he is mining the world and his notebooks for images that fascinate him - vintage motorcycles, the hidden byways of Greek villages, the cozy aura of a classic gentleman's den, the ramshackle eloquence of a kid's collapsed fort.

"I paint what I see. I paint what is, the way it is. I use photographs to achieve an exact likeness. Even if I were to do an abstract, I would paint a detail up so close, you could never tell what it represented but its reality would hit you, vivid as life."

One painting in his upcoming show at Galerie McKenzie Marcotte especially rivets the viewer: Two oddball buildings in California, one built in the 30s, the other in the 50s, juxtapose the reality of his life and that of his son, a special effects designer for over fifteen years with George Lucas' company, ILM.

Artist Profiles
The end of a long career as a freelance illustrator leaves Don MacMillan free to paint - and toss the odd fisbee with his dog. C. Joyce photo.

"I once dreamed of working in animation at Disney but 'life' led me elsewhere. My firstborn took up the dream. Nov it is coming apart. He is leaving ILM as it is downsizing, unravelling. In the painting he is climbing up the stairs at Fisherman's Wharf to gaze north over the Bay to San Francisco where he hopes to find work. I am down below wearing his frayed ILM cap, looking back at Canada. My sunglasses reflect my backyard. Two buildings, two timeframes, two intersecting lives."


Many of Don's images go back ten, 17, 30 years - ideas he has been waiting to execute during a long career as a freelance illustrator. He covered a wide range of assignments: medical, technical, scientific, editorial, advertising, murals, caricature, cartoons, including contracts over twenty years with the Museum of Nature, and of Science and Technology. For three years running (1984-85-86) his Winterlude poster won the Award for Excellence.

"Illustration has changed. People can buy or find things on the Net now for free. I was around in the heyday when you had to draw and paint the desired image. You were needed. You had to do the research. As a commercial artist, you never lacked for work - only time to pursue your own eye."

A trip to Europe this past year has inspired many of his recent paintings. He does most of his prep work on the computer, using his own photographs, distilling notes and sketches from his Idea book. Self-taught, he has followed his passions. From years of rebuilding motorcycles, he has faithfully documented cycling events and vintage bikes - one eight-foot canvas captures a 1924 Brough Superior with uncanny accuracy.

"I like to layer my paintings with story, with humorous touches and whimsical moments. Like my saxophone series - I've been a musician all my life - I've even got one painted on my old, beatup, saxophone case."

For Don MacMillan his training as a commercial artist lies at the core of his gift. "if you have something precious that has real meaning for you that you want painted - I'm your man. I can paint anything, anywhere, anytime and it will come out. I paint what is, with heart."

("Twenty-Six Months Later", an exhibition of acrylic paintings by Don MacMillan runs from Oct. 14 to Nov. 6 at Galerie McKenzie Marcotte.)

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