You don't need to be a native Chicagoan to have a special place in your heart for the Windy City; with its amazing architecture, a lake that could be the ocean, and an incredible food scene (um, deep-dish pizza), there is definitely a lot to love.
Artist Joe Mills has created a full-on body of work in homage to Chicago. Mills' playful illustrations offer a new perspective on the streets and attractions of the city he grew up in and have a bold, graphic quality that would look great in any room—geographic location aside. (If you're building a killer collection of map art for your gallery wall, jackpot!) We recently sat down with Mills and got the scoop on his hometown pride and pursuit.
Joe Mills with his first edition of the Heart of Bucktown and Wicker Park Map.
Simply Framed: Sum up your journey as an artist. How did you get started and what has kept you going?
Joe Mills: After spending 12 years as a Chicagoan, my family and I moved to Australia for two years in 2010. During that time, I was able to explore my style as an artist. Even though I was a thousand miles away, I found myself drawn back to Chicago. It is a city filled with, among other things, unique history, architecture, people, neighborhoods, cultures and restaurants. My work has allowed me to explore and research aspects of the city that were unfamiliar to me and highlight them through a unique perspective. Mapping became my preferred method because it allowed me to place my illustrations within a basic structure that I could then manipulate.
JM: My inspiration comes from finding new and interesting ways to highlight the city of Chicago. Chicago artwork is popular and the marketplace is crowded. In order to stand out, it is important to go in a different direction than other artists, while simultaneously honoring Chicago in an authentic manner. In turn, my creative process starts with research and attending to the details. Then, I look for ways to take that information and map it in a way that is unique and makes sense.
Fonts galore: A closer look at Mills' calligraphic expertise.
SF: What has been the most exciting moment of your career thus far?
JM: The most exciting moment of my career thus far came in 2013. I had just started more actively selling my work at street festivals and online. However, it was still unclear whether this was something that was truly resonating with people. After creating a neighborhood map for Bucktown and Wicker Park, I was featured on a local blog. Within four hours of the story being posted, I had sold out of all 100 maps I had printed! It became clear to me then that the work I was creating had a place in this world. That moment has fueled my creative process to this day.